Gap Year Volunteering

– for Grown Up volunteers

Taking a gap year before, during or after University can be a way of regenerating energy after years of hard studying. It can also be a way of taking on new skills and experiences, in particular those relevant to your studies or career choice. Don’t just take our word for it, see  Year Out Group

Travelling as part of your gap year is a fantastic and fun experience – time spent volunteering during your travels turns this into a more meaningful adventure, one that can be both personally rewarding and helpful when applying for jobs.

Include 2-3 months of overseas volunteering in your gap year and you will find yourself immersed in a local community, far from the backpacker circuit, creating a memorable and meaningful experience.

So if you think volunteering in your gap year might be for you, then take a look through the following advice and information for gap year students.


Why volunteer on a gap year?

Volunteers placed in responsible projects can make a big difference to the communities they serve, but gap year students should also recognise the huge personal benefits to be gained from volunteering overseas.

Learning new skills

Meeting the challenge of a new job, living and working in a different country, getting to know a different culture, living independently, communicating and building relationships in a local community….  these are just some of the learning points for a gap year volunteer

Your volunteer experience helps you build valuable new life skills, develop more confidence and gain a cultural understanding that will last a lifetime, and will potentially improve your employment prospects if you can translate these insights into learning points.


What should gap year volunteers consider before undertaking voluntary work?

Be honest with yourself about what you want from a volunteering experience. Is it about travelling, weekend adventures, cultural insights, meeting other volunteers, or a passion for the work you will do (or all the above)!? There are no wrong answers, but some aims are best served by different projects and our role is to match you with the right one, so be clear where your priorities are.

We want Outreach volunteers to commit fully to your volunteer work. It is not a holiday in the traditional sense – more a learning experience. Your project will invest time in you and will expect you to work hard for them, so you need to be sure you want this form of work experience, although there should also be plenty of time to have fun at weekends.


What skills might a gap year student learn as from their volunteering experience?

When volunteering overseas you take on an exciting challenge, which is why it is so developmental for young adults.

Making friends at turtle camp

You may learn to travel independently for the first time, (on local transport not tourist buses). Living away from home, far from family and friends (and not always with the comfort of technology connecting you) can be daunting, but helps build confidence and new communication skills as you make new international friends through your project and your homestay.

Taking on a new job with real responsibilities (and probably requiring you to be creative), and developing working relationships with local communities …. It is no wonder that volunteers come back having matured, with a new confidence, new life skills, cultural insights and possibly even a new language.


Should I take my gap year before, during or after University

There is no right answer to this difficult question. It is very much dependent on the individual.

The improved confidence, life skills and a sense of achievement gained from a truly ‘worldly’ experience may mean you will cope better with going to University, and even perform better once there.

Teaching in India

It may also help you decide if a certain course or vocational area is for you. For some volunteers a placement abroad helps confirm a a growing passion for working with children, for example, while for others they might find that the practical reality does not match the vision they held, and a change of course/career is required!

For others it may not be the right step and volunteering is best done once at University, during the summer months, or after University to build your vocational experience or broader life skills prior to starting employment.

What is certain is that the choice is never easy, and a positive decision must be made, by YOU. No one else can ever tell you when it is right to make this choice.

Having a gap year, travelling and volunteering can be a life-changing and developmental experience and we strongly recommend no one rushes into a career with out properly evaluating the many benefits of time out.


How long do you volunteer for during a gap year?

You should always volunteer for a minimum of a month, otherwise you run the risk of returning before you have had a chance to acclimatise to your new surroundings and make a difference in your project. If you are dealing with children and vulnerable adults then we recommend 2 months as a minimum.

Volunteers in Tanzania

Many gap year volunteers will volunteer for 2-3 months, and then go on to travel independently in the region. We believe this is the best way round to do it, so you get the insight and learning from your volunteer experience before you back-pack.

For those volunteers with more time and money available to them, or looking to take on a variety of experiences, then we recommend volunteering in 2 or 3 projects for upto 6 months. This gives you the chance to learn from and contribute to different projects, and you also stay fresh and energised by the ongoing learning experience.

If you are newly qualified as a teacher or therapist, then perhaps staying in one vocational project for longer would be of greater benefit to everyone.


What is the application process for volunteering in a gap year, and when should I apply?

We ask you to complete an online form to provide your basic details and introduce yourself. We always want to meet our volunteers over Skype or Facetime, to get to know you, your preferences, concerns and any goals you have, and be sure to make the best match.

If you know what you want to do (and it is realistic) then arranging your placement can be fairly quick and easy, but for many people we are helping them decide on the most appropriate project based on their experience and personal goals. This might take one online call, or ten, perhaps with friends or parents included. Only when we are all happy we have found the right project for you do you have to commit with a confirmation form and a small deposit.

The more planning time you have, the more considered you can be in making your choices and preparing for a trip. We recommend 6 months before travel, but we have some people travelling in 2 months, while others book 2 years ahead.


Why choose Outreach International for gap year volunteering?

As a small social enterprise we pride ourselves in supporting a limited number of grass-roots, ethical projects that we know well and have visited personally. As organisations get bigger, connecting to thousands of projects, this is not possible.

We talk to every prospective volunteer to share our experience and support them on their adventure. Our process for interviewing and recommending projects pre-booking is unique and demonstrates our commitment to personal service and the importance of matching volunteers to projects correctly. It also gives parents a great way of getting involved in this adventure.


Is volunteering on a gap year safe? 

All travel carries some risk and volunteers living and working in a new country must understand those risks are different from those at home. We brief volunteers fully before they go, so they have a level of orientation and cultural & safety awareness before they depart.

When you arrive our mature and experienced in-country coordinators are a key asset to you, providing further information, an orientation and great local knowledge. The biggest thing gap year volunteers can do in order to be safe is take on the advice they are given by our country coordinators – it is excellent advice from local people who know their country.

Gap year volunteers do take on an increased level of responsibility for their own  personal safety. Be aware, plan your activities, and always share your schedule with your coordinator so we know where you are. Keep copies of important documents and emergency numbers on your person should you need them.

Volunteering is a safe experience for those who show cultural sensitivity and use common sense when applying the advice they have been given.


Where can I volunteer on my gap year?

Volunteering opportunities for gap year students, plus student summer holidays and Christmas & Easter breaks, are available in: