The Beginners Guide to Volunteering Whilst Taking a Gap Year
Taking a gap year between finishing school and starting university has become increasingly popular over the last decade or so. It gives individuals a window in which to spread their wings and have new experiences. People choose a variety of activities to pursue on their gap year. For instance, some travel extensively while others do work experience or an internship. One of the most popular pursuits for a gap year is volunteering. Many young people give of their time and energy for good causes all round the world. If you are thinking about volunteering during your gap year, the following is a guide to volunteering that will set you up for success and good times in the months to come…!
The world really is your oyster when it comes to volunteering. Think about places you have always wanted to visit and causes you would like to help with. Some ‘gappers’ stay in their home country and volunteer with a charity close to their heart, while others travel to the other side of the world. You can choose environmental volunteering, or humanitarian agencies, or a school in a Third World country. The choice is yours.
With so many options, there are a wide variety of agencies that can help you organise your volunteering. You may be able to find opportunities yourself, but it can be very useful to have a dedicated organisation to assist you. They will have more contacts and knowledge about the circumstances particular to each opportunity.
When researching a company to help organise your volunteering, make sure you ascertain their credentials and get as much information up front as possible. A reputable company should be able to give you a job description for the volunteering position, outline the support that will be available on the ground (such as a local company representative) and advise on training requirements. Also ask about their funding policies. How are the fees you pay for their assistance used? Do they partner with local organisations in your destination country?
There is other research you should also do when you are weighing up your volunteering options. Contact the Foreign Office to get the latest advice on safe travel to your chosen country. Also, find out which vaccinations you may need before you go and leave plenty of time to get them (some vaccinations need to be done up to six weeks in advance of departure).
Depending on the opportunity you pursue, you may get meals, local travel and even accommodation for free (volunteers on organic farms, for instance, are often housed in converted barns or outbuildings). However, volunteering, particularly abroad, will cost money. Before leaving, it may be wise to find a useful tax tool to help you with any income you may earn. You will need to budget for your flights, accommodation before and after (and maybe during) your placement, and extras like excursions (after all, if you are in a foreign country, you’ll want to explore a bit). You should also take out comprehensive travel insurance to cover your trip. Medical expenses and repatriation costs can be expensive if you are not covered.
Volunteering during your gap year can provide you with a unique experience and great memories, but it can also have other benefits. For instance, university admissions personnel often look favourably on candidates who have demonstrated their willingness to volunteer and to undertake new experiences. Volunteering can help build valuable people skills, give you experience of working in a team and may give you a practical skill to add another string to your bow.
Whatever you wish to pursue in volunteering on your gap year, not only will you be making a real difference, but with the right preparation and attitude, you should come away with an amazing experience that you will remember for a long time to come.