The last couple of weeks have proven extremely exciting. I heard the outcome of my International Citizen Service assessment day, and am pleased to announce that I will be heading to Nepal at the end of July as a Team Leader for Voluntary Service Overseas! I have deferred my masters course until 2015, so will be spending 6 months there, then heading to India for a second 6 month placement at Navdanya – an organic farming and food sovereignty project, which I heard about through a friend who is currently volunteering in India for a different organisation.
With all of these exciting travel plans in mind, I thought I would do something a little different for this entry, and suggest some of the ways that it’s possible to go overseas during your time at University. Since the fee increase, I know that many students weren’t able to justify taking a ‘gap year’ to travel, like I was lucky enough to do. But there are so many ways to see the world whilst you study, as well as lots of financial support available, so in many ways this might not be such a bad thing!
I’m beyond excited to go back to India next year!
My first piece of advice would be to make good use of your student loan. I’ve used mine to fund independent trips to Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Prague and Berlin, all for the sacrifice of a few nights out. There are so many cheap flights available these days, especially to Europe, meaning you can really make the most of your University holidays.
Secondly, look into studying abroad. It might not be something you’ve ever considered before – it certainly wasn’t for me – but you could end up spending a summer, a semester, or even an entire year, somewhere that you never imagined you’d even visit, let alone live! There is plenty of funding and scholarships available through both the University of Southampton and Student Finance, especially for those who already receive income assessed grants and bursaries. I was able to claim back all my travel expenses whilst in Japan, including 3 return flights to the UK, and my visa costs and vaccinations.
A warm welcome upon my arrival at Doshisha University, Kyoto
Another great way to spend time overseas is through volunteering, although it can be a bit of a minefield finding the right placement for you. I don’t believe you should ever have to pay a fortune to volunteer, and unfortunately, many of the most visible schemes and organisations charge an incredible amount of money for a few weeks’ worth of experience. Luckily, there are great alternatives, so make sure you do your research before deciding on anything. It’s important to ensure that any work you do participate in has both a positive and sustainable impact upon the community in which it takes place. Organisations such as AIESEC, which is an international, youth-led, leadership development association, offer volunteering placements and paid internships from 6 weeks up to 18 months, in over 100 countries, for the price of a few hundred pounds rather than a few thousand. I went to Indonesia through them, and taught English for 3 months during the summer of my second year. It was a really challenging experience, but incredibly rewarding, leaving me with some unforgettable memories and a host of useful skills to put on my CV.
Some of my students at Kesatrian 1 High School in Indonesia
Paid internships are a little harder to find, but if you’re interested in business and finance there are some fantastic opportunities out there. I’ve had friends who have gone to South America, Bangladesh and India through internship schemes run by different banks and companies – usually completely funded, and often paid. The corporate world isn’t really for me, but I know that plenty of students are aiming for careers in that sector post-undergrad, so it’s a great way to gain experience and see the world at the same time.
At the top of the Reichstag during my most recent trip to Berlin
Finally, there’s always the option of working abroad. It could be a bit daunting for those who have never travelled before, but for those who have, or who are studying languages and looking to work on their skills, it might be a great choice. A fair few friends of mine have looked into becoming an au pair, for example, especially in Europe. Many positions are live-in, so you wouldn’t have to worry about accommodation. Again, research is key, and there are plenty of resources both online and within the University’s career service to get you started.
These things tend to be rather like a snowball – once you begin to find out about opportunities, they just keep coming. Then it’s just down to you to decide which of them (if not all!) that you’d most like to take advantage of. Travelling, studying and working abroad are all great ways to expand your horizons and build skills which many employers find incredibly valuable. These experiences make fantastic talking points at interviews and assessment days, and are great to put into personal statements for those looking to go on to further study. I could talk about it for ages, but it’s really quite simple: there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t find time to travel whilst you’re studying!