In a Land Far, Far Away
By Allison McKenzie
Heading straight into university from high school isn't for everyone. If you have ever wondered about learning a new language, seeing a different culture or volunteering, you might want to consider a gap year abroad. A gap year is commonly used to describe the time period when students take time off between high school and university to travel overseas. If you are quite comfortable hanging out with people you know, being close to family and having the waiter understand what you order in a restaurant, then maybe the gap year is not for you. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you are intrigued by the unknown and want to try something new, read on!
Choices, choices, choices…
The possibilities of a gap year include study, working, volunteering, learning a new language, exploring a culture or religion, or just plain travel. What you decide to do on your year abroad will likely affect where you decide to go. If studying is your goal, then you might have to consider places that use the same language as you. Doh! For English speakers, the UK, Australia and New Zealand are all popular destinations. Want to earn money while you live abroad? Check out opportunities in Asia to teach in schools or assist in an office environment. If your goal is to learn a new language or culture, the sky's the limit! Throw a dart at your wall map, and off you go! Well, ok, maybe it's not quite that easy…
Do your homework
Wondering how to find a work, study or volunteer opportunity before you go? Fortunately, there are resources to help you. High school and university career centres are great spots to begin. Usually these places have lots of information, and people who can send you in the right direction. If you are using the Internet to do research, approach with caution! Remember that there are a lot of scams online and fraudulent websites. DO NOT sign up for something or purchase a trip without thoroughly checking out the organization. Your best bet is still to start at a career centre or local travel agency to see if they can provide you with a list of legitimate placement agencies.
You are going to be in a different country, many miles from home. This is not the time to be flippant about your safety. It is important that you know as much as you possibly can about your new country and city, and that you take all necessary precautions before you go. Talking to someone who has been there is a great place to begin. Most countries will require that you have a special visa for an extended trip, and you will definitely need to look into a visa if you want to do any working, studying or volunteering. Contact the country's embassy to find out their visa requirements. Of course, you will also need a passport. Make sure that you plan to get your passport well in advance, as wait times vary.