Category Archives: Uncategorised

Josef Baines

Reflections of a Gap Year Traveller

Alongside tens of thousands of British school leavers I’d decided that a gap year was for me. Everyone has their own reason to take one, ranging from inspired to downright misjudged. For most however, its usually the first decision that’s all yours to make, and that’s what makes it so exciting. I went to India, traveling anticlockwise for six months until I ended up exactly where I started again, Mumbai. I’ve only recently realised how precious a gap year is, being able to take a year off from life, simply to indulge our dreams is rare, and for most of us we only get one chance to make the most of it. But how do you that?

My only qualification to talk about gap years is that I’ve taken one, and although I hate to admit it, I’m not sure I got the most out of it. The one thing I can be 100% sure on is that I made plenty of mistakes. So where did I go wrong?


Essentially, the question I ask myself now is… Did I become just another tourist? I never wore socks and sandals, or hung an expensive camera about my neck, but with retrospect I became the very tourist that no Gapper ever wants to become. By following the very books designed to inform the independent traveler, I ended up following a conveyor belt of gap year traffic, bumping into the same people time and again as we all raced to the places highlighted in our travel guides. Of course this is avoidable, a more adventurous traveler would throw the guidebook away, but for an 18 year old who’d only been away for the occasional holiday with mates, you become addicted to the ease of just flicking a page for your next destination.

How would I change it if I could? I loved my time in India, but with time I regret 2 things. Firstly, I never gave anything back to a country and people that have such a special place in my heart, in fact I think I might have bankrupted a few with my over exuberant haggling. Secondly, I never got to know an area properly, never took the time out of my hectic schedule, and now have no one I’d feel comfortable visiting. With a bit of research its pretty clear to see that there are volunteering projects in just about every corner of the world, I’d recommend taking the time to check them out, its something I wish I’d done! I’m pretty sure it would have dealt with both of my regrets.

Deciding early on to travel independently, I bought all my own flights, insurance, jabs, organised trains and buses, flicked through Lonely Planet and off I went. Moving on every few days to see the next monument or beach, mountain or festival, it was an onslaught of experiences and undeniably fun. But now I ask myself if I got to know anybody, or indeed a particular place or community. With so many things to see in the bible that is a Lonely Planet, I never had time to get truly involved with the people who I so keenly watched as my train rolled through their towns and villages. The only time I sat back, took stock, and got to know any locals was whilst bed bound in a hospital in Goa following a rather dicey fever! Even paradise involves a trip to the hospital occasionally!

Five years later and with the traveling bug well and truly caught, I’m working as an intern for The Leap. It’s a gap year organisation providing opportunities as wide-ranging as eco-tourism, community projects and conservation. Operating in South America, Africa and Asia, it’s something I wish I’d known about when I organised my own gap year.

Vikki Nicholls

Vikki Nicholls volunteered in Tanzania with Lattitude Global Volunteering.

Why I wanted to take a gap year
It was a sentence spoken at a presentation about gap years at school given by Gap Year Fairs: “Whatever you want to do, and wherever you want to go, there is someone out there that can help you do it.” Until then, I hadn’t considered a gap year. It made me think about where I wanted to go (Tanzania), what I wanted to do (teach English) and which organisation was the right fit to get me there (GAP Activity Projects, now called Lattitude).

Vikki Nichollsimage4 

How I found my gap year project
I found my project through simple Google searches combined with information from the talk mentioned above.

How I raised the money I needed
I made my decision in Year 12, which gave me time to prepare and fundraise. I visited the young people’s association, Connexions, which no longer exists, and they helped create a list of organisations that provide sponsorship and support for young people volunteering abroad. I managed to raise around a third of my costs by applying to these organisations for help. I complemented this saving my Saturday job earnings. I also organised a barn dance and sold tickets that included food. On the evening of the dance, I ran a cheap bar with a temporary licence from the local council.

Vikki Nichollslaughing 

The story of my gap year
I spent six months on a remote tea plantation in Mufindi in southern Tanzania — two hours “daladala” (minibus) ride from the main road. I was paired up with a girl called Ashley, who is my best friend today. We taught kids aged three to twelve at Brooke Bond Primary School. We lived in a small house with a long drop toilet that took me five months to work out how to use properly. I’m not really sure whether my memories are likely to inspire or bore. But I will say this: I remember those days with a grin on my face and a warm fuzzy feeling (not bacteria related) in my stomach. There are so many clichÈs I could use about how enriching it was and how it made me a better person. But they would all be true in one way or another; it was an amazing experience.

