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Graduate Careers Advice Video: Gap Year
Let's face it, we all like to drink and it's a common fact that study gets in the way of this basic need. So sometimes the only solution is to devote a full year for drinking and then get back to your education. They call this year the "gap year".
So, a Gap Year is all about drinking and bumming around isn't it?
A lot of people do go off and have recreational drinks around the world as they would do back home. Really on the travel side of it, you need to think, where do you want to go, what do you want to see in your life? It's really top 10 things to do before you die: I want to see the Northern Lights, i want to stay in a nice hotel, i want to go to Australia, i want to bungee jump in New Zealand, sky dive out in wherever; it's really your opportunity to see the world.
Above all, a gap year gives you time to reflect on what's important to you, to learn new skills, to discover new places so really it's about learning. People want to have fun and that's absolutely fine but because the world is such a competitive place, a Gap Year can also be used to expose you to new skills, to work placements, to volunteering, to studying, lots of different opportunities.
After finishing school I spent some time working in a bar, just for a few months to get some experience in the hospitality industry and following that I then went to Newcastle for 3 months and I did a lot of bar work up there as well, just getting used to living away from home, that kind of thing. Then I came back to London and I took a job with Barclays for four months and I worked in banking until I left for Australia and I went to Australia 5 months then for the rest of my Gap Year.
So everyone seems really positive about Gap Years which is all well and good but i've spent all my money down the union so who's going to fund this venture?
It depends what you want to do and how creative you are. A lot of young people have to work to help fund them through education but if you go with a charity or work for a charitable organisation in the UK or abroad you can actually raise the funds which means asking for donations.
Recently we had this girl, Tory, who sat in a bath of cat food and she did it for an hour on a petrol station forecourt and she raised over £1,200 in one hour and that was enough to get her out to do a lion conservation project. And it looks amazing on a CV. We had a legendary girl called Sarah who did a charity fashion show and she raised over £15,000, she was only trying to raise £3,000 but it went so well she just kept going. We've had people sitting in trees, shaving their heads, dressed up as a human fruit machine walking through Manchester to raise money. Fundraising is easy so go out and do it.
So i've heard about swimming with dolphins or helping orphans in Africa are there programs like that?
The cool thing at the moment is becoming a CHAD, not a chav, a chad - you can become a chav on your Gap Year but that's a different thing! A CHAD is a charity adventurer. You pick a cause close to your heart to raise money for, then you pick the most insane trip that involves a bit of travel and you merge them together. So we had two girls, Alison and Joe, who took to the road and drove a pink tuk tuk from Bangkok to Brighton through Kazakhstan, Russia, all the way across Europe. They raised money for the charity MIND.
Expeditions usually involve a group of people going off to carry out a project or an adventure challenge which is done within small groups and it very much has a personal development theme to it as well. There are some expeditions that might have a scientific, some that might have a community purpose.
It's a great opportunity to make a difference and not just to talk about it. Go out there and physically help build schools, help kids to read and do major things.
So what would my employer think?
The top three things employers are after are initiative, communication skills and decision making skills. Those are the top three life skills they want nowadays. They also want to know that you're different from the rest that you stand out; that you've got something about you. Imagine there are five people in the final stages for a job. There's one employer, one job. You're sitting there and you've got Tory who's sat in a bath of cat food, raised money and done Lion conservation work, you've got Ant sitting there who drove a pink tuk tuk all the way down to Brighton from Bangkok, you've got Stephen who cycled the length Chile for Cystic Fibrosis and then you've got a couple of people who didn't do all that, maybe you're one of them. The question is who looks impressive, who doesn't? Who looks like they've just done the hamster wheel of life and got there, and that's the thing to think about.
I've always been encouraged to take the next step so go straight from college, straight to university and then go straight into a job just for that security. But I think a Gap Year actually teaches you a lot. I've got loads of friends who've been on gap years and just in terms of the experience and personal experiences that they have had its brought a lot to their personalities which I wish I'd done and gone out there and seen. It's a lot harder now to take a year off and go exploring.
I think we would be interested in someone who had used it profitably, done something interesting but we have taken many people on who have come back from travelling or done something like that so we would never have a problem with a Gap Year at all.
