Young people may find themselves at a loss as to how to spend 2012 if their tertiary applications have been unsuccessful or they are uncertain about further study. Graduates may also feel the need to “get away” between years of studying and the pressure to get a job. A gap year could be the answer.
It is an exciting prospect for young people to escape for a time and experience different cultures. The gap year can be an adventure in independence.
If you are under 26 you are also eligible for a youth card, which offers discounts for many attractions and the network of youth hostels, making travel more affordable. But even though travel may be the primary focus, working and earning foreign currency is the best way to pay for it.
The opportunities for work overseas depend on the experience of the candidate. Young adults with a specific, sought-after skill are obviously in the best position to negotiate work and visas and often it is a case of getting a certificate for a short course to open doors.
The UK has always been a popular destination for working holidays, but the visa requirements have become stricter over the past few years and the working holiday visa has fallen away.
The possibility of finding casual employment has also been affected by the economic climate, which has led to many gappers considering alternatives – particularly guaranteed job prospects in countries that welcome a specific skill.
Raj Naran of the career and counselling unit at Wits University says many students travel before study and return with a clear idea of what career they intend to pursue.
“Students with the resources to travel on a gap year are often focused on what they intend to study and the year away gives them more self-awareness.”
A gap year break from conventional post-school activities can be included in a CV – many employers will look favourably on the personal growth attained during independent travel.
UK: study, highly skilled
Young people who are relatively unskilled don’t have many options when it comes to spending a year in London, which is often considered a launch pad for casual travel to Europe.
The UK authorities instituted a five-tier system in 2008 to govern migrant workers. Graduates and young people with a firm job offer will score more points in their application, while those straight out of school are likely to attempt securing a “working holiday” visa.
Obtaining a working holiday visa to Great Britain is not possible since SA chose not to extend the agreement in 2008, so South Africans must conform to the points system, making entry into the UK extremely difficult for young travellers without a degree, according to Willie van Loggerenberg of the Overseas Visitors Club (OVC).
School-leavers who have been unsuccessful in getting into tertiary institutions could consider studying in the UK. The OVC has a programme where candidates apply to the college affiliated to OVC, fees are paid up front and the student is given a coupon that can be redeemed at the college for courses on offer.
However, any tier 4 university can accept international students who can provide proof of funds in the bank.
US: Au pair, hospitality and farmwork
Van Loggerenberg says au pair work in the US, Germany and Holland is popular; many young South Africans choose to be a nanny in America.
“In the States, one of the perks is that the host family have to pay their au pair a $500 ‘study allowance’, which the South African can then use to do short courses to keep their mind active.”
Tracey van der Schyff, an SA gapper employed by a Boston family as an au pair is an Honours graduate and uses the stipend to take classes at Harvard Extension School during her spare time.
The au pair working visa is valid for 13 months, allowing her an extra month to travel after the work stint, after which it may be extended for a further year.
The OVC has devised a programme where young South Africans interested in the hospitality industry can be part of an internship programme in the US or placement with several agricultural projects.
Thailand and South Korea: teach English
Teaching English is another popular gap year pursuit for anyone who has a degree with a major in English. However, Thailand and South Korea welcome young South Africans who have a TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign language) course certificate as teachers at certain periods during the year. The OVC offers limited placements for this discipline.
SA: community service on our doorstep
There are several projects in this country that welcome volunteers. If you have a few months before going abroad or are starting your studies midway through the year, giving your time to a worthy cause in your own country could be a great way to enjoy a gap period.
Many of the volunteer projects focus on research or care of wild animals, while some NGOs also welcome community service workers.
The OVC has access to a limited number of visas for Canada, which is growing fast in popularity. And work on cruise ships offers a way to see the world and get paid.