Gap years can kickstart motivation, teach valuable life skills, build your resume, and open doors to future opportunities.
However, the idea is not just to take time off and go on a long vacation, it's more about broadening your experience by doing something that lets you learn in new, different and exciting ways. Going into your gap year with no plans to keep you busy can have the opposite effect of one that it is meant to beneficial.
Create a plan (and a few backup plans) for what you want your gap year to consist of and be about. Reflect on what type of person you are and what will work the best for you so that you can engage in activities that can specifically benefit you.
Here are a couple ideas to make sure your gap year is spent productively:
Become an Au Pair for the Year
An au pair is a helper from a foreign country working for and living as part of a host family. Typically, au pairs take on a share of the family's responsibility for childcare as well as some housework, and receive a monetary allowance for personal use.
Becoming an au pair for the year is a good way to experience a new country and all it has to offer, while also earning some money. The experience can definitely be rewarding, but make sure you do your research first.
As an au pair, you'll have the chance to meet new people, form new friendships and other personal relationships while getting having your food and accommodation sorted.
Be careful when choosing which au pair agency to start your experience with. Compare different websites and companies before jumping into the first one you find, especially when giving personal information about yourself.
Backpack Across Europe
Backpacking through Europe is a great way to immerse yourself in more than one country. Coming back to South Africa with new experiences and different perspectives can be beneficial for your growth and development as a person, before heading into the academic landscape of university.
The first thing to be aware of when considering a backpacking trip through Europe: it's not cheap, especially as a South African. The exchange rate is the main reason why travelling abroad will probably make a dent in your bank account, but on the bright side, some things might be cheaper over there in comparison to here.
Luckily, you'll find a lot of the same familiar fast-food restaurants and clothing stores, but be mindful of which season to travel in. While it may be the warmer months here in South Africa, it's winter in the northern hemisphere. Pack wisely and accordingly to avoid catching pneumonia on the other side.
Be mindful of the language barrier; not everyone speaks English or any of the other ten official languages South Africa has, so keep in mind that communication with the locals might be a challenge. If you can, a few months ahead of your trip, spend some time on language learning apps like Duolingo before jetting off to a foreign land.
Make sure to have the necessary accommodation you'll need ready for you when you arrive, but also be careful to do some research for places that are safe and affordable.
Also, backpacking is not reserved for only seeing Europe. You can also head to any of the other continents and it doesn't have to necessarily be with a backpack.
Get a Job
Getting a job during your gap year helps to teach you responsibility, learning to work with others and has the added benefit of earning some money. The job you find doesn't have to be permanent; a temporary one works just as well. You can even try more than one job if that's what you'd prefer.
Whether that's a waitressing/waitering job at a local restaurant, being a secretary for an office job, securing an internship based on your matric results or working a retail job for the year; any experience can have its benefits.
Do some research for job openings nearby to find one that suits you. The work experience you gain throughout the year will be an added bonus for your resume later on.
If you lack work experience, doing volunteer work can help you gain some and can also look good on your resume.
Many universities are also interested in students who are proven to be proactive, and willing to gain experience. Through volunteer work, you can also meet a lot of interesting people that might help you find a job further down the line.
Look into volunteering that aligns with what you're hoping to study and pursue career wise later on, although that's not a requirement to have a successful volunteer work experience.
Places to volunteer at include a hospital, homeless shelters, centres for drug abuse help, youth centres, domestic violence shelters, elderly care centres, special needs care centres, community upliftment programmes, schools, and libraries.
Volunteer work can also span countries; you can choose to volunteer in other Africa countries or even go as far as China. Do your research first to gain an idea of what's available and to find what suits you.