Taking a gap year

Posted October 13, 2011, by Helen Isbister

Taking a year off after school to embark on an international escapade is a fantastic way to throw off the cobwebs before leaping into a career or more study. Whether you decide to spend the time working, volunteering or just exploring, a gap year is a fantastic way to gain maturity, experience and independence.

While a gap year is mostly about having a good time, it can also increase your chances of career success. Having one on your resume demonstrates lots of desirable life skills and most employers would prefer to hire people who know a bit more about the world than what they’ve read in a textbook.

The saying ‘the world is your oyster’ is never truer than right now, so take a deep breath, think outside the square and jump in!


Volunteering allows you to be more than just a tourist. It will take you behind the scenes and up close with cultures, people and languages – all while you make a positive difference in the world. You can become involved in a huge variety of projects in nearly every country in the world. Depending on your skills and interests, you might choose to help out in teaching, care, community, conservation, media or construction. Who knows?! You could find yourself saving sea turtles in Costa Rica, teaching children in Cambodia, working with orphans in Cape Town, or building wells in Ghana.

Working holiday

The traditional gap year is to take a working holiday overseas. It kills two birds with one stone – funding the experience while you live it!

There are plenty of organisations that will set you up with a job before you even leave Australia, so you can confidently rock up in another country knowing you’ll have cash coming your way. Many of these organisations will also help with sorting out your visa as well.

The most popular destinations are naturally English speaking countries like the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, but that isn’t to say you can’t venture further afield.

Lots of gappers choose to work in boarding schools, pubs, ski resorts or summer camps – most of which offer staff accommodation and a network of Aussies, Kiwis and Canadians who are also pulling pints or operating chairlifts to pay their way around the world!

Student exchange

Embarking on an overseas adventure doesn’t necessarily mean burning all your books and shunning everything that is educationally inclined. In fact, the student life is a pretty sweet one – and it’s even better if you get to do it in a foreign country!

School leavers can sign themselves up to attend a foreign high school and live with a host family. It’s a great way to get immersed in a new culture, learn a new language and make loads of new friends. And you get to live the high school life without the worries of looming final-year exams!

University students also have plenty of opportunities to take their study abroad – many unis have partner universities where students can take classes and transfer credit points. 

Another alternative is for you to study with an Australian university or vocational education provider while overseas, via distance education. There is a plethora of courses that you can study online, covering every subject area, so it’s worth checking out the range of options.

Another way of racking up international experience in the name of learning is to get involved with an internship in another country. i-to-i internship placements run from two to 24 weeks in fields such as health and medicine, marketing, tourism, sports and media.

Au pair

Working as an au pair, or nanny, is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the culture of a country. You will live with a host family, receiving free rent and board plus a small wage in return for looking after the children. Through Au Pair Australia, you can organise a placement with a screened family in whichever country takes your fancy. With the exception of France, you don’t need to be able to speak the local language before you take up the position but au pair placements are a great chance to learn or improve a foreign language – and many come with an allowance for language lessons. Most placements are for between 10 and 12 months, but you can also book in for four- month summer placements in France or Italy.

Australian Defence Force (ADF) Gap Year

The ADF Gap Year program provides an opportunity for young Australians, who have finished year 12 (or equivalent) within the previous two years, to experience continuous military training and lifestyle before going on to study or a selected career. It provides a once in a lifetime ‘one year work experience’ program in the Navy or Army rather than a ‘career’ for life. The Air Force Gap Year program is currently not available. To apply or for further information please visit www.defencejobs.gov.au/gapyear.


TESOL is an acronym for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and is what you’ll need if you want to teach your way around the world. Courses are open to all fluent English speakers and range from a four-week intensive class room-based class to online courses. TESOL jobs abroad include placements in colleges, universities, language schools, kindergartens, public schools, private tutoring, companies and businesses, voluntary work, hospitals or tourism. There is a huge demand for TESOL teachers in nearly every country in the world.

Put it on your resume

Your gap year might have involved a little more partying than time spent building serious career credentials. Dancing on bars, body shots and irresponsible escapades should be discreetly omitted from the public record – instead you should focus on the knowledge you acquired, the talents you utilised and the social contributions you made.

Helen Isbister

AIM Business School
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