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Gap years in the media

 Financial Times 15 January 2016

 See Financial Times

Sunday Telegraph, 1 July 2007 

'Be grown-up about your gap year.  A return to youth beckons the mature backpacker, but only if adult decisions are made first.'      

  By Emma Lunn, extract:

'You don't have to be young, free and single to backpack around the world - today's globe-trotting backpackers are just as likely to be stressed-out fiftysomething professionals as they are teenagers. 

According to insurer Hiscox, more than a third of 45 to 54-year-olds are considering a so-called "grown-up gap year." Meanwhile, website says many older people see time off as a chance to reclaim their life - whether to get out of the rat race, take a break before a change of career, experience the gap year their children had or kickstart their retirement.


But unlike school-leavers and graduates, mature "gappers" cannot usually forget about their financial responsibilities back home. Many will have a mortgage, pension and life insurance in place, all of which need to be taken care of in their absence. If you are considering an adventure of a lifetime what are the practicalities you should consider before leaving all your cares behind?'



 The Daily Telegraph 3 April 2007



By Matt Barnwell, extract - 'record numbers take time-out from careers'


Record numbers of workers are planning "career break'' sabbaticals, driven by a desire to travel the world and escape the rat race, research revealed yesterday.
Once gap years used to be the preserve of students or the wealthy, but increasingly they are becoming the norm for workers looking for "time out'', according to the survey. Almost one in five British workers - around 5.5 million - are planning to join the ranks of the three million workers who have already taken an extended break from their careers in the past five years. A desire to see the world is the main reason for wanting to get away, with almost half keen to do more travelling, according to research from Direct Line Travel Insurance. A third are looking for a break from the rat race, while one in four complain of feeling "burned out'' by the pressures of modern living.
The report also shows that sabbaticals appear to make sense for businesses, helping with recruitment and staff retention. British workers are increasingly attracted to firms that offer their staff time out. One in four employees works for a company where sabbaticals are a staff perk.
Gap Year for Grown Ups, which provides career break projects for people over 30, said a desire to "put things in perspective'' or to "give something back'' were also among the many reasons for their increasing popularity. "There are lots of reasons people take a career break,'' spokesman Jennette Baxter said. "For some, they have gone straight from university into a job and then when they hit their mid 30s they stop and say: 'I'm not sure I want to be doing this'. "They need time out to think about it. "Some people want a career break to get things in perspective. A lot of people go away and come back and go into a different career. "The other major reason is the change in family circumstances, such as a divorce or they have had children who have left home.'' Even people in their late 50s and 60s are taking career breaks, she said. Of those who book with Gap Year for Grown Ups, the vast majority - 80 per cent - are women.
Africa is the most popular destination, with people keen to do volunteer work in schools and at orphanages. South America is increasingly popular for those who want to combine voluntary work or a project with a "travelling experience'' and sightseeing.
The Government, public sector, finance and insurance industries are leading the way on sabbaticals, with 40 per cent able to take a career break. They are followed by IT and telecomms staff (36 per cent) and medicine/health service (25 per cent). Chris Price, business manager at Direct Line Travel Insurance, said: "Taking an extended break from work used to be the preserve of a privileged few, but now more and more people are taking time out from their careers to travel. "It seems that firms are recognising this desire and are offering sabbaticals as a way of recruiting and retaining the best staff.''



 The Guardian 27January 2007




By Benji Lanyado, extract - 'gap year blog'


Jesse Boyce and Edd Crook are grown-up gappers; a growing band of travellers who choose to wait a few years before embarking on that big trip. "At 28, we had both resisted the gap year or post-university jaunt to far-flung places and realised that having worked for over six years since graduation, we would appreciate the whole experience much more than if we had taken the trip at a younger age," says Boyce. Having worked respectively as a graphic designer and a communications manager, Boyce and Crook decided to chronicle their travels with a specially designed online journal, Phileas Blog, complete with caption competitions, "in a nutshell" country guides, a "modes of transport" ticker, and a host of pictures and video clips. Halfway through their trip, and having gained quite a following, we asked them to share their highlights with us.
Fuji Rock, Echigo Yuzawa, Japan
Only two days into our trip, we escaped from Tokyo, jumped off the bullet train and headed for the hills. Our destination was the Fuji Rock festival, where we found ourselves in the company of 50,000 Japanese music lovers in the middle of a cloud-topped valley, with barely a dog-end, scrap of litter or westerner in sight. As an all-male, white group, we were mistaken for a band by many a Fujirocker - a situation we readily used to our advantage. Without hindrance, we swaggered backstage and partied with the real entourage, watching the thousands of Japanese revellers strut their stuff with a true band's-eye view.
* Follow Boyce and Crook's journey at



