College life is stressful.
Exams, tutorials and those dreaded group projects are destined to take their toll.
And then, once you’ve finally graduated and you think you’re done with it all, societal norms dictate you follow one of two paths: Go to graduate school or get a job.
But wouldn’t it be nice to take a break? To get out there and see the world?
Thankfully, these days it’s becoming more acceptable to do precisely that.
If properly planned, an overseas gap year after college can enhance rather than detract from your future employment prospects.
You just have to make an effort to learn a little along the way.
Why take a gap year after college?
After an arduous four-year period of seemingly non-stop learning, a graduate might feel they’ve earned a break. And for many, that brief post-graduation summer vacation just won’t cut it.
Some graduates aren’t sure what career path they want to follow, while others are bummed they weren’t accepted into grad school. Taking a gap year is the ideal way to fill the interim and blow off some steam.
Whatever your motivation, spending a year abroad before settling into the workforce is a solid plan. After all, you’ll find it much more difficult to travel once you’ve started your career or have a family to care for.
But first and foremost, by gaining relevant work experience and a fresh international outlook, you’ll become markedly more attractive to a potential employer by the time you come home.
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How a gap year can make your resume shine
Spending 12 months drifting between backpacker bars and banana pancake stalls won’t do your resume much good. Although some employers are receptive to the concept of long-term travel, others may equate gallivanting around the globe with a lack of self-discipline.
The secret to formulating a gap year plan that will actually enhance your C.V. is to pepper a few relevant work-related activities into the mix.
This could mean volunteering for an organization in your field, learning another language or simply working your way around the world. Whichever you choose, your future boss will be impressed you had the initiative to do more than just travel.
Of course, 12 months is a long to spend on a single gap year program, especially given that most charge hefty fees. Feel free to break your gap year up via the aforementioned activities.
After all, a bilingual graduate with proven international work experience and glowing references will be destined to impress in their next interview.
How to choose a suitable gap year program
For an engaging experience that adds to your resume, opt for a program that aligns with your chosen field.
For example, budding teachers will want to work in education, environmental scientists in conservation and healthcare graduates in medicine.
Perhaps, although finding the right program can be a challenge.
Gap year programs are big business these days, with a multitude of sleek international agencies offering a seemingly endless array of options.
Bear in mind that most are geared towards high school leavers. These aren’t ideal, because you won’t be able to take full advantage of the skills you learned at university.
Give those a miss and opt for a program that requires a college degree or expertise in your field instead. That way, you’ll gain plenty of useful and practical experience in the process.
A few of the big name gap year agencies include:
These companies offer the full spectrum of immersive overseas experiences, from volunteering, to internships, to job placements. And everything in between!
But you do have to pay a fee to use their services.
Alternatively, seek out specific programs or positions within your field and apply directly. You just might snag a bargain.
What’s Next? Finding a Gap Year Program After College
Countless opportunities abound. Far too many to list in one meager blog post!
Instead, we’ll cover a small sample across various professions to give you an idea of what’s out there. We’ll also give you an idea of which destinations are ideal for certain job types.
But if one of these five programs sounds like your dream come true, by all means, fill out that application!
1. Teach English in Mexico
Teaching English is a great way to earn valuable classroom experience, even if languages aren’t your forte. And where could be better to learn the craft than a tropical Caribbean island off the coast of Mexico?
Not to mention, Mexico offers good pay and low cost of living!
This program from VolunQuest sees newbie teachers working at a public school on Isla Mujeres, just a short boat ride away from the holiday mecca of Cancún. However, unlike in Cancún, you won’t have to mingle with the rowdy spring break crowd. This tropical getaway is known for being chill.
The five- to 10-month program trains applicants up to be fully certified Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) teachers before allocating them to a classroom and setting them loose.
Based in a safe part of Mexico, it includes accommodations with a host family and allows ample free time for you to work on your español (Spanish).
Try FluentU free for 15 days to study Spanish through real-world videos, like movie trailers, game shows and news broadcasts. Learning through authentic videos lets you hear native accents, making it easier to understand your host family and coworkers upon arrival. Videos also teach you about local culture, so you’ll have plenty of conversation topics ready for your host parents and siblings!
Best of all, VolunQuest even offers a scholarship program for college graduates such as yourself, meaning some of the fees are waived.
Maybe you’re interesting in teaching English, but working with kids in Mexico doesn’t sound like your cup of tea. A fun alternative is educating monks in a Nepalese monastery through Love Volunteers instead.
2. Complete a medical internship in the developing world
Future healthcare workers could enroll in a medical internship with Projects Abroad. Various international programs are available for all types of medical personnel.
Ranging from one to four weeks in countries throughout the developing world, these practical internships teach marketable skills in a real-world environment. In fact, the distinct lack of resources at these desperately underfunded health centers teaches participants to be resourceful and think on their feet.
Search for your area of interest and a developing country you’d like to visit. You can intern in midwifery in Peru. Or maybe you’d rather work in speech therapy in Morocco. Or how about public health in Cambodia?
Program fees include on-call support staff, accommodation, training, certification and—if you’ve got what it takes—a glowing reference at the end of the ordeal.
By the end of it all, you could realistically aim to leave with a working knowledge of the local language as well.
3. Work and travel around Australia
Gap year travelers from certain countries are eligible to apply for a Working Holiday Visa, which allows them to work and travel in Australia for at least one year.
As you might expect, the trials and tribulations of resettling abroad are daunting at the best of times.
That’s where agencies such as Green Heart Travel come in with their Work and Travel in Australia Program. The company provides eligible visa holders with assistance in securing short-term work and accommodation, as well as setting up a local bank account and a tax file number.
On top of that, they throw in a fun-filled orientation week to help you hit the ground running with a bunch of new mates.
Granted, the jobs offered tend to be entry-level temp positions that probably won’t align with your degree. Nevertheless, it’s a fun and easy way to build up basic work experience and demonstrate your independence as an international worker.
4. Work in community development in Rwanda
Community development is a popular gap year option, and few countries are as needy as the impoverished African nation of Rwanda.
Based out of the Rwamagana province near the capital of Kigali, this two- to 12-week program from Love Volunteers sees participants providing agricultural support to local farming communities. As a volunteer, you’d also teach sustainable practices and basic financial skills.
Anyone may apply, although the program would be most valuable for those in the anthropology, social entrepreneurship or economics fields.
Program fees start at a modest 22 USD per day, which leaves most participants with enough leftover cash to visit Rwanda’s famous gorillas in their natural mountain habitat. Or you can spend your free time learning French. Or maybe even one of Rwanda’s more obscure official languages, Swahili or Kinyarwanda!
5. Work in marine conservation in Fiji
Marine biologists and environmental scientists alike would benefit from a conservation program. This option from Frontier is a safe bet, especially for those with an infatuation for endangered sharks.
Run in conjunction with the boffins from The University of the South Pacific, the program sees participants undertake fieldwork and shark surveys. You’ll also assist with data analysis.
Ultimately, the goal is to gain a better understanding of population and behavioral dynamics, as well as determine the greatest risk factors. In turn, participants will help raise awareness among the local community and lobby the government to strengthen environmental protections.
Obtaining a PADI license to SCUBA dive on location is strongly encouraged so that volunteers can get up close and personal with these majestic aquatic animals (if safe to do so).
As mentioned, we’ve covered just a handful of suitable programs for post-college gap year travelers. Thousands more are out there!
Remember, when relevant work-related activities are involved, a gap year is more than just an unforgettable life experience. It’s also a way to prepare for your future career.
Harry is a South American-based freelance writer who covers travel, the arts and culture, among many other things.
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