Did the project benefit the local community?
When I went out to Tanzania, I had glorious notions of the great difference I was going to make. I think we did, but not as individuals. It was through being part of something bigger, and the continuous support the project offered — two pairs of volunteers would go out each year for many years. Contrary to the things we taught the children, I think it was being around the teachers and them absorbing English through us that will have the longest and most far-reaching effect. After all, they’ll be teaching for a lifetime, and will reach many more students than we ever could have in those six months.

Vikki Nicholls3

My advice to those thinking of taking a gap year
Think about what you want both now and in the future. It’s easily said by 30 year olds like me, but only you can make you happy. Part of this is making the most of the opportunities that come your way and/or by creating your own. So go out and make your own memories. If you choose a gap year: plan and don’t be afraid to ask for support, whether monetary or otherwise.

Vikki Nicholls studied French and German at Nottingham University, during which she fell in love with Germany. She moved there after graduation, did a Master’s in Communication and Language at the Berlin Institute of Technology, works in communication. and continues to explore the nuances of her adopted home.

Tyler Stutzman

Tyler Stutzman volunteered in Peru with Projects Abroad

Why I wanted to take a gap year
I was a competitive runner throughout my high school and college education, meaning that international travel had been all but impossible for many years. This was due to both training and competition. So once my athletics career was at an end, my first priority was to finally gain some experience of travelling and volunteering abroad.

Tyler Stutzman4 

How I found my project
I came across Projects Abroad through a simple web search and was immediately struck by the tremendous variety and personal touches evident in all of their projects. I speak Spanish and love football and was looking to start at short notice. So Projects Abroad’s opportunity in Peru was the perfect fit.

The story of my gap year
Upon arrival at Cusco airport, a car from Projects Abroad was waiting for me. Along with another volunteer, I was taken to Calca in the Ssacred Vvalley, where I met my host family who soon treated me as one of their own. I quickly became my host dad’s right-hand man when it came to painting the house, fixing his car and much more besides. He was a key member of a local political party contesting upcoming elections, and a particular cultural highlight was marching in a political parade for Inka Pachacuteq whilst carrying a huge flag. I also had many rewarding conversations with my host family over dinner, which was much better than talking to friends via the internet. Being this open was the right approach, as it brought me closer to my host family.

Tyler Stutzman2 

Concerning the project itself, my background gave me the unique opportunity to train daily with the high level academy kids aged 13 to 16. I didn’t lose a footrace to any of them during my time there, even though I’m not the best footballer. The head coach gave me tremendous freedom to organise and implement the fitness training in my own way. I often ended up running for nearly two hours each practice as the different groups rotated to train with me. When the academy kids were away, I also had the opportunity to work with the city chapter of Apu in the heart of Cusco. In both cases, the children were competitive, focused, and eager to learn. An example of this was the academy players reaching the final of the Peruvian club football tournament for under-16s. I could not have asked for better.

The support from my gap year organisation
In this respect, I could not have been happier. In addition to the Projects Abroad web portal, I could speak with somebody almost any time if I had any questions or concerns. It was easy to tell that the people on the other end of the phone had as much passion about getting me to Peru as I had about travelling there myself. The support didn’t end once I was on the plane. Whilst in Peru, I had regular meet-ups with staff to discuss how things were going. Projects Abroad were also extremely good at disseminating relevant information to staff and volunteers alike. Their Peru office, which was centrally located in Urumbamba, was easy to reach and always open if I wanted to drop in.

My advice to others thinking of taking a gap year
Go for it, even if it’s your first time abroad, as it was for me. I’d been nearly everywhere in my own country. But for someone with aspirations of working internationally, it was a new chapter in my life and I left Peru knowing that this was a realistic ambition.

After returning from Peru, Tyler worked for two years in Washington D.C. in association with Major League Baseball.  He’s about to begin graduate studies at Mannheim University in the School of Law and Economics, where he also hopes to pursue an MBA.