The Daily Telegraph 24 January 2007



By Nicole Martin, extract - 'career crisis for gap year graduates?'


Graduates who take a gap year abroad after university are facing a "career crisis'', according to research released today. Uncertain of the career they want to pursue, they are taking low-paid administration jobs when they return home, says the Training Development Agency for Schools. It found that almost one in four graduates aged between 20 and 30 was struggling to find the right career, with more than half (58 per cent) doing a job they disliked. Having opted for a "quick fix'' job or spent time travelling, one in four said they were now worried about being left behind their contemporaries.
Of those not working in their ideal job, one in five said they had lost their momentum since leaving university and one in seven said they had fallen into their current job. The study, which questioned 1,100 graduates aged under 30, found that a quarter believed that the longer they waited to find a permanent job the more unemployable they became. Unable to find a suitable job, one in eight of those questioned said they took an administration role and one in 14 found a position at a call centre or in a shop.
The latest statistics from Mintel show that 90,000 people aged between 25 and 35 took a gap year in 2005, with the number growing to 230,000 among those aged 18 to 24. Graham Holley, the agency's chief executive, said the research showed graduates were "perplexed by the choices they have''. "But they shouldn't worry about it too much. They should realise that they are in a very luxurious position. They can travel the world and learn life skills which can be valuable in the workplace.'' An agency spokesman said: "Travelling is contributing to the confusion as the experience causes many graduates to rethink their plans when they return home.''
Lee Valls, 28, said he suffered a "career panic attack'' while travelling around Australia after graduating from the University of Teesside. He cut short his gap year and returned home to become a maths teacher in north-east London. "I just felt I needed to get a proper job and get myself sorted,'' he said. "I don't regret taking time off because I learned a lot about myself and came home wiser about the world. "However, it was an anxious time for me and I was extremely worried that I was being left behind.''



The Guardian 9 January 2007



By Jessica Shepherd, extract


Matthew Leopold is quick to point out that he doesn't wear beads or sandals. Nor does he have ethnic prints hanging from the walls of his student digs. And he's never once started a sentence with "When I was in Tasmania. . ." .The 21-year-old Durham University student is confident that his gap-year experience was "authentic" and "unique". "I became part of the community and a member of the family I was staying with - I still am," he says. The second-year geographer from Reading spent his year before university teaching outdoor pursuits to under-12s at the Friends school in north Hobart, Tasmania. The experience cost him and his parents approximately £10,000.


At the same time, Danny McDonnell was putting in the hours to earn money for the geography degree he is now doing at Portsmouth University. McDonnell spent half a year taking blood from patients at St Helier hospital, Surrey, and the other half organising children's holiday camps. The 21-year-old from Epsom, Surrey, made sure the £2,000 he had left at the end lasted his whole first year at university. "We don't have that much money, and my mum and dad wouldn't have had the money to support me through university if I hadn't worked in my gap year. I would have felt guilty taking it from them if they had given it to me," he says.


University researchers dedicated to the academic study of the gap year will meet for the first time tomorrow at their inaugural conference at Surrey University, which will bring together sociologists, educationists and geographers. Their research papers have at least one finding in common: there is a widening gulf between the middle-class and the working-class gap year.


