Diary of a gap year: G is for gap year, G is for graduate

Louise Heaton

Louise Heaton

University graduate Louise Heaton is leaving Harborough for Malawi this month to teach at a small school for six months. In the first installment of her online blog the 21-year-old talks of her hopes for the trip.

As I sit in the cosy kitchen of my family’s home creating this blog, I can’t help but wonder about the year ahead, and whether my lack of angst is a positive sign of my maturity and readiness, or due to the fact that I haven’t quite realised the sheer vastness of the journey that is ahead of me - which most probably means it’ll hit me as I take my seat and buckle up on that first flight out of the country, clutching my chewy sweets; I am off travelling on my own after all.

With a whole year away hastily approaching, despite hours sat at the computer, with day after day spent sifting through magazines, and numerous hours at a time consumed by both chatting about and continuously changing potential plans with my enthusiastic and vibrant travel expert Rob, the list of planning and organisation still seems to be an endless task.

I am, however, thinking back to almost a year and a half ago exactly, when quite spontaneously I decided to book myself a trip to South Africa, volunteering on an animal conservation site for a couple of weeks, only weeks before my second year exams at University were due to begin.

It was this trip which teased and woke up that travel bug inside me which we so often hear about.

I had not long before split with my boyfriend; you know how it is, at the time your world seems to have entirely fallen apart, and you spend most waking moments of your time moping about and eating copious amounts of delectable treats with your best friends Ben and Jerry.

So with this out of character decision - the pick me up trip I felt I needed, I packed my bags, left my bible-like revision folders behind, and boarded my flights to Switzerland and Johannesburg, to finally arrive in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

That two weeks, although short, was such an eye opener to all the many things I would love to be able to do, and could do once I graduated.

I got well and truly stuck into the conservation work, whether that was chopping down alien tree species and vegetation which created inhabitable areas of forestry for native plantation, or building drains to prevent track flooding, or helping with the rehabilitation of elephants saved from culling.

I definitely have to be proud of my log carrying and machete skills that developed over that period of time, certainly a different experience to the ‘elf and safety orientated culture we have here in England.

I have to say though, it was the visit to the local school that led me to decide upon the first epic adventure of my gap year.

Seeing the boys of eighteen mixed in with a class of six to eight year olds, receiving exactly the same level of teaching, was such a shock to the system about the lack of education available in certain areas of the world.

But even more so, the level of laughter and happiness among the children was so refreshing and so infectious, even though I could see by looking at both the school with basic classrooms and the shanty town opposite, that these children were growing up with so much less than us Westerners.

It made me want to come back to such a community, to make my own contribution, in any way that I could.

First on my agenda in this incredible trip of a life time, lies 6 months in Malawi, Africa.

I will be volunteering through a charity called Lattitude which sends 17-25 year olds all over the world to help contribute to making a difference.

It is that picture above in South Africa, which led me to choose a teaching placement.

At the moment, standing in front of a class of over 40 children, seems a pretty intense and daunting task, but one I cannot wait to get started with.

I am yet to find out exactly where I will be located but whatever is sent my way, which quite possibly could be a rural location with far less, if any, running water and electricity than I am well accustomed to, I hope to accomplish it with both an open mind and a pinch of salt.

Come July, the second half of my year will begin; with a more ‘discover the world, broaden my mind’ sort of theme, I will be off to South America.

First will come Ecuador, passing through the spectacular Amazon Rainforest meeting its indigenous communities, through to Peru, tackling the breath taking trek of the Inca Trail.

Next will see a crossing into Bolivia, to witness what I have been told can only be described as a spectacular and magical experience of the salt flats, where the piercing blue skies meet the white salt on the flat lake bed.

Then it’s on to Argentina, discovering the ultimate cosmopolitan city of Buenos Aires, followed closely by Uruguay to lead up to the crossing into Brazil passing by the impressive Iguassu Falls, a sight I have always desired to see, to finally reach Rio de Janeiro, the beautifully and dramatically set capital city of Brazil.

After this hectic, and at current unimaginably spectacular 65 days, my plane ticket to New Zealand is where my planning stops.

By this point, I’m sure I’ll have some sort of travel wits about me and have the ‘wing-it’ skill down to a tee, and after a year of travelling you have to be able to say you ‘lived’ New Zealand, and that only comes from discovering its and fellow travellers’ wonders as you go along...

Watch this space!!




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