Cathy Read teaching children with cerebral palsy and learning disabilities how to swim during a gap year in South Africa.
Cathy Read teaching children with cerebral palsy and learning disabilities how to swim during a gap year in South Africa. Contributed

Gap year can benefit teenagers

PARENTS worry about their teenage children enough without the instant concern that can come with the words "gap year".

After 12 years of study, many teens want to take a break and experience the real world, while their parents worry about how time out will affect their child's future.

But there are advantages to a year away from the books.

As well as creating memories that will last a lifetime, students can use the year to learn new skills, experience new things and create an impressive CV.

University of the Sunshine Coast careers advisor Clive May said parents need not perceive a gap year as negative because of the potential harm to career prospects.

"It no longer seems to affect employment opportunities," Mr May said.

"We're finding some graduate employers actually prefer graduates to have done their gap year before entering the workforce.

"Some (employers) are losing good graduates after a year because they have gone straight from school to uni to work and suddenly have wanderlust."

Mr May said travel was a fantastic idea for people who choose to take a gap year.

"They gain some fantastic independence skills and learn to overcome obstacles," he said.

"They learn about different cultures and could even learn another language.

"They come back with solid experience and more of an idea of what they want to do."

Travel isn't the only beneficial option for gap-year students and Mr May said teenagers who took time off before university to work or for other reasons often came back with a clearer idea of their career pathways.

"Work often gives them a chance to earn some money and gain exposure to the workforce," he said.

Mr May said volunteering, combined with work or travel, was great for those who wanted to defer study because they were unsure of what they wanted to do.

"There are many options for volunteering, which can be tailored to the specifics of what they want."

"Helping people in need of help can make a big difference and adjust their mindset."

Cathy Read decided to take time out after high school and travelled to South Africa on an education placement with Latitude Global Volunteering.

The 20-year-old said she needed a break after school and wanted to try something different.

"I wanted to do something not focused on myself," she said.

"I went to South Africa and was in a school for children with cerebral palsy and other learning disabilities."

The experience of being in a foreign country and different culture was both eye opening and invaluable for Ms Read.

"I became more independent and more tolerant," she said.

"I now have a better understanding of other cultures and am more accepting of other people."

The time away also helped her verify want she wanted to do and Ms Read will start her teaching degree at the University of the Sunshine Coast this year.

She said people thinking of taking a gap year should not be afraid.

"It will create some of the best memories you will ever have," Ms Read said.

Travelling abroad can be expensive and while staying on the Coast is not exotic, it can be just as rewarding to volunteer locally.

Volunteers on the Coast can try everything from working with animals at the RSCPA or Australia Zoo to helping tourists at visitor centres.

Volunteering Sunshine Coast manager Cheryl Harris said there were many advantages to volunteering on the Coast.

"Volunteers realise what's going on in their community," she said

"They learn the discipline of going into a job and gain life skills.

"It's good for them and local organisations, many of which couldn't survive without volunteers."

Gap year students who choose to stay close to home can improve skills with one of the many short courses available.

Sunshine Coast TAFE head of School of Hospitality and Tourism Grant McDonagh said short courses could help students get the most out of their gap year.

"Students can do a course that takes three months, then spend the next nine months using that skill and earning money," he said

"There are many courses available which are internationally recognised and will make it easier to find jobs around the world."

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