Year abroad


Dr Andrew Jones, head of geography at Birkbeck College, London, describes a typical middle-class teenager's gap year as one spent abroad as a volunteer on a farm, at an African school, or on an environmental conservation project preserving reefs and turtles. Other popular options for the privileged include Camp America and working in the ski industry. The less advantaged are far more likely to earn money by working locally in factories and bars. They may take a school-leaver's job as work experience before they start university, he says. But Jones says it would be unfair to see the experiences of teenagers from poor and rich backgrounds as entirely polarised. "All have some time off from work. Many of the less well-off 18-year-olds are extremely driven and fundraise in order to go on the volunteering programmes that the gap-year industry offers. But, yes, we are finding that there is growing division between what the most and least affluent teenagers are doing." The academics refuse to be drawn on whether tuition fees of £3,000, introduced in England last autumn, will kill off the prospect of a pre-university gap year for the hard-up. But the likelihood is that the gulf between the rich and the poor gap-year experience will widen.


High prices


This is something the international development charity Voluntary Service Overseas reluctantly recognises. It blames the high prices of some of its rivals. "An entire gap-year industry was born a couple of years ago in response to demand from all ages, not just those between school and university," says Abigail Fulbrook, a VSO spokeswoman. "Students from all backgrounds should look for meaningful work which has a long-term gain." Quest, which describes itself as a "development travel company", offers a four-week trip to Malawi building community centres for orphans for £1,465, excluding flights and insurance. Those with more time to travel can go on a three-month expedition to Brazil for £4,920, again excluding flights and insurance. And Venture Company takes gap-year students on an Inca trip for 12 weeks for £4,365. Mike Lamb, education manager at Quest, says the trips his company run can cost thousands of pounds because they provide long-term help in developing countries. "The expense can be easily justified. It should cost the local communities nothing to have these unskilled volunteers staying with them. The cost of the trip ensures this. We are not embarrassed by how much our projects cost. The money is going to the right place."


Academics presenting papers at tomorrow's conference say that, despite the emergence of a working-class gap year, the majority of those taking a year off between school and university are from middle-class backgrounds. Tara Duncan, managing editor for journals at the Royal Geographic Society, says: "Unfortunately our research shows the gap year is still a middle-class phenomenon - and a white, rather than ethnic minority, one at that. But that is changing. Volunteering organisations are targeting a wider market and the growing numbers of gappers from south-east Asia will have a knock-on effect on ethnic minorities in the UK."


Andy King, an associate lecturer in sociology at Surrey University, hopes a book will come out of the papers being presented at the conference, which he is organising. "It's high time academics actually met to discuss their body of work in this area." He estimates that the number of academics whose research looks, in some way, at the gap year has doubled in the past few years, to roughly 15 in the UK. Research on gap years is attractive to academics interested in young people's transition into adulthood and the development of social skills. It also gets the attention of experts on travel, tourism and education. Duncan believes the growing interest stems partly from the fact that many of the field's researchers wanted to write about and discuss their own gap years.


Dr Kate Simpson, a visiting fellow in geography at the University of Newcastle, describes their work as "a classic case of academics responding to a popular phenomenon". Yet there is a demand for their research. Apart from a general public interest in gap years, graduate recruiters are keen to know whether - and how - a bungee jump in South Africa translates into a transferable skill in the workplace.


Taking a gap year between school and university (and at other times as well) is becoming increasingly common, the academics will say tomorrow. Jones says that, unfortunately, as is often the case with new research topics, precise statistics do not exist. But a study he led for the Department for Education and Skills in 2004 leads him to estimate that 50,000 teenagers will defer university this year, or apply later, so that they can take a gap year. A few years ago, he says, the figure was closer to 30,000. A new popular option is to take a catering course in Italy. But bar work in Australia, travelling in South America, fruit picking and environmental conservation projects are still favourites.




But beware, the researchers say, gap years are addictive. "There are increasing numbers of people who are taking three gap years: one after A-levels, another after university and a third a couple of years into their careers," says Duncan. Some people argue a gap year can be pointless. "We give young people a lot of kudos for travelling to shanty towns, but what do they actually learn?" Simpson says. "Just seeing something doesn't actually teach them about it. It just shows them that the world is very diverse."