Lucy Caton

Lucy Caton: Volunteering with The Leap in Ecuador and the Galapagos

Why I wanted to take a gap year
Taking a gap year was the best decision I ever made. I wanted a gap year after school because I felt that education is not found in just the classroom, but also in the wider world: in interacting with different cultures, and grasping opportunities that push you out of your comfort zone. I wanted to explore beyond the school bubble that I had been accustomed to for 14 years, and gain a new perspective on the world. I thought that a gap year would help with university studies, and enhance my employability.

How I found my gap year project
I was keen that my gap year should involve a volunteering project, as I had enjoyed volunteering in the past. I studied French and Spanish and love languages, so I wanted a project that would improve my language skills. I was inspired by the projects offered by the gap year organisation The Leap, following a talk at my school. Their projects involved diverse volunteering opportunities in different countries: teaching, environmental, marine and wildlife conservation, construction, and many more. I have always been enchanted by South America, and the diverse nature of Leap’s Ecuador and Galapagos project sparked my interest. I would be able to live and volunteer in four different areas of Ecuador, and improve my Spanish. So I signed up to Leap’s 10 week the programme.

How I raised the money I needed
I needed to raise around £4000. I first worked at the Edinburgh Festival as Front of House Assistant, which was an amazing experience. I then gained my National Pool Lifeguarding Qualification, and worked as a Lifeguard for 6 months. I child-minded on a regular basis, and I was able to raise more than enough to volunteer in Ecuador and the Galapagos, and then to travel through South America.

Lucy Caton3 

The story of my Gap Year
I arrived at Heathrow Airport and met the group of 15 volunteers with whom I would be living and working for the next ten weeks. We flew to Ecuador, and arrived in Quito, the capital, 15 hours later. We were greeted at the airport by Merika and Max, the leaders that The Leap, working with the Ecuadorian NGO Yanapuma, had assigned to our group. The first few days were spent in Quito, where we were given introductory talks regarding our volunteering, Ecuadorian culture, health and safety, and Spanish Lessons.

We then travelled to the lowland jungle of Ecuador, to Santo Domingo, to volunteer with the indigenous community, the Ts·chila Tribe. We lived and worked in the jungle for 3 weeks, working on sustainable development projects, reforestation, construction, and teaching. We planted hundreds of Cacao trees, built a youth centre, a house, and taught English in the evenings at cultural exchange classes. We learnt some of the Ts·chila tribal language, Ts·fiki, and Spanish. We formed a close connection with the Ts·chilas, and both cultures learnt a great deal from one another.

Next, we travelled to the Andes for 3 weeks in the Village of Chilcapamba, near Otavalo, where we worked in the local nursery, built roads, completed conservation work in a National Park, preparing it for a grand re-opening by the Mayor of Otavalo, and had daily Spanish lessons.

Lucy Caton2 Lucy Caton13

The Leap then sent us on an ‘adventure week’ during which we travelled around Ecuador. We went to the beach in Canoa, ziplining through cloud tree forests in Mindo, white water rafting near BaÒos, and we canoed across the Volcanic Crater Lake of Quilotoa.

After this we went back to volunteering, and travelled to the island of San Cristobal in the Galapagos, to the ‘Hacienda Tranquila’, a conservationist farm on the island. We helped disabled children ride horses, known as Hippotherapy, looked after the animals in the farm, and participated in conservation work, planting, building fences and tortoise shelters, and removing invasive species of plants.

I had the most incredible, life-changing experience in Ecuador and the Galapagos. I loved South America, its people and culture so much that, after 10 weeks volunteering, I decided to travel for two months through Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.

Did the project benefit the local communities?
The project certainly benefitted the local communities. We helped the Ecuadorian farmers increase their produce by creating more sustainable development projects. The Ts·chila culture and heritage are in danger, but Leap’s projects raise awareness and help to preserve it. Our conservation work and preparation for the National Park Opening were appreciated by the local community and should encourage tourism. The local teachers were grateful for our presence, and the special needs children were helped through Hippotherapy.

