Coronavirus (COVID-19) update for gap year students

The global pandemic has had a major impact on worldwide travel in 2020 and so many gap year opportunities are being put on hold. However, there are now some viable alternatives, so your year out from university isn't wasted. Find out what these are in the article below.

Making a decision on whether to focus on adventure travel, a gap year programme or a working holiday is just the start - explore these ideas to see where they could lead you

From spending a few weeks or months undertaking voluntary work in the UK, to devoting an entire year to activities in another country, it's worth spending time planning what you'll be doing. However, it's reassuring to know there are plenty of resources available to help you make an informed decision.

So if you're a first-time traveller in need of guidance, you can read Rough Guides' On a Budget series, as well as our gap year advice pages to help you navigate through the wealth of information to be found online.

Gap year destinations

Consider six of the most popular gap year destinations and programmes discussed by travel experts at BUNAC and Rough Guides in our Student Career Guide magazine.

The places covered include:

  • Thailand
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • USA
  • South Africa
  • Japan.

Once you've made your mind up on where you want to go, follow our 7 steps to the ultimate gap year.

You can also find out more about working abroad in different countries.

Virtual gap years

As coronavirus has restricted many people's travel plans, virtual gap years are growing in popularity, with students able to sign up for online programmes via providers' websites and do their gap year from home.

One operator, Go Overseas is offering a range of options including online TEFL courses, teaching abroad and language schools, plus virtual internships and volunteering.

For instance, a remote internship in Asia may still involve the chance to acquire real-life work experience with a company while making valuable business connections. Your work could involve managing social media accounts and writing blog articles.

You could also visit a specialist such as Virtual Internships with its international focus. This means you could be interning in one of your chosen career fields - such as IT, healthcare, legal or marketing - with an organisation based in China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, India or here in the UK.

Read more about virtual work experience.

Animal care

These projects are popular with those interested in jobs working with animals. They typically involve helping at shelters, surgeries and centres alongside vets and rehabilitation staff.

Whether you're caring for elephants and monkeys at a wildlife park in Malaysia or rescuing street animals such as dogs and donkeys in India, you'll gain experience of local wildlife and learn skills from resident professionals.

If you'd relish the chance to work with animals abroad, visit the following specialist websites:

Conservation

If you're passionate about saving the planet then conservation work may be for you. A gap year conservation project will give you the chance to work with endangered wildlife, protect rainforests and conserve marine life, all while learning about the issues affecting local communities.

For instance, some programmes are similar to animal care projects, as through your conservation work you could be volunteering to work with lions and tigers in South Africa.

Your aim will be to help save endangered species as well as supporting natural habitats whether this is at home or abroad. Conservation volunteering options include:

Cultural programmes

For those with a love of culture and the performing arts - particularly art, dance, drama or music - there's a specialist gap year route for you. Just select your preferred travel destination and get involved with pursuits including teaching arts and crafts to young women, or drama and music to children in underprivileged schools.

For example, the cultural courses offered by the Year Out Group can help you to develop your communication skills, as well as a greater self-confidence in your creative abilities.

Other relevant organisations include:

Fruit-picking and farm work

If physical work and getting your hands dirty in the countryside doesn't faze you, you may wish to consider the agricultural projects available in countries such as New Zealand where seasonal work is plentiful.

Opportunities range from harvesting crops to assisting farmers, and you'll get to work outdoors and learn about rural life while gaining fulfilment in helping local communities.

For further details, see organisations such as World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and Gap Year 360 - Farm work abroad.

International internships

In addition to developing skills relevant to your chosen career, a gap year internship also has the capability of making your CV stand out from other jobseekers. You could consider undertaking an internship abroad in a range of areas including business, journalism and marketing. They usually last from a couple of weeks to a year. You'll gain industry experience, make new contacts and improve your chances of employment.

Find out about the latest international gap year placements at:

Also, international student organisation The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) has launched a website where students are put in touch with internship providers based across the globe.

Find out about the latest opportunities available at ErasmusIntern.org.

Language courses

Learning a foreign language gives you a new skill, the chance to immerse yourself in a new culture, and it can improve your employability on your return home. There are lots of languages to choose from, so if you want to learn Spanish, German, Chinese or French, there are plenty of courses.

The following sites are good places to start your search:

Medicine

When it comes to healthcare careers, there are opportunities across Europe, as well as further afield in countries such as Africa and Thailand. They all provide opportunities to work or volunteer in hospitals, clinics and immunisation centres.

On these gap year work experience programmes, you'll gain first-hand experience of the medical profession and an understanding of healthcare issues in developing countries. If you're planning to, or are already studying medicine, midwifery, nursing or dentistry, then this experience can really help with your medical degree.

For more information on medical gap year programmes, visit Global Pre-Meds, Go Overseas and Plan My Gap Year.

Social care and community

In the caring professions, you'll get the chance to make a difference to someone else's life.

Care volunteering includes social and youth work, childcare, au-pairing and spending time in schools and orphanages. Community work covers everything from agriculture to building projects.

Opportunities can be found at:

Sports and adventure travel

If you're into sports and fitness, how does coaching football in Ghana, cricket in India or rugby in New Zealand sound?

Alternatively, adventure thrill-seekers can take on a trekking expedition, safari or adrenalin challenge. You'll gain teamwork and leadership skills while getting to test your commitment capabilities.

Both these options are well covered, so be sure to visit the following sites:

Summer camps

A gap year doesn't have to involve a full year's activities. Some programmes, such as summer schools and camps in the United States, offer gap year travellers the opportunity to spend a few weeks or months working at camp, followed by another month exploring the country.

There are a number of operators, including BUNAC, Camp America, Camp Leaders and Camp Canada that specialise in placing students in camps at various locations across North America. See summer camp jobs in the USA.

You could also consider Adventure China for a summer camp in China, with placements available across the country, from Inner Mongolia to Shanghai and Qingdao.

Teaching English abroad

As there's such a high global demand for English teachers, teaching English abroad has become a popular gap year option. You'll be able to earn money as you travel, with programmes taking you as far afield as Thailand, China, Korea or Vietnam.

Even if you don't require prior teaching experience, many employers will still expect you to hold a Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) qualification - for which short courses are available. By working in schools and learning institutions, you'll gain organisation and communication skills in addition to teaching experience and independence.

Some operators now offer teaching English online programmes too. You can search TEFL courses and opportunities at:

Volunteering

Many gap year programmes may be unpaid, but they provide you with the chance to gain experience in your chosen area through volunteering.

For example, you could choose to volunteer with animals, work with children, or get involved with any number of conservation, community, education, medical or sports projects. If you're interested in making a lasting impact on others and benefiting from such a rewarding experience, find out more at GoAbroad.com or Global Vision International. You can also read specifically about volunteer projects in South America.

Another option is to gain new skills through the European Solidarity Corps. This Erasmus+ Volunteering project (confirmed for 2020/21), which can last from two weeks to 12 months, means you could get involved in sports and outdoor activities, education, arts and music or cultural associations.

Find out more

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