But that is precisely what makes some admissions tutors favour gap-year returnees as their students. Peter Lewis, admissions tutor for English and drama at Loughborough University, might give a student who misses their grades another chance if they have taken a gap year. "Students who have taken gap years have gone through the jolly japes of puberty when they start university. They understand that the world is different in different places and they appreciate things more because of that," he says. "The first thing I look at is their personal profile. It is very important for me to see what they say they have done, or are going to do, in a gap year. Are they going to write a journal, for example? "If a youngster has only just missed their grades and has taken a gap year, I might interview them. But not if they have been lying on the beach or going surfing for the year. That does nothing much for anyone - except improve their tan."



The Evening Standard 9 November 2006



Extract: 'School leavers should take seriously a new poll that shows that a university degree is no longer enough to get you the job you want. A gap year, however, may help. The YouGov poll, commissioned by volunteering organisation GVI, shows that though 58 per cent of managers agreed that "no degree adequately prepares a person for the world of work", 64 per cent said gap years would help prepare people to develop crucial work skills before they enter into their career.'



The Daily Mail 7 November 2006



'gap year emails'
When intrepid teenagers set off to explore the deepest, darkest and most dangerous parts of the world during their gap years, it is a nail-biting time for their worried parents. But, mothers and fathers console themselves, at least their little gapper can send reassuring e-mails home. However, as a hilarious new book reveals, the messages they send, describing the scrapes they have got into, can have the opposite effect.
'Hi Dad. Well, I got mugged again, trying to get across eight lines of traffic from Cinelandia to the Modern Art Museum in the pouring rain. He did have a knife, but he wasn't particularly threatening, and he let me open my wallet and give him the notes, rather than taking everything, which would have been a pain. It's OK. I'm used to it now. So long, David'
Extracted from 'Don't Tell Mum': Hair-Raising Messages Home From Gap-Year Travellers by Simon Hoggart and Emily Monk, published by Atlantic Books at £9.99. © 2006, Simon Hoggart and Emily Monk.



The Times 4 November 2006



By: Carol Lewis, Career Editor, extract.
Going abroad for extended periods is a good idea, not least because holidays, like gin, are best enjoyed long and leisurely. A lengthy break allows you to go to places too remote to reach in the average two-week break. It also gives you a chance to spend time really exploring a country, its people and its culture.
A survey of students and graduates published earlier this year by the website Milkround ( indicated that 40 per cent of travellers go on a gap year to see and experience different ways of life. This is hardly a revelation, but what is more surprising is that 19 per cent of those surveyed said that they were taking a gap year to gain transferable skills and experience. The skills these global travellers wanted to learn included new languages, relevant career skills, practical skills and teaching qualifications.
Returning gap-year travellers reported that their expectations had been met. They had improved their confidence, adaptability, self-reliance, independence, motivation and flexibility -the so-called "soft" skills. They also said that they had better organisational, people, project management and presentation skills.
And, wait for this, "experience of different business models, different ways of doing things and international contacts".
If these sound less like laid-back wanderers and more like fully fledged corporate employees, that is because the world is becoming increasingly business savvy and global in outlook. Young travellers want to use their trips to boost their CVs and corporations are keen to recruit the confident, multilingual and motivated bright young things that return. Big business has also realised that it needs to use travel as a way of attracting and keeping talented employees of all ages -we want gaps of different sizes and different shapes throughout our careers now. But don't forget your own needs. Oliver James (page 6) makes a good case for not making gap plans with only your CV and future employers in mind.
Gap travel is no longer a fringe activity. From three months working in an Aids orphanage to a year surfing in South Africa, a spell away can benefit everyone, whether they are single budding entrepreneurs or families of five, career starters or retirees. It is time for all of us to write our own personal business case for a trip away.



