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A gap year can provide a breathing space or “time out” from the pressures of studying. It allows you to do something other than going straight to college: be it travel, working abroad, taking part in an exchange, doing voluntary work or learning a new skill or language. The idea is to return to full-time education the following year and so you should view your gap year as an opportunity for self-development, not as a means to escape studying!
Where to start - good planning is of the essence
1. Ideally, start your planning six months before you leave.
2. Draw up a shortlist of activities you would like to be involved in (paid work, volunteer work, exchange, au-pair, work experience, training, further study, language learning, etc.).
3. Decide where you would like to work/travel (staying in your own area, travel in Ireland, travel to an English-speaking country, other international travel).
4. Research all the possibilities and decide on which agencies you will contact.
5. Consider how long you want to be away.
6. Consider what money you'll need - make plans (if necessary) to earn the costs associated with the year, in advance of travel.
7. Check VISA requirements, work permits, vaccinations etc. for the countries you intend to visit.
8. Think about what you want to do on your return.
9. Set-up a SKYPE or a Viber account (it is cheaper to log-on than phone home!)
10. If possible, talk to people who have gone and done what you are planning to do - as they will be in the best position to advise you where to go and more importantly, where to avoid.
11. Ask yourself what benefits you will obtain from participation.
What are your options?
The variety of choice is endless. Below are just a few examples of activities you may consider:
Travel (working your way around the world) - A year out travelling gives great opportunities to develop yourself and your skills, and experience new cultures.
Finance will be a key issue during your time travelling - you need to be realistic about how much you can earn, live on and save.
Finding work overseas can often be tricky and sometimes difficult. In many countries you may need to get a work permit. Do some planning and try to make some good contacts before you go.
Voluntary Work - There are opportunities at all levels, from labouring to surgery and everything else in between. With some organisations, you can choose between various exotic locations and how long you wish to work for. Check any costs in detail as you may need to do some fund-raising in advance.
Before you commit yourself to any voluntary work, it is advisable that you are very clear regarding: the amount of time you are willing to commit; the organisation you wish to work for; the type of work-experience you desire and how it all fits into your overall career plans.
Short Courses - acquire additional skills, which may be useful to you - for example Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), learn another language, a First Aid course certificate! For other jobs, you are instantly more employable if you have a full-clean driving licence. Every skill counts.
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