Rachel Escott tells us why taking a gap year out worked for her.
BY RACHEL ESCOTT DESIGN BY SIMON HAYES
I took my year out after graduating from university; working for nine months and then travelling through Southeast Asia. With 16 years of education under my belt, I decided that I wanted to see more of the world before settling into a career. The nine months working in admin not only gave me time to plan the trip and earn the £4.5k needed to fund it, but also provided me with valuable experience for my CV for when I returned.
On the 10th April 2013, myself and travel buddy Karen donned our overloaded backpacks and set off for Bangkok. Our route took us on a loop through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and back through Thailand.
It is unsurprising that Southeast Asia is so popular with travellers. It has it all – gorgeous beaches, stunning wildlife, striking mountains, giant waterfalls, beautiful temples, sleepy towns, bustling cities, and a fascinating culture and history. It is also incredibly cheap – and being a popular travellers’ route, we were never alone.
We loved immersing ourselves in the local culture; eating at local restaurants, visiting temples, and even staying with a Vietnamese family for a couple of nights (…and of course sampling the local beer!) The history of these countries is fascinating, and also very poignant when visiting the various Vietnam War memorials and the Killing Fields in Cambodia, where over one million people were massacred. We also took the time to do some voluntary work whilst in Laos. The Big Brother Mouse project in Luang Prabang invites tourists to practise English with locals and monks, which was extremely rewarding. We also purchased books from the project to take to a local village school; an incredible experience!
Asia is famous for its breath-taking scenery, and it didn’t disappoint! Highlights included the paradise beaches in Koh Tao (Thailand), trekking through the mountains and terraced rice paddies in Sapa (Vietnam), watching a burning sunrise at Angkor Wat (Cambodia), and swimming under the beautiful Kuang Si waterfalls (Laos). The wildlife in Asia is also much talked about. We chose to visit the Thai Elephant Home in Chiang Mai – it was important for us to pick somewhere where the elephants were well-treated and not an “attraction”. Here, we spent the day with the elephants – feeding them, giving them a mudbath, and going on a trek.
Life after my year out
At the risk of sounding cheesy, going travelling was the best decision I have made, and is something I would whole-heartedly recommend others to do before settling into a career. As well as giving me priceless memories, it has also added valuable skills to my CV – organisation, adaptability, budgeting, life experience, and much more. I have learnt about different cultures, got out of my comfort zone, and most importantly I have come back with a better perspective on life. The majority of locals we encountered had absolutely nothing, and yet they were the happiest and kindest people we have ever met! Think on…
Does “taking a gap year” mean going travelling?
The phrase ‘gap year’ is synonymous with travel; however you can do lots of other things with your year out – volunteering, gaining valuable work experience, or even learning a new skill. As long as you do something meaningful and don’t spend it playing Xbox, then a gap year is a great option. A productive gap year will develop both your UCAS and future job applications by demonstrating qualities such as ambition, organisation and being eager to learn new skills.
Travelling is not a compulsory feature of a gap year – however it is still a popular choice, and with good reason! After you finish school is a great time to go and see more of the world; without being tied down to studies or employment. Travelling will give you valuable life experience and will prepare you for the independence of living away at university. It will also show universities that you are outgoing, organised and interesting.
Another way to spend your year out is volunteering or doing charity work. There are a range of ways to volunteer, but it is worth considering doing something related to your degree or career path. Another option to think about is combining points 1 and 2 – travel for a few months and volunteer while you’re out there. You could also fundraise for charity – by organising an event or doing a sponsored challenge, such as a trek or even a skydive if you’re feeling brave!
3. Learn new skills
You could use this time out to learn some new skills. Think about it this way: when else are you going to have a completely free year? A new skill could be anything, from learning a new language, to going on a first aid course, to learning how to drive. These skills will help you to develop as a person, and will look great on your UCAS application and for future jobs. Activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award will develop important skills such as team work and adaptability. You could also combine travel and learning new skills by taking a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course.
4. Get work experience
Working during your gap year can have a lot of advantages. Getting paid work experience relevant to your course will look great on your UCAS application. It will also benefit you after uni – for example having a Surveying Degree AND surveying experience will set you apart from other graduate job seekers. Taking a working gap year will help you build up a university fund, and will allow you to do fun things in your year out (that £300 festival wasn’t going to fund itself…!).
So to conclude, taking a gap year does not necessarily mean travelling. It is the perfect time to do something that you have always wanted to, but haven’t because you have been in education for the last 13 years. There are endless ways to spend your year out, so make sure you make the most of it!