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.
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.
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!
‘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.’