If you’ re taking time out after matric, make it count.
By Sholeen Lagadien
School’s out – for good. No more early mornings, detention, homework, uncomfortable uniforms or boring assemblies. You’re free at last and you can relish the thought of doing nothing for as long as you want to. Going nowhere slowly for a year before you hit the books again seems like a pretty good plan after 12 years of slogging, you reckon. But as appealing as doing zilch during your gap year sounds, it could end up being detrimental if you let yourself slip into couch potato mode. Ideally you should fill the gap with something constructive.
Work? On holiday?
‘After a while, boredom will set in and if you don’t have a job, a lack of money could become inhibiting,’ says Ann Werner, a Cape Town based industrial psychologist and career facilitator. ‘People sometimes underestimate the power of work. A year without anything to do can be hugely demotivating and depression may arise as a result. When you get to that point, it’s very difficult to pull yourself out of the rut and get back on track in terms of studying or finding meaningful employment.’
Felicia Fray (23) was well aware of the pitfalls of lazing around after she matriculated. So, 18 years old and armed with heaps of enthusiasm, she bid farewell to the Eastern Cape and set off to Gloucestershire in the UK, to work as a ‘gap student’ at a local school.
‘I was part of a group of seven students who helped out in the classroom, coached sport and supervised school trips. We also looked after learners who stayed at the boarding house,’ she explains.
Mushfeeka Knight (20) admits she wasn’t as enthusiastic when leaving South Africa. ‘I was very scared to leave home. I’m not someone who likes change,’ she says. ‘But,’ she quickly adds, ‘as scared as I was, I knew I couldn’t miss out on a chance to visit another country without my parents.’ Her gap year took her to Denali, Alaska, where she worked in a photography shop belonging to a family friend, as a stepping stone to reaching her goal of becoming a photographer.
While both Felicia and Mushfeeka were fortunate enough to be able to spend their gap years overseas, a perfectly enjoyable and productive one can be had here in SA as well. For example, you could job shadow or find work in an industry you’re interested in to get a feel for the job. This will help you decide if it’s what you want to do, advises Ann.
If you’re considering a gap year abroad, these are some of the popular job options:
Basically you’ll be responsible for helping a family with household chores involved in childminding, which includes taking kids to and from school and extra-murals. In return, you get accommodation in the family home, meals and a salary or allowance, which you can use to travel when you’re off.
Au pairing is a fantastic way to learn about another culture because you get to live with a foreign family and experience their way of life "rst-hand. Popular countries to au pair in include the US, France and Germany.
During the summer holidays in the US, children (between the ages of 6 and 16) often go to what’s called summer camp. It will be your job to help supervise the kids and contribute on the camp as a camp counsellor, nur se, coach or kitchen stall. You also get to travel around the US during your breaks from camp with the money you’ve made.
If you’re not put off by sub-zero temperatures and snow, then working on a ski resort as a snowboard instructor, childminder, ski-lift operator or a member of the restaurant and hotel staff may be your thing. You also get to save money, travel and meet loads of interesting people (maybe a celeb or three?) from around the world. Canada, Austria and Switzerland are popular ski destinations.
This is probably the easiest way to find employment overseas. You’ll work as a waitron in a restaurant, bar, hotel or motel and be able to save some money to travel when you’re off. If you’re interested in a career in the hospitality industry, this could be a great star t with the added perk of being able to see the world. Think Australia, Canada or the UK.
It all depends on the type of gap year you choose, explains Alex Bleach, managing director of South African Student Travel Service. Some programmes (such as Work USA, which allows you to find a job when you get there, and usually for much higher wages), can cost in excess of R20 000 with flights, visas and insurance. Alternatively, you could apply to a programme where you have accommodation, food and a job already arranged for you, such as au pairing or working at a summer camp. These options are much cheaper since your accommodation and food is taken care of.
Where to Begin
Alex explains how to go about planning your gap year:
First decide which programme you’re interested in. If you enjoy working with children, summer camp in the US or au pairing would be good choices. You can find out about the various programmes by doing some research online.
Once you've decided what you'd like to do, approach an agency to help you get the ball rolling. They’ll usually charge you a programme fee and will provide many of the services you’ll need, such as pre-arranging a job, accommodation, insurance, your flight and visas.
Start planning about four months before you’d like to leave, as organising things such as visas can take some time.
Apart from meeting people from different cultures and being able to see the world, you also have a wonderful opportunity to grow as a person. ‘You get to enhance your CV, manage your own life and stand on your own two feet,’ says Alex. The benefits of a well-structured gap year are many, whether you stay in SA or go globetrotting. So get planning!
Tips for First-Time Travellers
Save enough money before you go and keep an emergency stash.
Keep contact details of friends and family handy in case things get rough.
Create a budget and stick to it
Don't take too much luggage with you.
Stay connected to your family via Facebook or a blog.
Be safe and trust your judgement