How to make the most of your gap year

When you heard the words ‘gap year’, what comes to your mind? Backpacking in Asia? Surfing in Australia? To me it certainly felt like my entire grade had gone off to Australia – I realised that when Facebook started suggesting events in Melbourne. But there are so many opportunities out there and not all of them include a 24-hours flight. In fact, you can have an amazing gap year at home. If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that I took two years off after school and I’m having zero regrets about it since these 2 years taught me so much and really made me grow as a person. Doing gap year can be challenging at times but also very rewarding and if you’re thinking about taking a year off before going to uni, I can only recommend it. If you don’t want to take time off before going to uni, you could also do a gap year after getting your bachelor’s degree or after getting your master’s degree or even in-between, in the end it’s your life and only you know what’s best for you. Since I did two gap years before going to uni, people often ask me about my recommendations and how they should go about planning their gap year – I thought I would put my thoughts and tips into a post. x

 

Volunteering

Filling your gap year with voluntary work is something I can whole-hearty recommend. I spent six months volunteering at a children’s centre in Cape Town and it was an incredibly rewarding and inspiring experience. But you don’t have to go to South Africa if you want to do volunteering – there are plenty of opportunities at home, too. You could volunteer at a mental health charity, an animals’s sanctuary or at a senior’s home or you could help out at local events. But if you have itchy feet you might look into volunteering opportunities abroad. Many organisation that help you find a place require you to pay for your stay but you can also apply directly at charities abroad – just make sure to do it very early as they only take a limited number of volunteers. You could search the European Youth Portal for volunteering opportunities, they have a huge database. In my opinion, everyone should do voluntary work at least once in their life – it is an incredible experience and it is a great way of giving back to society.

Internships

How could I not mention internships. Internships are a great way of finding out what career you’re interested – and mostly what careers you are definitely not interested in – and will benefit you in multiple other ways (and I am not just talking about looking good on a CV.) If I hadn’t done a couple of internships I would have probably ended up studying something else and let me tell you, I’m glad my internships pointed me in the right direction. Internships can also help you build team skills and make you realise whether you prefer working alone or in groups or whether an office job would be for you. In terms of internships I have two pieces of advice: 1. Be adventurous and try new things. You can do an internship that doesn’t entirely fit your ‘dream career’ (not that I ever had one). It is all about making new experiences and learning about your interests. And don’t be disappointed if an internships points you away from your dream career. I once did an internship at the local newspaper and although I quickly figured out that I did not want to go into journalism it was one of the best experiences of my life. And it taught me a lot about writing, my hometown and how to work in a team. 2. Be honest to yourself. This is definitely the biggest one. Your career choice isn’t set in stone and it is better to find out earlier that a career path isn’t for you. I know it can be hard to admit that to yourself but it is nonetheless important. And like I said, a huge part of internships is finding out about what you don’t want to do in life. When you’re doing an internship don’t look at your current activities (because interns never get the most exciting jobs) but look at the work environment and see if you ‘fit into it’. When it comes to internships, the easiest option is to do them at home but you can also intern abroad – it is difficult to find a paid internship without a degree, though, but you could work half-time or save up money in advance.

Work & Travel

Work & Travel is definitely for the adventurous. I did workaway in France for a while and although I learned a lot during that time, I figured out that changing location every few weeks wasn’t for me. I am just not one to live out of a bag and although I consider myself spontaneous I prefer to know where I’ll spend the next months. You could of course make a compromise and either plan workaway in advance or just stay at a place for a long time. A lot of my friends just worked abroad for a couple of months and then did the travelling afterwards – that’s probably the easiest way to do it. But if you’re craving adventures then you could do the full work & travel experience and hop from one location to another. The only advice I can give is to have a back up plan and to stick to Europe if you’re short of money as it’s easier to get home in case you can’t find anything. I really want to give work & travel a second chance but I think I’ll work first and then spend a few weeks travelling – this sounds like the perfect combination doesn’t it. If would actually suggest something similar if you’re doing an internship or volunteering abroad – it is always a good idea to keep the last few weeks free to do a round trip or just plenty of day trips.

(Holiday) jobs

During my gap year I always spent a few months at home between travelling to finance my next trip. I worked for a tutoring institution near my hometown and also worked as a waitress at events – both jobs didn’t only get me the money I needed to travel, they also taught me a lot about working with others. I honestly think that every one should have a part-time job at least once in their life. If you want to earn money over the summer you could also look for a holiday job. I wish I could give you great advice on that topic but to be honest, my holiday job experience was pretty rubbish. I worked as a fundraiser and although it felt good to contribute to an important cause, working in a toxic environment just wasn’t worth it (I bet that there are great fundraising organisations out there but mine wasn’t one of them.) If you’re looking for a holiday job I can recommend looking for jobs around your hometown and trying to get a job through someone you know. If you want to combine your holiday job with a journey abroad, you could find some great opportunities, too – I have heard from people who worked in Spain for a couple of months and really loved it. Anyway, there are plenty of ways to earn a bit of extra money, just keep your eyes open.

Did you do a gap year? Are you planning on doing one? xx