Working overseas or backpacking around a continent are two very different ways to spend a gap year, but which one offers the best experience? Seeing a foreign city as a local or seeing several cities as a tourist? Rachel Haynes investigates.
Rachel: Between 1974 and 2014, the number of students taking a gap year after school increased from 4 to 15%. Nicola Burge spent her gap year as an au pair…
Nicola: I was based in Paris, in France, and I worked with a family of 4 children. Being an au pair is definitely, I mean it makes you grow up, much faster than I think just travelling around does, just because you have so much, not only independence, but pressure on you and responsibility to take care of someones children, that’s huge!
Rachel: Nicola had a very definite answer when asked whether she preferred backpacking or working as an au pair.
Nicola: I preferred the year with the family, just because you’re settled, and you dont feel like a backpacker, and you actually make a city your own, and you make it your home, and you find your own boulangerie, and you get your bread from your local place everyday, and you know the people who work at the bars, and at the cafes and stuff. It’s just like living in Sydney. And if you dont live somewhere and base yourself somewhere then you dont get that sort of local feel, which I love, that’s why I dont like to move around too much.
Rachel: Jenny Van den Heuvel and Gretel Hickling spent their gap year in Europe very differently…
Gretel: So we went together for 5 months, we travelled around pretty much most of Europe.
Jenny: From Ireland to Greece and everywhere in between
Gretel: So all up 18 countries or 16 countries
Jenny: We went to lots of different places so that meant we didn’t spend much time, and I would’ve liked to spend more time in places but then I wouldn’t have wanted to have lost going to other places. It’s kind of a hard balance, and when you have to keep, well we didn’t have to keep going, but we wanted to keep going to other different cities, you dont get to experience the local life.
So one of our friends went travelling and spent like a whole heap of time in one country, so she got to do more local kind of things,and have cool, crazy adventures. Whereas we were a bit more touristy.
Gretel: Nah I love moving around, I think that we pretty much, like we fitted a lot into our days, but we pretty much saw, like we saw the whole of Copenhagen in 2 days, so it’s possible!
Jenny: That was so intense! But then we didn’t get to experience the lifestyle of being there and making friends with people, like we made friends but you’d only get to see them for 2 nights or whatever.
Gretel: But i think it’s good to see different places, in the time limit we had.
Jenny: I think it was good for our first backpacking trip, but now if i was to go back, i’d probably spend my time longer in a few places, now that I’ve had that broader experience.
Gretel: You can choose places that were your favourite, and then go back.
Jenny: But then they were all really good, so it’s really hard.
Gretel: Hard to choose favourites!
Nicola: I think it’s about what experience you want from your gap year. I mean the reason of a gap year is to develop yourself because normally you’re not ready for university, so whether you’re travelling or whether you go and live in another place, or whether you just move to another city in Australia. I think that as long as you gain some sort of independence and you gain some sort of experience you can take back with you.
My gap year definitely fulfilled my expectations and what I wanted, and I came back after 2 gap years, because 1 wasn’t enough apparently. And yeah I decided to take a step back and not jump straight into a degree, where I didn’t necessarily feel passionate about, and now I’m very happy as a consequence.