Lucy Caton4

My advice to those thinking of taking a gap year
I would 100% recommend participating in a volunteering project during your gap year. It will be a great adventure, a life-changing experience, and one of the most rewarding, exciting things you will ever accomplish. It will give you a new perspective on the world, and prepare you for the next stage of your life. It will also enhance your CV. Choose your gap year organisation carefully; the legitimate companies are the ones where your money goes mainly to the project and local community. Step outside your comfort zone and try new things; taking a gap year and volunteering may be the best thing you have ever done!

After a year in France on an Erasmus placement studying French Law at Poitiers University, in 2016 Lucy starts her fourth year at Bristol University in ‘Law with Study in Continental Europe’. She hopes to pursue a career in Law, with an international element.

Lucy Caton10

Jasmine Chopra

Jasmine Chopra volunteered in Costa Rica with Raleigh International

Why I wanted to take a gap year
I didn’t take a whole Gap Year, I took a gap experience at 19 between one year of college and the next. I went away because I had this urge to do something I hadn’t done before, give something back, challenge myself and push my boundaries. I wanted to come back having grown a little and in more ways.

How I found my gap year project
I found out about my organisation through my Mum when I mentioned wanting to do some volunteering. She hadn’t been away with them but had heard about the good work they did from friends and colleagues. Raleigh International was really my only choice once I had researched their ethics and reasons for their work. I signed up that day, a gloomy winter afternoon, and was due to leave for Costa Rica the following July.

Jasmine Chopra04 

How I raised the money I needed
Making the decision was easy but running with the idea was the hard bit. I now had a fundraising deadline to meet, and with support from Raleigh and family, I set myself some targets. I raised most of my money through sponsorship. People were keen to help me when they heard what I wanted to do. It was a cause that people could relate to. I had a part- time job, and wrote to local businesses asking for sponsorship. Any birthday or Christmas money was popped away too.

The story of my gap year
I arrived in Costa Rica with fellow Venturers and our first port of call was Raleigh field base where we spent two days settling in. The time was used for admin formalities, training on jungle camping and radio skills, being allotted our projects and forming our teams. Once those were complete we departed for our destinations. Mine was in a rainforest, a few hours by bus and a few more hours on foot.

I was away for five weeks on a community project with an indigenous community. The location was remote and living was basic. The purpose of our project was to create a school building where the indigenous language could be taught while also providing shelter for a teacher who trekked a great distance weekly to teach the communities around the area. The teacher was native to the community but lived in a town a few hours away. He was trained to teach Cabecar, a language that was dying out. My group consisted of fifteen volunteers and three team leaders (one of which was a fully qualified first aider).
We came from all walks of life, various countries and ranged in age from 17 to 40. We were all in it together, sailing in the same unpredictable boat.

We had to build the structure from scratch. We began by clearing the land and preparing the foundations, then went on to collecting the materials and finally to building it. The wood was sourced locally with the help of the village ‘maestro’ (multi-skilled carpenter/builders) and the tin roofing was transported from the nearest town on (well-kept) donkey back. The tools we used were basic and essential. The task was both humble yet monumental for a bunch of amateur builders many of whom, like myself, hadn’t had much use for a saw or hammer before. It was the sad realisation of how much we took for granted and how we lacked basic life skills.

Jasmine Chopra50

There were many challenges and the biggest was the weather. We worked from the early hours to avoid the afternoon heat, but the rain was unavoidable. There were instances when foundations were washed away and wood was too swollen to be used which caused havoc with our time frames. These were all structural issues whilst people battled with personal issues of ill health, home sickness and generally low morale. These were challenges that we needed to overcome.

Did the project benefit the local community?
The project was completed practically by its deadline and all the aches, pains and tears were worth it. We celebrated with a party that evening. The locals from the villages around cooked a feast and shared their best brews with us all under the incredible starry sky of the pure rainforest. When we asked the community if our project had benefited them, they smiled at us and said they felt that through us their culture had a future and their language a chance at thriving.

Jasmine Chopra47Jasmine Chopra30

My advice to those thinking of taking a gap year
As cliché as it may sound, it was a life-changing experience. I came back undeterred by trivial matters of the first world, but grateful for it too. I came back richer in friends, in experience, and for having known a country filled with treasure in its culture, in its people and in its spirit.

“My gap experience helped me put into perspective what I truly wanted. For me, I concluded that I needed to be living life to its fullest. It made me recognise my sheer love of travel too. I have since travelled where I can, as far as I can and I hope to continue this way, eventually fulfilling my hopes to become a travel writer.”

