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Student view: Why take a gap year?

17th August 2011

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With the changing costs of education and ever increasing student-debt the decision to take a gap-year is becoming much more difficult. But taking one could be a life-changing experience that could give you a step-ahead on the road to a career. TNS quizzed some previous gap-year takers about what it did for them..... 


Andy Foreman at University of Reading

Andy ForemanWhy did you take a gap year?
I took my gap year because I wanted to try something. I've always wanted to travel and still plan to do more of it after university but it gave me the opportunity to do something on my own and have a really fun time with it too.

What did you do on your gap year?
I had two main parts to my gap year. Firstly I saved some money by working over summer and autumn and then did a ski season in the French Alps where I worked as a general assistant in a hotel. Just doing odd jobs in the hotel and then skiing or boarding in my spare time. After three months of that I returned home in March for a couple more months and then headed to America to work in a summer camp through the company Camp America. There I worked as a cabin counsellor staying with the kids every week and also taught certain activities including football, archery,  swimming, amongst others.

Was it a worthwhile experience?
Yes it was very worthwhile. I learnt a lot of new skills and had one of the best years of my life by far. It cost a lot of money but it was most definitely worth it.

What benefits do you think you have gained from it?
The experiences I had on my gap year have helped me develop team work skills, to put others before myself and also..... I met my girlfriend. so that’s a good gain I’d say.

What was the strangest thing that happened to you on your gap year?
I think the strangest thing that happened to me was one week where a large group of French Jews took over the hotel I was working in, in France.... over Christmas..... so we didn’t get to have Christmas.... and they didn’t say thank you once the whole week... you get the idea.


Ina Andersson at University of Glasgow

Ina AnderssonWhy did you take a gap year?
Boredom and indecisiveness! I was bored with both studying and staying in the same place. I wanted to take a break, travel and explore the world outside my morning bus route to school.

What did you do on your gap year?
I moved to a new city, London, and got a job working in retail. I worked for a while and saved some money and then went backpacking in South East Asia and later also Europe.

Was it a worthwhile experience?

Yes! No regrets. It was tough at times, moving away from home and travelling in foreign countries on my own but I came out a much more independent individual.

What benefits do you think you have gained from it?

Looking back, it made me grow up quicker than I think I would have had I not taken a gap year. In London, the process of writing a CV, attending interviews and finally landing a job was invaluable experience and truly confidence boosting! It is also an investment as future employers will value your experience. Travelling forced me to take responsibility and make decisions for myself - it made me more independent. Travelling also opened my mind up to new places, experiences and people - for example I spent some time working at an orphanage in Thailand and experiencing life there really put my own into perspective.

What was the strangest thing that happened to you on your gap year?

I was offered a temporary volunteer position as an English teacher at a school in Thailand. I turned up on my first day only to find out that not even the teachers spoke a word of English - I was more or less pushed into a classroom, placed in front of twenty or so school children, photographed and left to my own devices. I spent two weeks trying to teach through playing charades, pointing at things and drawing animals on the whiteboard (tip - volunteer through an established organisation, they will help you out).

Would you recommend other students take a gap year? 

Absolutely. And if you did not travel before University, then travel after. I met many recent graduates on my trips who were taking a break, trying to figure out what they wanted to do. I think it is a great experience and it is especially important to understand other cultures than our own as the world is becoming more and more globalised.

Tom Blacker, 22, at University of Leicester

Tom BlackerWhy did you take a gap year?

I had always wanted to travel independently and see the world. The break from studying was a welcome benefit and reason to go as well. I set about organising a volunteering scheme and chose GAP adventures (now called Latitude) and working full time before I went, so I could also save enough money to go. It turned out that I had saved more than needed, which was a great plus too.

What did you do on your gap year?

I chose to teach English (TEFL) for a term and was placed, by the volunteering organisation I chose to go out with, GAP Adventures (now Latitude), in a boys school called SM La Salle. This lasted from January to May. During this time, I had roles such as: an observer to a teaching assistant, to a remedial teacher (for low ability pupils) to sometimes an exam invigilator, one-to-one mentor for public speaking pupils, and a rugby coach for the second year team. During these months, I was housed in the school boarding house with another 18 year old volunteer from Australia, a group of school pupils and a school governor. Concurrently I had lots of freedom to travel in the local area and overseas, and stay with others on evenings, weekends and holidays.

Was it a worthwhile experience?

 It was a very worthwhile experience as it improved my work ethic, taught me about working overseas, and I also learned a good level of the Bahasa Malaysia language, gained a scuba diving qualification, and a general adjustment to living in a different culture.

What benefits do you think you have gained from it?

I became more independent, more willing to take bold risks and follow them through, more outspoken, an appreciation and knowledge of a different country with a new way of looking back at my home country. I also gained immense benefit to and from the community I lived in: particularly amongst the pupils, local friends and winning the state rugby competition with the team that I coached. The cash prize was a great benefit to the school and also to my own sense of achievement.  At university, I could also appreciate new theories, and ideas from different perspectives too. A module of International Relations alongside my English modules also broadened putting my learning into academic practice. 

What was the strangest thing that happened to you on your gap year?

 The strangest thing was definitely the massive cultural importance of food and religion, and often their presence together. Buses and airports had 'no durian fruit' signs but one meal I had with a teacher and a friend was merely preparing and seeing our boundaries for a weekend away at their house in the remote hinterland. A large church service took place, with a practice the day before with lots of rice and food all the time. Then that night we drank home-made rice wine until we were totally drunk, then some beers, followed by a walk down the road to the local bar-cum-treehouse where we sang on a karaoke machine in front of locals all night long.

Would you recommend other students take a gap year?

 I would recommend a gap year to any student, so long as you are fully prepared to live alone and throw yourself into everything without reserve. Do have your university sorted on a deferred year before you go and there is lots of work to do before you go! Homesickness and other things happen, so just embrace it all and put as much of yourself into it, to get the most out of the time.

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