“ GAP aims to give students you the chance to live and work in a completely new environment in their gap year. GAP has arranged over 17,000 placements overseas „
Taking a year out with GAP is the best thing I could have done. GAP organises placements for over 1,500 18 and 19 year olds each year and go to over 30 countries around the world. I had the most amazing time and would recommend everyone to take a year out. I went with GAP to Malaysia where I taught in a state boarding school two hours south of Kuala Lumpur in Melaka. I spent six months in the school working with students aged 11 - 18 and teaching them English, drama, music and art. I made some really great friends and got to travel in the holidays around South East Asia and Australia. GAP were well organised and arranged everything very well and were always on the end of the phone to answer my questions. I did a lot of research into other gap year organisations before choosing GAP and I definately made the right decision. Because they are a charity they are the best value for money. It cost a basic fee of about £600 and then on top of that was the flight, visa and insurance so in total about £1,500 i guess. This included all accommodation and food whilst in Malaysia and pocket money! Bargain. If you are thinking of taking a year out you should definately apply to GAP and be aware you'll get the travel bug!!
First of all, I should say that this op may be a little out of date, because I travelled with GAP (Gap Activity Projects, the biggest gap-year organisation) on my year off in '94. But I feel very strongly, and my views have been backed up by everything I've ever heard about them, including my sister's experiences in Malaysia in '99. So. Let's start at the beginning. Who are GAP? Basically, they organise voluntary placements in a number of countries for people on their gap year, placements that vary from 3 months to a year, but are generally at least six months long. The deal is that you pick your country and project of choice which you are interviewed for (they claim to be rigorous, but i've never met anyone they turned down), you pay them quite a lot of money (about £400), and they set it all up for you. That money does not include flights or visas or anything. It's simply GAP's fee. And in exchange, they set up the placement, organise your visa, look after you while you're there and offer you support in your placement country. Or that's the theory. In my experience, the reality is very different. To start with, I have to say they did set up my placement.I was in Indonesia, teaching at a university for four months, then travelling for another two. But it was a nasty shock to find that, when we arrived, that contrary to what GAP had promised, we were expected to pay rent for our accommodation and also for food. GAP completely failed to sort this out when we reported it. Much more serious were the problems with our visas. One of the big attractions of GAP was that they handled all the paper work for you, a massive task if you don't know what you're doing. Ours were a month late in being issued -not their fault - and were supposed to be for six months. GAP told us that there was no more we needed to know, which turned out to be completely untrue. We were in fact legally required to register
with the local police on our arrival, which of course none of us did. Quite how serious this oversight was did not emerge until the end of our placements, when all 16 of us found that when we tried to leave the country, we were told we were illegal immigrants with illegal visas who, by working, had been defrauding the state for six months. I was on my own in Sumatra; I got taken to immigration, had my passport taken away and was interrogated in Indonesian for three days. Others had worse experiences - at least two people were nearly deported. So now we come to the GAP support network they had made so much of. While I was trying desperately, aged 18, to talk my way out of being imprisoned in Sumatra, GAP were telling my frantically worried mother that I was "probably over reacting" and did absolutely nothign to help. It later emerged that they had known about the problem, but hadn't told anyone. The much-vaunted GAP representative in Indonesia was no help as she'd informed us six weeks into our stay that she was off on holiday for a few months and wouldn't be contactable. In any case, she didn't speak Indonesian and spent most of her time living an expat lifestyle which meant she had no idea about the realities of life in Indonesia. As for the visit by our project organiser, it's true he turned up - but he didn't have a clue. Once again, he knew nothing about the country, didn't speak the language, had no idea how the country operated (his knowledge of politics and regional events was laughable) and as far as we could see spent our fees on top hotels and eating in very expensive European style restaurants. I was so angry about their incompetency that on my return, I forced them to return half of my fee plus my expenses for when I was detained in Sumatra. I was not the only one. The Indonesia project was subsequently abandoned; the man in charge of it was promoted to handling the even bigger Nepal pro
ject. My sister's experiences were not as extreme, but she also felt completely abandoned by GAP while in Malaysia. And GAP did manage to place two of her female friends out there in accommodation right next to a Malaysian army camp, where they were continually harrassed, and then failed to move them after one girl found a soldier trying to break into their rooms at night. They took matters into their own hands and moved themselves. My situation might be extreme, but I have heard nothing to change the impression of GAP it gave me. To be blunt, they are well meaning but essentially unreliable amateurs. Normally this wouldn't matter, but when you are talking about inexperienced teenagers abroad in potentially dangerous countries, it is very serious. HEaven knows what would have happened if something really serious had gone wrong, if I'd got malaria or been kidnapped. I did have a wonderful time, but that was in spite of rather than because of GAP. The problem is that there isn't really an alternative, and however much I might criticise them, I would do it all again because I had such a fabulous time. All I can say is that if you do sign up with them, don't rely on them for anything. Assume the worst. Assume that whatever goes wrong, it will be up to you to bail yourself out. And think very carefully before you hand over your cash