A moment to breathe

Gap years

Wondering what to do in a gap year? Take some time out to find freedom, fun and fulfilment. A gap year is your – maybe once-in-a-lifetime – chance to take a break from traditional school, college and work structures. Whether you choose to volunteer abroad, travel solo or work in a different country, a gap year can be a life-changing experience that offers a fresh perspective on the world.

Critical science

Critical science

You'll contribute to vital conservation research targeted at protecting the earth's most valuable ecosystems.
Ethical engagement

Ethical engagement

Using the UN's SDGs as a framework, we've made a commitment to positive, constructive and sustainable impact.
Beautiful adventures

Beautiful adventures

You'll spend your days exploring some of the world's most breathtaking, exhilarating and remote wildernesses.

Take a gap year with GVI

Overview
Locations
Benefits
College students
Types
Programs
FAQs

What is a gap year all about? 

A gap year is an opportunity to travel, learn new career-boosting skills and experience the world outside the four walls of your classroom or office space. Taking a gap year after high school and college, or in between jobs, is the perfect time to push out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. To get to know yourself before you make important decisions about your future.

It’s your chance to design your year, for yourself, as you would love to spend it. To explore. To find adventure. To change the world – and your life. The freedom to create your own schedule, meet new people, and pursue your interests makes a gap year a unique opportunity for personal growth and development. So don’t be afraid to take the leap and embark on an adventure of a lifetime!

Whether you want to take a full gap year off, a semester or two or a couple months sabbatical, we have an exciting selection of impactful nature conservation and community development volunteer and internship programs to choose from.

GVI is a proud member of the Gap Year Association.

Need some gap year ideas and inspiration? 

Take a look at the reasons for, and benefits of, taking a gap year, as well as the focuses and locations that GVI’s award-winning programs have to offer you.

Where can you go on your gap year?

With so many places to travel to, and a limited time to see them in, where is the best place to travel to on a gap year? From learning to scuba-dive and assisting with coral reef restoration in the coastal town of Puerto Morelos in Mexico to assisting with the conservation of sea turtles in Phang Nga in Southern Thailand, no matter where you decide to spend your gap year, the experiences you’ll have are sure to be unforgettable.

Have you ever had a place that you’ve always wanted to visit, but you’re not sure why? It’s like there’s a magnetic pull towards that region or country, and you just have to go there and experience it for yourself. We say, trust your gut but follow it up with research to make sure you know what to expect when you get there.

GVI offers some of the best gap year programs available. You can choose a volunteer or internship program, with a focus on areas like wildlife conservation, marine conservation, animal care and climate change. During these gap year programs, you’ll have the chance to work alongside on-the-ground partner organisations on locally-led initiatives that benefit both the environment and the community. The freedom to create your own schedule, meet new people, and pursue your interests makes a gap year a unique opportunity for personal growth and development. Don’t be afraid, take the leap and embark on an adventure of a lifetime!

Nature conservation gap year locations

  • Canary Islands: Spot an impressive variety of marine mammals like Atlantic spotted dolphins and nomadic long-finned pilot whales on the island of Tenerife in Spain.
  • Costa Rica: Live in the Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve, where you’ll work to protect the habitats of elusive jaguars, prehistoric sea turtles and flamboyant birdlife.
  • Fiji: Enjoy Dawamasu’s postcard-white beaches with palm trees and warm waters and support projects to fight challenges like climate change and overfishing.
  • Greece: Stay in the small village of Giannitsochori, a short walk from loggerhead turtle nesting sites where you’ll be helping to protect their natural habitats.
  • Madagascar: Get the opportunity to survey highly threatened lemurs and panther chameleons in an enchanting forest on Nosy Be, an African island in the balmy Indian Ocean.
  • Mexico: Explore, study and protect the diverse ecosystems of Puerto Morelos which is part of the world-renowned Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System.
  • Seychelles: Travel to Mahe to get up close and learn how to identify different fish species, or opt to support initiatives to help recover coral bleaching.
  • South Africa: Experience the thrill of the African bush in Limpopo by helping nature conservationists to monitor the behaviour of big cats and help protect the endangered rhino.
  • Thailand: Feel awe-struck by the tropical beaches of Phang Nga and assist with looking after baby turtles before their release into the ocean, or opt for the green mountains of Chiang Mai to conserve and protect endangered Asian elephants and white-handed gibbons.

 

Gap year locations with community programs

In Costa Rica, Fiji, Madagascar, South Africa and Thailand, we run both nature conservation and community development programs for you to choose from.

