Mind the gap

28 Feb

Taking a gap year is a very popular and trendy thing to do these days. They call it a year but it can be any significant amount of time – a month, six months, two years – overseas.

Having done this myself, I can confirm without a shadow of a doubt it was the best experience of my life so far. I spent my gap year, which was in fact a year, predominantly in New Zealand, where I worked for a while, but also travelled to Australia and Fiji during that time too.

I took my gap year once I graduated from university and, knowing myself quite well, I thought this would be the best option for me. Some people choose to do their gap experience between college and university but I doubted myself that I’d have the motivation to go back into education after a year overseas. Others choose to go having been at work for a few years, but I thought the luxury of a regular monthly wage would be too tempting to give up for a year.

Having been in education since the age of five, I felt I needed a break before entering the scary grown-up world of full-time employment.

For me, the best thing about my trip was enjoying my new found independence, meeting new people and challenging myself. As someone who is petrified of heights, jumping off a 43-metre high bridge is something I never thought I’d do and something I’d definitely call a challenge.    

Spreading the message overseas

I digress somewhat, but the reason for my reminiscing is that my experience was brought to the front of my mind last week when I met a group of students all eagerly waiting in anticipation to go on their gap experiences this summer.

In order to prepare students for their gap placements, the British Safety Council is holding a number of training days to raise awareness of health and safety and help them look after their own safety and welfare while overseas.

As part of the training day, the students complete the British Safety Council’s level 1 award in health and safety at work, which will equip them with the knowledge and understanding of important health and safety issues, including a discussion of the hazards and risks they may encounter while on their placements.

Now in its second year, the British Safety Council’s programme has trained more than 100 gap year students, and many of them have gone on to teach basic health and safety to children in developing countries.

The group of 22 students I met were all excited, if a little apprehensive about their forthcoming trips to countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Ghana, with many of them going to teach children in schools. Having now gained a nationally recognised qualification, they feel more confident about their imminent adventures to new territories.

Emily Funnell is a 25-year-old Drama student who is going to Sri Lanka for a month in July. She would eventually like to become a teacher and will be assisting in a classroom during her trip. She says of the level 1 award: “Having this qualification will help me to think more about the health and safety side of things while I’m in Sri Lanka. I’d also like to pass on some basic knowledge to the children too in order to help them eliminate some of the hazards in their own lives. I think it will be quite beneficial.”

I never had the opportunity to undertake any training before my gap year, but whether it’s a year working in New Zealand or a month teaching in Sri Lanka, these are huge life experiences and the British Safety Council’s training days are a great way to prepare students for such an experience.

Speaking to Emily made me feel quite jealous of her pending adventure and reminded me of mine. Although I’d love to take another gap year, I have now officially entered the scary grown-up world of full-time employment and have to spend my money on rent and supermarket shopping rather than sky dives and white water rafting.

I’ll just have to settle for digging out my photo albums and reminiscing over a nice chilled glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc!

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