The Great and Good Gap Year

With Strode College’s One World Week on the calendar our attention turns to raising awareness of different cultures, equality, diversity and the environment. Something many young people do to experience new cultures is embarking on a gap year.

For many, going away on a gap year is seen as a rite of passage, and an exciting and essential precursor to the transition to university. A gap year can mean different things to different people, but the common theme among those who embark on this twelve month journey is that it should be memorable and worthwhile, if not one of the best times of your life. It certainly isn’t for everyone, especially those who may struggle to secure a deferred position at university, but it is a tradition that isn’t in decline with over 16,000 students accepted for a deferred place at university in 2011, according to the UCAS website.

Foreign travel is synonymous with gap years for many, and can represent an opportunity to explore strange and exotic lands and peoples that have not been accessible to them before. But, how can you ensure an authentic, in-depth and rustic experience abroad? And, perhaps more importantly, how can you make your travel as low impact as possible?

Grass roots and community tourism are growing industries within the travel sector, offering unique experiences worldwide allowing travellers to stay in, work alongside and truly experience local communities. Organisations such as COBATI (Community Based Tourism Initiative) based in Uganda, offer homestead and village stays allowing travellers to experience village life in Uganda first-hand, as well as providing a supplementary income to local villagers, who might otherwise be forced to sell off their land to developers and migrate to a shanty town in the hope of a job. So, the buzz phrase for community tourism is that it is mutually beneficial, by offering interactive and unforgettable experiences to travellers and providing essential revenue to local communities.

The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is the largest people’s organisation in Sri Lanka, implementing’ resettlement, reconstruction and reconciliation’ for victims in war affected North and East Sri Lanka, as well as other community-based activities and advocating good governance and democracy. Sarvodaya encourages community tourism as an alternative to traditional beach and site-seeing tourism in Sri Lanka, as although the latter is vital to the economy of Sri Lanka, it is not always to the benefit of, nor engages with, any of the communities surrounding hotels and holiday complexes. Community tourism is seen as an opportunity to ‘empower, engage and financially sustain’ local communities and this is not just true of Sri Lanka. Community tourism is to the benefit of local peoples all over the world, and if you have a particular destination in mind, there is a safe bet that there will be a community scheme there to suit you.

Volunteering is an obvious staple of taking a gap year and there are hundreds upon hundreds of schemes, in locations all across the globe, for you to take advantage of. Why not volunteer in a community school in Morocco, or a disadvantaged children’s day care centre in Ecuador? You could donate your time to teaching surfing to children from a township in South Africa, or help to improve infrastructure in Fiji. For anyone interested in conservation and wildlife, what better way to gain experience than among the coral reefs of Australia or tramping the life-rich Amazon rainforest?

A final consideration that should be taken into account is how your travels and adventures are going to impact on the environment. Obvious steps that can be taken for you to decrease the carbon footprint of your trip include using public transport as often as possible, rather than hiring a car- or even better why not bike around your chosen country? – as well as avoiding air flights whenever possible. Carbon offsetting is also a new, trendy option whereby you offset the carbon produced by your travels by generating the equivalent amount of energy from a source that does not produce carbon. This can be achieved by installing solar panels or wind turbines at your home. This of course is only feasible if you can afford to install such technology and if your parents are willing to let you!

There is a whole world out there and a world of opportunities to go with it. So get out there and find your own inspiration for a mutually beneficial and unforgettable experience for yourself and the communities you will have the privilege to explore. Never forget to be a responsible and enthusiastic traveller and you won’t go far wrong.


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