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Mini Breaks Gap Mind the gap

Six weeks, three months or a year? Alice Baines of gap year placement agency, The Leap helps you decide how long to go for


t can be a daunting prospect trying to decide which project is the best one for you but part of that decision should

be based upon how much of your gap year you want to be away for. Projects range from a few weeks right through to a full year and organisations offering longer-term options are quick to extol the virtues of spending 6 months+ working on a single project, suggesting that anything less, is time wasted. It is true that longer projects, like

those offered by Project Trust (8-12 month placements) give the volunteer longer to learn a language, understand the local culture and complex issues facing developing nations, and integrate with the local community. Successfully managed, these projects reap lasting benefits for everyone and work very well for mature, motivated students who enjoy living in far flung places and immersing themselves in foreign culture. But there are

undeniable benefits of shorter projects which can give a taster of volunteer work to those who don’t have the confidence, or time, to commit to a longer project. Working towards achievable, immediate goals like the building of a school or planting trees, is highly rewarding. Short term gaps offer school

recommend 6 weeks as a minimum length of placement, with the option of extending to 10 weeks. We combine a number of different projects, involving community, conservation and ecotourism. Motivation and energy levels are kept high as teams work towards varied goals rather than undertaking repetitive work – and they get to travel during their placement too. Ironically, time is the limiting factor

for most gap year students, many of whom have come straight from school and who may have had to spend some of their gap raising money to travel and fund a volunteer placement. Other commitments may require

Working towards

an early return too: retakes or university interviews. And some will want to combine volunteering with work experience, a ski season or some independent travel. Short-term projects offer this flexibility and can be worked around other gap plans. They are also

achievable goals

like the building of a school or planting trees is highly rewarding

great news if you are plunged into an “unplanned gap year”. This trend in default gap years will

likely increase next year as students missing out on their top choice institution opt to retake exams and reapply rather than pay fees for a second-rate university. A bonus of short-term projects is that they tend to require less planning ahead as some projects can take volunteer applications right up to the week prior to departure. They can also be more affordable. A word of warning. Do your

research. The gap year “industry’ has expanded unregulated in recent years and there are plenty of horror stories in the press about gappers placed in bogus projects with little value to the project ‘beneficiaries’. But there are plenty of well- researched and professionally managed projects, which sadly attract far less media attention. Start your research with companies that belong to the Year Out Group, whose members’ programmes are conducted responsibly and with sensitivity regarding social, environmental and local issues.

For more information Year Out Group

The Leap Project Trust

leavers worried about travelling alone, or feeling isolated, the chance to be part of a group, supported closely by a leader figure. It’s a good set up for inexperienced or nervous travellers and is a “safer” bet than launching into a long-term project. One of the dangers of short

term project work however is that volunteers don’t have time to acclimatise or overcome culture shock. If the experience lasts just a few weeks they’ll be moving on just as they settle in. At The Leap, we

The Leap’s gappers in Kenya

Autumn 2011 FirstEleven 29

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