Ellie spent five months in Ghana teaching English on an education project organised by gap year provider Lattitude. She is now training to be a secondary school teacher on a PGCE in Religious Studies
I graduated from a degree in sociology and religious studies at the University of Cardiff in 2009. As soon as I left university, I found temporary work with an outdoor shop and when I decided on my gap year, I carried on working for a year to finance it. My local church also made a substantial donation to my fundraising in return for me giving a talk about my trip and experiences.
My main reason for taking a gap year was because I wanted to travel. I thought about backpacking, which would have been easier to finance, but decided I wanted a project where I could work, be immersed in a local culture and get to know the people properly. Teaching was a natural choice for me because I was already thinking about it as a career and I wanted some relevant experience.
There were a lot of gap year companies to consider and much research needed to weigh up what you get for your money and all of the sometimes hidden costs. I chose Lattitude because I liked how the projects were structured and supported. We had an orientation meeting with others from the UK and a company representative met us on arrival in Ghana and supported us for the first week to settle in and cope with culture shock. I was paired up with someone Lattitude felt I would get on with, and this really helped us face challenges together.
The project involved living and working at a boarding school for students aged 14 to 25, although one student in my class was in his 40s. I taught English to a class of 60 boarders and day pupils for four hours a week, which doesn't sound much, but required a lot of preparation to ensure that I understood the grammar rules I was teaching. There was also a great deal of marking for a class of 60 students.
As well as teaching, I started an English club where we played games to help the students with their speaking skills and I assisted with evening study sessions for boarders, including some one-to-one help with reading. The cultural exchange I had with the pupils was just as important as the teaching. I also had time to travel round Ghana with other volunteers for three weeks during the Christmas break.
The most rewarding part of the project was getting to know the students individually (a student rang me recently to wish me a happy birthday) and the feeling of satisfaction when students finally grasp something you have taught them.
In Ghana, children have great respect for teachers but with 60 in a class it was demanding to keep order and find appropriate ways to discipline them. It was also a challenge to teach students older than myself.
Personally I have benefited from my gap year by knowing I can face challenges and overcome them and have become a stronger person. I feel confident standing in front of a class on my current PGCE placement and I have definitely got the travel bug.
Being in a less developed country has helped me to see home from a different perspective and I really appreciate the resources in my current placement school. In terms of my career, the experience has been great for my CV, helped me get on a PGCE course and confirmed that I want to teach at secondary level.
My advice for those considering a gap year - do it! It will allow you to push your boundaries and give you experiences you won't easily find anywhere else. If supported by a good gap year organisation you will be able to challenge yourself whilst still feeling safe.
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