The changing face of volunteering abroad
People wishing to take a year out to travel have never had so much choice. As well as the tried and tested, "working at an African Safari Park" or "Teaching English to children in an African village", a new generation of companies and charities, are specialising in what are best described as niche gap years. Examples include taking music to city children in Thailand, or building new homes inside Brazil's notorious favelas. But what are the most popular types of gap year?
Gone are the days of signing up to a single volunteer project for a set amount of time, travellers now want to spend a month here and a month there, perhaps working on several projects in several different countries to really make the most of their gap year, and why not! Perhaps the most popular type of gap year is volunteering: giving up your time to work on projects free of charge. These projects are fantastic for your own personal development because they allow you to meet new people, they boost confidence, they help build leadership and teamwork skills, and you are donating your time and hard work in the areas of the world that need help the most. Volunteering is a very broad term that covers many activities, so what could you be doing?
One of the most popular ways of spending your gap year is teaching or TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). Many communities in the world's poorest countries do not have access to schools or education like we do, so children often grow up without the basic numeracy and literacy skills that we take for granted. Imparting your knowledge and skills is one of the most rewarding things you can do and you will see the appreciation in every child you teach. You may not need any formal teaching qualifications for some placements, others may require a TEFL certificate, or similar. An enthusiastic manner and a desire to make a difference will certainly be required. The teaching field can be massively diverse as well, you could find yourself in a small community in Africa teaching the basics to just a few children or you could be choose to be based in inner city Buenos Aires as part of a full cultural immersion course where you will learn a language and teach English at the same time. The choice is yours!
The Sports Coach
Along the same lines as teaching is Sports Coaching which is another great way to pass on your skills. If you are good at a particular sport such as football or you have coaching qualifications in other areas, there are groups of children and adults in underprivileged areas who would love to benefit from your knowledge. Another option which is hugely popular for young people is to work at an American Summer Camp. Thousands of young British people make the pilgrimage to the states each summer to spend a few months working at 'Camp' which consists of anything from coaching sports such as archery, tennis or canoeing, to leading drama classes and putting on amateur performances to entertain your fellow campers. Summer Camps are a fantastic way to spend a summer away from home and the vast majority of people who have been rave about their experience. They are great for building confidence and self esteem, making friends and they allow you to earn money at the same time so you can do a bit of travelling once the camp has finished for the season. There are as many as ten thousand camps across America employing over twenty thousand overseas staff, so there is a great opportunity to have a memorable summer after college or between years at uni.
Medical students can use their gap year as a way of building their knowledge and gaining hands on experience, often in areas where it's needed most. Students of Medicine, Nursing, Midwifery, Dentistry or Community Care will find a medical placement really helps them understand their chosen career path and can give them access to first hand situations which could be a couple of years study down the line if they had gone straight through the educational route. Again the choice of destination and speciality varies depending on your own personal preference and what is right for you, but all will be welcome of your help.
Saving the Planet
Conservation projects can apply to both animals and people. Within this umbrella term there is huge choice and the numbers of people taking this type of gap year grow year on year. More and more species of animals and habitats are on the endangered list because of climate change and human interference. Farming, hunting, development, illegal logging, are all putting unsustainable pressure on natural habitats and this continues to result in thousands of projects both large and small, aimed at countering the effects. Many projects such whale and dolphin monitoring in South Africa contribute to important scientific research, whereas others such as working with safari rangers are great for aspiring vets to get hands on with animals in the wild.
Top volunteer job: Teaching English
Earning a Crust
If work experience is important, but you cannot afford to spend time without receiving a wage, there are still a large number of projects designed to put some spending money in your pocket while you are giving something back. Admittedly they won't all be fantastically well paid, and the competition for places will be a lot tougher than most volunteer projects, but a paid 'working holiday' where you can have a fantastic time whilst boosting your bank balance is very achievable - you can even come out of it with qualifications!
Large travel companies look for summer beach resort staff such a watersports instructors, mountain leaders, tennis coaches, childcare and bar staff. You will be working in the sun, the perks of the job are pretty good, and you may get the chance to stay on with the company and expand your qualifications. For Winter sports lovers you could work in a ski resort as a chalet host, chef, bar staff, or a ski/ snowboard instructor. If you like the idea of making a living on the slopes there is a great range of instructor training courses which allow you to work towards your qualifications with the guarantee of a paid teaching job once qualified. The work is seasonal but you'll have an awesome time and there are opportunities worldwide. If you are career minded and your aim is to expand your CV you can opt for an Internship in a range of specialities such as marketing and sales, which will be looked upon favourably by future employers.
Top paid job: American Summer Camp
These are just some of the most popular types of gap years available but there really is something for everyone. Whatever your interest there will be a fantastic opportunity out there for you, just make sure you plan it carefully and take your time to ensure you get the most out of your year out. Chances are this will be your one off trip of a lifetime so make sure you fit in everything you want to do and don't just follow the masses by choosing the most popular options!