Hannah Dunton

Hannah Dunton volunteered in Venezuela with The Leap.

Why I wanted to take a gap year
Initially, the thought of a gap year was a bit daunting. However, I was totally unsure of what I wanted to do at University. Therefore, a gap year was the perfect opportunity for me to take some time out to consider all the options available to me and earn some money.

Hannah.Dunton3 Hannah.Dunton2

How I found my gap year project
I spent hours online researching many organisations and decided upon a project organised by The Leap. I chose Leap, as their programmes only lasted 10 weeks, which meant I could be sure of not being away for too long if I realised this wasn’t for me. I was also struck by the many blogs, reviews and images I found. So I made an enquiry and they phoned me back to explain the project and I also went to an open day to learn about the details of the trip.

How I raised the money I needed
To enable me to fund my gap year project, I took on as many hours at work as possible. I also set up a website to sell photographs that I had taken during my time on my A-level photography course. Looking back, I wish I had spent more of my time fundraising to contribute additional money to my time away.

Hannah.Dunton5

The story of my gap year
My gap year consisted of one main volunteering project with The Leap in Venezuela. In addition to this, I went to Ibiza, Turkey, Portugal and Glastonbury Festival. However, by far the favourite part of my gap year was the volunteering experience in Venezuela. The project was split into three parts: Caribbean Beach, rainforest and La Gran Sabana. Whilst on the coast, we had Spanish lessons, taught English to adults and children (including on remote islands, not accessible by road — only by kayak), and ran after-school clubs and beach conservation projects. Following this, we moved to the rainforest, where we planted trees in areas affected by forest fires, built a school playground, taught some more English and learnt some more Spanish!

Finally, the last part of the trip was in La Gran Sabana, where we spent two weeks travelling across the country and climbing a Tepui. During our weekends off, we explored the local towns and got some well-earned beach time. The best part of these by far was paddling past dolphins in our sea kayaks and exploring the local beach islands. But nothing can compare to the feeling of knowing that you have made a small difference to other people’s lives.

Did the project benefit the local community?
During my time away, we spent time working on a few projects that all benefitted the local community. The first half of the trip was in a small beach town, where we spent a great deal of time focusing on improving the local infrastructure. An example of this was renovating the local after-school club. In other parts of the 10 weeks away, we built a playground for a school, planted trees in an area affected by deforestation and ran beach conservation projects. I feel that both these and the earlier English classes helped to educate the community, which can enhance the opportunities available to them. The beach conservation projects were particularly important for educating the community on the importance of tourism as a much needed source of income.

Hannah.Dunton7Hannah.Dunton4

My advice for those thinking of taking a gap year
My advice is to always take one! You will rarely meet anyone who regrets having taken a gap year — only those who regret not having taken one. It gives you time to really think about what you want to do next, to broaden your view of the world and to meet some amazing people.

Hannah has graduated in Psychology, plans another gap year, and is considering postgraduate studies to enable her to become a lecturer.

Grace Law

Grace Law volunteered in Chile with Oyster Worldwide.

Why I wanted to take a gap year
I knew I wanted to take a gap year after school for two main reasons. The first: to see a bit of the world, do something worthwhile and to have a break after all the years of compulsory education I’d had to endure! The second: to give me a better chance of getting into my university of choice. I wanted to study Spanish and, with my AS grades not being what I was hoping for, I knew that this was my chance to prove my commitment to language study and to significantly improve my proficiency in languages.

Grace.Law9 

How I found my gap year project
I was lucky to have a head of sixth form who was a huge advocate of gap years. She organised a talk for the whole of year twelve about gap year opportunities from an organisation called Oyster Worldwide, who were soon to provide my project of choice. Their project options and their philosophy of responsible community involvement inspired me. I loved their small team of personable people and found that they were truly invested in the projects they promoted — something I found to be so important. They also have in-country representatives on the ground — a huge help to someone living away from home for the first time.

How I raised the money I needed
I raised the necessary funds for my gap year from my Saturday job, which I had throughout my years at school. Fortunately, they took me on full time over the summer, which boosted my bank balance considerably.

