Planning a gap year?


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But feeling a little daunted?

Not sure which way to turn?

Wondering where you'll end up

And what might happen along the way?

Fear not!!

We have loads of tips and advice to share with you

From our own amazing Family Gap Year!

How a Gap Year in Africa Changed Me

How a Gap Year in Africa Changed Me

By: Alice Baines

 

In 2003 I decided to take a gap year between school and university to do a mixture of paid work, volunteering and independent travel. Fuelled by clichéd intentions of self discovery and broadening my horizons I set off on an adventure which I can now say with absolute certainty has changed me in ways I never thought possible. If you're in two minds about the value of taking a gap year, worried about the financial ramifications or just daunted by the prospect of organising and embarking on a new adventure then read on, and let me open your eyes to the possibilities it holds!

My volunteer placement was working in a small Tented Camp on an Island of Lake Baringo, right in the heart of Kenya's stunning Great Rift Valley. The placement was organised by a gap year company, the only viable way of doing this kind of volunteering since so much of it is about whom you know…and I didn't seem to know anybody in the safari business! For three months I lived on Safari, waking up to the sound of hippos yawning and the sight of sunrise over Africa. I felt massively privileged to live and work in a part of the world that very few people are lucky enough to see apart from on television documentaries, dubbed by Attenborough's dulcet tones.

Not a single day of my three months there was routine or boring, I discovered that in Africa no two days are the same and learnt to expect the unexpected! Whether it was taking the speed-boat for an impromptu spin to look for a reported hippo carcass, meeting with tribal chiefs or sitting down to dinner with the Italian Ambassador, every day was different. I felt more alive than I ever had before with my eyes wide open to the possibilities that each moment held. It taught me to be adaptable, to deal with what life throws at you and make the most of every minute…even if it means helping the locals to skin a crocodile!

I was involved in the running of the whole camp, organising reservations, managing the camp's marketing and P.R., being a hostess and water ski instructor, even teaching new recipes and IT to the African staff! The level of responsibility I was trusted with was beyond anything I'd been given before and gave me the chance to learn and develop so many new skills it's hard to know where to start. I can now speak a new language (badly!), run a hotel, make sales and know how to write environmental impact reports for the U.N. My bow, as they say, is now thick with strings!

Anyone can claim on their CV to have 'interpersonal skills', but how many people can say they've managed to keep sixty paying guests happy, managed an African staff of forty and still found the time to entertain kids around the pool! I've come away feeling as though I can achieve anything I set my mind to. I know the true value of my opinions and creativity and have so much more confidence in my abilities having proven them to the world. Never again will I be in an interview, stuck for examples of my skills!

I was once told that it's possible to tell in the first five minutes of meeting a fresher at University whether or not they've been on a gap year. It sounds ridiculous but it's true, those first conversations I had when meeting new people at University were so telling, those who'd had a year off to travel and work had more confidence in themselves, more to say and definitely knew how to have a good time! Whereas school leavers stuck in giggling packs, moving round campus like herds of startled zebra, gapers spoke to any and everyone. If you've spent the last twelve months meeting new people, living and working in strange new environments you're hardly a wall-flower when faced with a room full of strangers.

I was worried that taking a gap year would leave me feeling unenthused by the thought of study, plagued by unbearably itchy feet, but actually the reverse was true. I started my degree knowing exactly why I needed my education and aware of how lucky I was to be receiving one. I knew what I wanted from university and wasn't afraid to ask for it, changing from English Literature to joint honours with African Studies when I realised I wasn't enjoying the course. I'm in no doubt I'd have stuck with the easy option if I hadn't had a gap year, it definitely gave me new interests and attitudes to education. My English friends were so jealous when they heard I was writing essays on the lyrics of Kenyan rap songs rather than Chaucer!

Though it sounds cynical, a gap year undoubtedly secured my place on a competitive course, giving me the edge over other candidates. In an age when so many young people are coming out of A levels with top grades, and everyone's done a Duke of Edinburgh award and captained a sports team, it's very hard to make yourself stand out from the crowd. A gap year like mine, where you have a unique experience, give something back to poor communities and prove that you're able to organise and apply yourself does just that.

More importantly though, taking a gap year has changed the way I look at and engage with the world. Countries and cultures which always seemed abstract and distant from my life suddenly became real to me in a way that I could never have felt from watching them on television or reading about them in newspapers. Poverty really affected me for the first time. I have more interest in current affairs now, and what I feel is a vested interest in Kenya- it's become my second home. My gap year experience led me to set up a small charity to help the family of one of my African friends and I hope that my gap year will continue to have an impact of the lives of the people I met in Africa.

Being able to experience the developing world on its own terms, giving my time and energy not only to exploration, but to volunteer projects which really benefit the people whose culture and environment was enjoying has given me an experience infinitely richer than anything I've done before. The things I saw and did in those fourteen months have influenced every decision and friendship I've made since and have steered me onto a path I'd otherwise never have thought to take. If your aspirations stop at tourism volunteering isn't for you, but if you want to change the way you see the world and yourself, take a gap year!

About the Author

 

Alice Baines is a recent graduate with a degree in English Literature and African studies. She now works with The Leap as an Overseas Placement Manager. Having spent her first gap year working in a Kenya safari camp and her second "shaking her jungle coconuts" on a team placement in Ecuador, she would love nothing more than for life to be one long gap year!

 

(ArticlesBase SC #117083)

Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/

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