Should you be rushing overseas when so much is available right here in South Africa?
by Neville Beard
School is either over or coming to an end soon – what are you going to do before studying? I mean, you’ve had older friends come back from ‘gap years’, telling you what an awesome experience it was, and how you really need to do the same as them – go overseas, work to earn your keep, save, and then blow it all on a holiday you’ll never forget. Or an older relative or acquaintance is back from working with dolphins in Australia and you think that sounds really cool. You’ve also heard of projects where you can work with children or older folk in communities that have few resources, and who welcome the skills and energy that you could bring as a volunteer, helping to make the world a little better, one day at a time.

Well, they are right – there is so much to do in this world. Why should you not get out there and just do it - live life and help out while you still have the opportunity?
Did you know that here in South Africa we have awesome experiences that young people overseas are clamouring for in a huge way? South Africa is the number one destination for gap year students in the UK at the moment (Sept 2006 source: The Year Out Group, a non-profit organisation for the Gap Year industry in the UK). South Africa also has many programs available where you can work with not just dolphins, but all sorts of soft and not so soft animals, like lions, rhinos, elephants, in both public and private nature reserves. If you want to volunteer your time and add value to someone’s life there are literally hundreds of worthwhile community-based projects all over South Africa where you could help.
Why are we all so keen to push off overseas AND spend serious amounts in UK pounds or US dollars on experiences similar to those available here in South Africa?
So my question is this – considering our pathetic exchange rate, the fact that your family and friends are here, and that South Africa has more to offer young people than any other destination in the world :
In South Africa it is easier to check out the local organisations on which you will be dependent, and you will be closer to your support base (family and friends). It is also probable that programs will cost less in South Africa, as you don’t have to spend extra on travelling overseas and paying in a foreign currency (and of course the exchange rate will get worse just as you have to pay!).
A gap year does not have to be a complete year spent overseas either – why not spend a large chunk of it in South Africa and then go overseas for an experience you are now ready for (after having already improved your self confidence and gained new skills and perspectives)?
Another thing to keep in mind too – during your gap year why not learn some skills and attitudes not taught at school that will empower you for the rest of your life? The best gap year programs and experiences offer structure and guidance, not just a hope that you will learn something. Check out the recommended websites to find out more.
So, if you know that you want to take a year off, before studying further or joining the world of work, investigate your options here in South Africa. If you were living overseas you would be in the majority to be doing so! Good luck on your journeys!
Recommended gap year websites:
Gap Year industry
Overseas organisations