The story of my gap year
I went to live in the rural south of Chile in a town called Coyhaique in the middle of the Andes. I volunteered in a number of local primary schools and also taught at the local university. It was my job to make English fun — a living language. I absolutely loved finding new ways to make the kids smile and learn. A real highlight was teaching children parts of the body through the hokey cokey! We also helped to run extra-curricular activities based on our interests. While all the volunteers helped to run English club, I also helped the school choir and band while another volunteer started a football league. The best part of living in Chile was the relationship I had with my host family. My host Mama always made an effort to include me in every tradition, celebration and party! The fact that the family didn’t speak a word of English helped my Spanish so much.

Grace.Law7 

Did the project benefit the local community?
Our project allowed local children with few opportunities to enhance their prospects in life through speaking better English. A child I taught managed to win a scholarship to a prestigious private school as a result of his English skills. Children with learning difficulties and disabilities also benefitted, as we could spend more time with them than the teachers had previously been able to. One of my proudest moments is having a five year old blind student introduce a class assembly in English, when previously he had been left to self-teach with a braille book as there was no-one to give him the required support. While our project helped the community, the community gave back so much to us in the way they included us and shared their culture in every way they could.

My advice to others
My gap year further benefitted me throughout my university career and into the job market, helping me to secure graduate employment with the world’s leading hospitality company. This was all a result of the combination of language skills and international experience gained from my first of many adventures overseas. To date, I have lived in six countries in the last six years. Thoroughly research all your project options first. Get to know the organisations involved and go with the one which gives you the most support, has the best connections in country and has a truly sustainable, community focus to their projects. But most of all, my advice is JUST GO! It’s the best choice you will ever make!

Grace.Law5Grace.Law3

‘Having graduated in 2016 I am working for a leading international hospitality company, training in hotel management with some of the best mentors in the industry. Getting this fantastic opportunity is due in part to my international experience and language skills. My gap year was the springboard for this. For the future, I hope to own and run my own small hotel, welcoming weary travellers from across the world.’

Elinor Raeside

Elinor Raeside volunteered in Ghana with GAPFORCE

Why I wanted to take a gap year
I made the decision to take a gap year in 2015 whilst in my last year of A Levels when, because of a lack of work experience, I was declined by the universities I had applied for to study Midwifery. I was actually relieved that I wasn’t accepted, as I didn’t really feel ready for university yet!

Elinor Raeside11

How I found my gap year project
I did my gap year project through a company called GAPFORCE. I found them whilst searching online for medical placements abroad. I found a project in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and knew instantly that this was the programme for me, as visiting Africa has always been on my bucket list. Gapforce appealed to me as it meant I was able to explore a new country and meet new people, while at the same time gaining work experience.

How I raised the money I needed
All of the money needed for my programme was raised by myself. After my A Levels I got myself a job as a bartender, I had some savings from previous part-time jobs but still had a way to go. Initially I didn’t have an exact plan for my gap year, so I just worked crazy hours to raise as much as money possible to give myself options. Once I had booked my Ghana trip, I had even more motivation to keep up the 50 hour weeks and 13 hour shifts to get the savings I needed. My parents helped me out during the couple of months before my trip as necessities like vaccinations can be very expensive!

Elinor Raeside6

The story of my gap year
I worked from the end of summer, until a couple of weeks before I went to Ghana in June. I loved my job and the people I worked with, so I had a great year. I also took part in volunteering to gain experience and to strengthen my personal statement. I received an offer from The University of Manchester in November to study Nursing in September 2016. This meant that I could start planning my gap year around this; I had been dreaming of joining Gapforce’s Ghana project for a couple of months and so I booked it straight away. June came around quickly, and before I knew it I was living with 17 other volunteers in a town called Teshie. I will never forget the people I met and the experiences I had, though trying to explain or summarise it all is difficult! I now want to travel all over the world with my nursing degree once I have graduated, and I hope that one day I will be back in Ghana to visit the lovely people I met.

Did the project benefit the local community?
During my project I spent the first two weeks within a clinic observing and learning. Then I worked within a school teaching the children, which definitely benefited them as we were able to teach them one-on-one and could see them improving every day. We also visited a local orphanage about three times a week while we were there. We all grew attached to the amazing children and bought them clothes, underwear, toys and books. One of the girls I was volunteering with had a connection with a charity back home which had donated some money, which we all also contributed to. This paid for the children to have mosquito nets, tables and school uniforms. Without doubt this made a life changing difference to the children and the lovely ladies running the orphanage.