The Telegraph 16 August 2006



'Gap year students accused of being charity tourists who do little good. Sending gap year students to Third World 'is a form of colonialism'.
By Richard Alleyne, extract.
Gap year students who take their skills to developing nations may be doing more harm than good, a volunteer organisation said yesterday. A Voluntary Service Overseas spokesman said many "year out'' programmes were no more than a form of new colonialism in which rich westerners indulged in a form of "charity tourism''. Not only are the trips the source of dinner party stories of questionable interest, they could actually leave their destinations in a worse state than before they arrived. The gap year has become a rite of passage as young people seek adventure and life-changing experiences in developing nations in Africa, Asia or South America. It is seen as a chance to broaden their minds and learn about other cultures while at the same time making a positive contribution to their host nation.
A flourishing industry has grown out of the demand with dozens of organisations acting as suppliers of work placements and voluntary projects. But as the sector has developed, many schemes have become biased towards the enjoyment of their volunteers and less about helping the host communities, says Judith Brodie, a VSO director.
"Some gap year providers seem to pay little attention to whether young people are making any long-term difference to the communities they are working in,'' she said.
"There seems to be a colonial attitude whereby it is assumed that just because a young person is from the UK they will benefit their host community.''
Abbie Fulbrook, a spokesman, added: "We would not expect young untrained people to come here and teach our children. So why do we send untrained people to other countries to teach English? Volunteers need to question whether what they are doing is of any use to the country they are travelling to. Should, for example, a local be doing that job instead? "We don't want to curb anyone's enthusiasm. People personally gain a lot from gap years but they have to be aware that whatever they do has an impact on the country they go to.'' The VSO cites several cases in which students have complained about the lack of voluntary work they perform.
Catherine Harrington, 24, went to Costa Rica with the Inter-cultural Youth Exchange (ICYE) in 2000, when she was 18. When she arrived, Miss Harrington found no volunteer work had been set up and she had no host family. She claims the family she was eventually sent to received none of the money she paid to the organisation. After a fortnight she was given the task of translating UN documents - despite speaking almost no Spanish. Looking back, she concludes that she was "not at all useful to Costa Rica''.
She said: "Gap years are just hedonistic and those who think they can do some good really can't. You're so young. I never thought I could actually offer that much.'' She says it is "naive'' of teenagers to believe they can make a difference abroad.
Another woman paid to go to Malaysia to teach English at a local primary school only to find it was closed for the entirety of her stay because it was the summer holidays. Another young volunteer arranged to teach English at a rural primary school in Costa Rica only to find the locals spoke an indecipherable dialect of Spanish. She abandoned the scheme and spent the rest of her time at the tour operator's office. Ms Brodie said that in the worst case scenarios students could be a drain on local resources.
The VSO, which mainly places older more skilled volunteers, avoided this by ensuring that volunteers worked in a mutually co-operative way with communities. But Richard Oliver, the chief executive of the Year Out Group which represents 38 organisations that send 30,000 gap year students to more than 80 countries, rejected the claims. "This is a competitive and commercial business,'' he said. "But the countries our members send volunteers to are very happy to have them.'' "I would also accept that in the short time in which an individual is in the country the benefit is mainly to the volunteer. But the procession of volunteers is very beneficial to the country.''



The Times 15 August 2006



'Chill out; Why gap years are not the new colonialism.'
We report today on a young man who went to Calcutta to help to feed homeless children, only to discover that the gentleman running the scheme ex-pected the children to fend for themselves from Friday evening to Monday morning because he preferred not to work at weekends. We also report on a young woman who signed up for a gap-year project to survey an endangered reef, but found when she got there that it had already been surveyed -a mere 200 times.
What shattered hopes! What cruelly betrayed idealism! What useful lessons in life.
These two self-styled ambassadors of British goodwill are to be admired for their selflessness; for seeking to "contribute", as the brochures put it, to less fortunate people and supposedly blighted places during those special, unrepeatable months between school and university when time can seem to pause and horizons retreat to shimmering infinity. But whatever were they thinking? Anyone who signs up -and pays -for a prepackaged gap-year "project" immediately becomes less a saviour of the world than a well-intentioned customer.
Attitudes to gap years risk becoming "colonial", according to Voluntary Service Overseas. This is fatuous. Even capitalists can agree that colonialism was often driven more by profit than by altriusm. But no less fatuous is VSO's exhortation to "gap-year providers" to "raise their game". The only true gap-year provider is the 19-year-old who decides to take one. He or she should bin the brochures, buy a backpack and seek enlightenment from spontaneous adventure. This is the sort that no one else has organised, but from which everyone can profit.

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