The way I presented it to employers is such that they all think it was a really valuable experience that I've had and none of them that I've come across have been scornful at all or said anything that suggested that they looked down on me having had that experience. On the contrary, a lot of people I've interview with have looked at my experience in banking very favourably.
The best time of your life to travel is after university or even before and it's the one time when you're going to have however many months you want to travel. The advantage that you see in people who have done Gap Years is that they tend to be a bit more mature, I guess coming into the job initially. You can see people who are 21 and fresh out of university, not that it's a bad thing but some people handle the move from university into professional life better and I think some people who have done Gap Years do find that transition a bit easier.
Employers today are worried about graduates coming through because of technology and graduates spending a lot of time looking at the computer and the world, although a smaller place is becoming slightly more isolated as well and we tend to have online communities instead of real life communities. What a Gap Year can do and the experiences you might have on a Gap Year is that it gets you meeting new people, working with new people, understanding about yourself, how you relate to other people and developing key soft skills.
So what do the universities think of Gap Years?
Universities want you to stay the course and complete. A number of people who defer, when they get to university decide that the course they were going to do isn't right for them so they change and as a result they get more out of it. The people who have taken a Gap Year have had time to think about what they want to do and are generally better quality and this is why the universities have a deferral process in place.
OK for me this Gap Year thing totally works - i'm on the next vodka train to Vietnam but is a gap year for everyone?
Did you learn anything while you were away or was it just literally an opporunity to avoid going to university?
I think when I was younger, the first Gap Year I took, the biggest thing i learnt is i grew up. I was an immature little sod to be fair, a bit confident, cocky and suddenly I left Suffolk for the first time really and it's important to get out of your county i think! I realised there is a world out there and that I'd had quite a privileged upbringing.
It was good to get in amongst a different group of people. Being at school and being in the area that I lived I maybe didn't get to see the widest range of people whereas I was thrown into a completely different culture, amongst people I'd never really come across before.
It inspired me to do what I want to do in life. It made me realise that life is short and there's no point hanging around having regrets. I learnt a lot about life which sounds a bit clichéd but I really did and I've made the most of it since.
I also learned a lot about myself by travelling by myself to the other side of the world. I think that's a really good experience to have and it gave me a lot more confidence going forwards into the kind of things I'm doing now.
Are there any regulatory bodies that cover Gap Year agencies?
There are three organisations that have set up to represent their members offering Gap Year opportunities. One is called the Year Out group and this is a not-for-profit organisation that represents 38 Gap Year members who offer well structured Gap Years. You can go onto their website and they will give you lots of advice and you can read all about the different types of placements and there are certain criteria that these Gap Years organisations have to meet to be able to join the Year Out group.
The only way to choose a good placement is to ask all the right questions so before you head off to Nicaragua to start building a school you need to ask, why is the project there, if I'm travelling out there how am I travelling there, who is going to pick me up from the airport, why does the project exist, where is the money coming from, if I'm paying money where is the money going? That's a key thing. Is it going into the Ferrari of the guy running the project or is it actually going in to help the kids overseas. And in an emergency, if you are going out to do rainforest work or jungle work in the back side of Malaysia you need to know if you're running around with chainsaws or there are snakes, what are their emergency procedures, how will they get you out of there?
My one piece of advice to anybody thinking of taking a Gap Year or career break is don't look at the negatives too much. So many people say they don't have the confidence, or it's too much money. Think about the positives and think about the benefits it will bring to you, make the most of your year and then go for it. It's very much about trying so many different things, new experiences, new places, new people and I still talk about my career break and my Gap Years today and that's why I'm doing the job that I do now because I want to encourage other young people to go out and explore the world.
A lot of people talk about taking a Gap year but only 20% do it, that's the different. So you want to be a doer, not a talker in this respect.
So it turns out there are legitimate ways to take a year off to go drinking in fact you don't even have to drink. But to make it worthwhile, a gap year placement or internship could really boost your credibility with future employers. And when you get back and your second year mates are mocking you for being a wet behind the ears fresher, just remind them of all the mates you've made around the world that are willing to put you up for free, anytime you want. Win, win if you ask me.
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