My advice to those thinking of taking a gap year?
My advice: DO IT! It really will change you as a person, not just because of the things you witness and are exposed to whilst travelling. You will came away with a sense of achievement. It will be so rewarding knowing that you have saved and worked hard to be on that trip, and that you been independent and have travelled by yourself, maybe for the first time. It’s the most fun I have ever had, and the best time of my life. Put it this way, I would still be there now if I could!

Elinor will be starting a degree course in Nursing at the University of Manchester in September 2016.

Elinor Raeside4Elinor Raeside2

Clare Deal

Clare Deal volunteered with Lattitude Global Volunteers as a teacher on the South Pacific island of Vanuatu

Clare.Deal7 Clare.Deal6

Why I wanted to take a gap year
When my sister returned from her gap year in Malawi, I was busy sitting my AS levels. But her stories had me hooked. I counted minutes of revision alongside minutes on google earth, flying from continent to continent in search of my own Malawi.

How I found my gap year project
As my sister’s gap year with Lattitude had worked out so well, I decided to go with them. and I started researching the countries and projects they supported. I wanted to work with people, either as a teacher or on community projects and I wanted to stay for six months. South America and Tanzania were possibilities, but I eventually settled for Vanuatu in the South Pacific.

Clare.Deal5 

How I raised the money I needed
I spent the summer working as a chugger, collecting charitable sign-ups on streets. The pay was fairly good and accommodation was provided, so I saved enough for the flights. In the autumn I moved to the south of France and worked in a boarding school where food and accommodation were provided so my so saving steadily mounted, untouched until I needed it.

The story of my gap year
I left home on a rainy January evening, flew around the world and finally arrived at Efate, the main island in Vanuatu. Exhausted, jet lagged, sweaty and already nibbled by mosquitoes, Catherine, my volunteer partner and I had one final leg of the journey to our new home on Tanna.

Clare.Deal3 

Luggage and hand luggage were balanced atop weighing scales, pencil calculations were made and the bags were piled cumbersomely by the side of the airport desk. Then it was our turn. We shuffled onto the scales together, holding one another’s elbows as our combined weight was pencilled in. The substantial weight of our bodies, combined with bags and books, packed high enough to last six months, was just light enough to send us through to sit, luggage piled on laps, in the last two seats of the twelve seater propeller plane which took us to our new home.

The following few days passed in a haze as we met new neighbours, colleagues, friends and students. Settling into our new home, we strolled around the small town and discovered nakamals — a meeting place by a banyan tree where kava, the local intoxicating plant root, was chewed, diluted, drunk from coconut shells and promptly spat out again. This became a familiar over the six months, despite us both being female, and kava being traditionally a male event.

Clare.Deal1 

At another banyan tree meeting place we met many of the wives of the kava drinkers, who sat in the shade of the tree on woven plant leaf rugs on the sand, babies slung across chests in colourful shawls, selling papayas, avocados, bananas and mangoes kept free of flies by an occasional wave of hand or shawl.

Did my gap year benefit the local community?
I imagine this is a question I will struggle to ever find an answer to. Whilst there, I often thought about my role and the wider role of gap year volunteers in less developed countries Slightly uncomfortable undercurrents seem inescapable to an industry which sends unqualified western gappers to work for a few months abroad before going to university. Harm can and very probably is done from time to time.

Equally, gap years offer enormous opportunities to both the volunteer and the local community and these are utterly invaluable. Forging genuine friendships and professional links across the globe allows for horizons to broaden and new ideas to take shape as stories are shared and daily lives are lived together.

I have no hesitation in saying that the friendships I made and the sharing of my life with the lives of those I met on Tanna benefitted both me and the local community. Whether my teaching was so straightforward a benefit is harder to say. I very much hope it was, although with no training and little knowledge of the curriculum, it is hard to unreservedly declare my presence as a teacher as being beneficial. Despite feeling utterly privileged and welcomed by the community, I also felt very glad to hear that the house is now lived in by a local teacher, who has been teaching and living there since 2010 and plans on staying many more years.

Although an evaluation of benefit, particularly ones own benefit, is so fluid and complicated a notion to try and pin down, I feel on balance, that the space of the house is now better used and the job better filled than by volunteers who stay for six months at a time.

As I write this, I am returning from Tanna for a second time, eight years on. Returning to the place where I lived, laughed, cried and loved eight years later re-awoke this question of benefit for me.

On walking into the school, I was first met by a painted sign which Catherine and I had done for the school. I had completely forgotten about it and was very pleased to see it at the school’s entrance. In the room I had lived inn, I had painted a huge parrot which remained on the wall. The young, ni Vanuatu girl who now lives there looked astonished, then yelped and whooped when I told her that it was I who had painted the parrot eight years ago.

I also met up with Rhonda, a friend and colleague from the school, who filled me in on her life and the lives of all the students I had taught, many of whom are now at university.

Whether the friends one makes within a community can be understood as a benefit to that community is hard to say. But if so, then yes! My presence did benefit the local community.

A far easier question is whether my time there benefitted me, which it definitely did. It benefitted me beyond all expectations and continues to do so. Professionally, personally and socially, my experience on Tanna continues to mould, influence and benefit me and will probably do so for many years to come.

Clare took a first degree and a Master’s in English Literature. She plans to continue working in language teaching and research in the UK and overseas.

Charlie Lane Fox

Charlie Lane Fox took Art History Abroad gap year courses in Italy

Charlie joined AHA’s 2-week Northern Italy Summer Course straight after leaving school and went on to their 6-week Early Summer Gap Year Course in April 2015. He returned to Italy with AHA again this summer on their Southern Italy Summer Course.

Why I wanted to take a gap year
Having spent 8 years at boarding school I was very keen to get out of England and spend time away from education, exams and the consistently average weather. I was also due to have an operation on my shoulder and wanted to get it done before I went to university. My three elder siblings all enjoyed their gap years so I was pretty sure before I left school that I would do the same.

How I found my gap year project
Two of my elder siblings had enrolled on Art History Abroad courses and both gave rave reviews. AHA also had a stand at my school’s gap year fair with an exhibition of photos showing where they went and what they did, which looked incredible!

charlie fox17 

How I raised the money I needed
I spent most of July and August and all the following 3 months working for an agricultural contractor in Yorkshire

The story of my gap year
I started working as soon as I left school to save some money for AHA’s 2 week Northern Italy course. Definitely worth it! Travelling to Venice, Florence and Rome with plenty saved up meant I could spend more on the Italians’ breath-taking culinary skills. I’m no art historian but if you stand in front of pieces like Michelangelo’s ‘David’ and Raphael’s ‘School of Athens’ without thinking ‘this is pretty awesome’ then you’re looking in the wrong direction!

charlie fox9 

After this course I went back to work in England and started saving up for an excursion to Australia to stay with my Aunt and Uncle in Sydney from January to March. In the merry Land of OZ I volunteered at a charity, ChildFund, and spent most of my funds learning to Scuba dive and taking every subsequent opportunity to do so.

When I got back to England I again returned to working for the same contractor to replenish my funds for another AHA course, this time 6 weeks starting in Verona and ending in Naples, staying in the major cities (Florence, Siena, Rome, Venice etc) along the way. This was undoubtedly the highlight of my year off.

Everyone on this course was on a gap year; there were about 16 of us and we immediately got along and looked forward to spending 6 weeks together. In essence we spent the days seeing awesome pieces of art and architecture and the nights eating amazing food followed by a trip to the local bars.  The tutors were fantastic! Apart from knowing loads about art/architecture/history etc. they would always take us to local hangouts and even the prime spots for a killer Neapolitan sunrise. They are honestly some of the nicest and most entertaining people I’ve ever met.

I was properly gutted to leave everyone on the course and return to England but was stoked to be heading to uni in September. I spent the rest of the summer working and spending the money on some festivals.

Did the project benefit the local community?
Yes. Italians definitely benefit from visiting tourists like myself, financially at least.

My advice to those thinking of taking a gap year
Don’t write anything off and keep your options open. If you’re considering going to Italy or you want to see some amazing art and architecture you should definitely look very closely at AHA.

Charlie is reading Ancient history at Newcastle University. He hopes to begin a career in the army after university.