Take a look at Cambodia, Ghana and Nepal where we focus only on community development programs – a great fit if you’re more interested in using your gap year to make a social impact.

Your gap year, your way

If you’re keen to mix and match programs with different focus areas and in different locations, it’s possible! Just speak to one of our gap year experts who will help you put together your dream itinerary according to your timeline, interests and budget.

If you’ve already found the gap year program for you, perfect. Complete a quick application for a GVI gap year program. If not, you can browse and find gap year programs here.

“What do you want to do for the rest of your life?” is a daunting question.

Especially if you’re not completely sure what you’d like to study or which career path you’d like to follow. Making critical decisions under pressure can force you to make choices that you might regret later. 

Typically, a gap year is when you take some time off between high school and college – anything from one semester to a year. It’s a valuable time where you have the opportunity to discover yourself, consider your options, experience something out of the ordinary and enhance your skills. And with GVI, you’ll even contribute to making a sustainable impact too.

Gap years are not only for students and young adults though. Many working adults use their annual leave, sabbatical or the time in between jobs to take a break from their usual responsibilities and do something meaningful.

The benefits of taking a gap year

  • Discover yourself, your strengths, your passions and your interests.
  • Experience new countries, cultures, environments and situations
  • Meet interesting people, to give you a fresh perspective on the world.
  • Develop new skills – both hard and soft skills – that will improve your relationships and enhance your studies and career.
  • Reflect on your dreams, set goals for yourself and formulate an action plan to help you get there.
  • Boost your CV by adding your new volunteering and interning experiences and the skills that you’ve learnt.
  • Increase your academic performance – college students who have taken a gap year tend to outperform their school grades. You’ll have more confidence and direction and are less likely to experience academic burn-out.
  • Enhance your application for higher education studies by choosing a gap year program to support your subject area of interest.
  • Take a career break or gap from work to rediscover yourself, get unstuck, and experience something unique and liberating.

 

In the end, joining a gap year program is truly a gift to yourself – a valuable time of learning, achievement, impact and life experience. And to be honest, if you have the opportunity to make it happen now, do it. Because with the realities and responsibilities of life, you might never get the chance again.

You most likely have questions around how a gap year will affect your college admissions or job applications after you’ve graduated. Let’s explore the benefits of taking a gap year, both before and after your college journey.

Stand out from the crowd when applying for college

A structured gap year can be your secret weapon in standing out when applying for college. It’s a chance to take a well-planned break between high school and higher education that shows you’re not afraid to think outside the box. Through experiences like volunteering, internships or travel, you’ll broaden your horizons, boost your skills and gain a deeper understanding of the world. This isn’t your typical classroom learning – it’s hands-on, real-world stuff that lets you take charge, work independently and tackle meaningful challenges. Admissions officers love to see applicants who have made the most of their gap year, recognising the maturity that comes from such experiences. A well-structured gap year can be the key that sets you apart, showcasing your dedication, self-awareness, and the courage to forge your own path.

Set yourself apart when applying for jobs

Taking a gap year can transform your career path in ways you never imagined! This valuable time off before entering the workforce is your chance to explore different careers, discover your passions, and make confident choices about your future. If you use this time wisely and take on internships, apprenticeships or part-time jobs that align with your interests, you’ll gain practical career-boosting skills and industry knowledge that will make you stand out from the competition. A gap year also opens doors to expand your professional network and connect with mentors who can guide and inspire you. When you step into the workforce, you’ll have a clear sense of purpose, a diverse skill set, and the confidence to conquer any challenge that comes your way. Say hello to a competitive edge and a future that’s truly yours to shape!

What about taking a gap year after college?

Yes, you can take a gap year after college! While gap years are often linked with the transition from high school to college, they can still be super valuable after you finish your undergraduate studies. Taking a gap year after college gives you the chance to reflect, explore and grow before jumping into what’s next. Whether you’re planning on more education, starting your career or trying out new adventures, this time off lets you recharge and refuel. Travel, volunteer, intern or pursue personal projects to boost your skills, expand your horizons and get ready for your chosen path.

Are there career benefits to taking a gap year after college?

A gap year after college offers numerous benefits for personal and professional growth. It’s a time to step away from the academic setting and gain invaluable life experiences that shape your future. It can be a time to reflect on your career goals, explore various industries and acquire practical skills through internships or part-time jobs. You can also spend time travelling to develop a global perspective. These diverse experiences enhance problem-solving, adaptability and intercultural communication skills highly sought after by employers. Last (but not least), a gap year helps prevent burnout and allows you to recharge, entering the next phase of your life with renewed energy and focus.

The rise of gap years: How Harvard encourages personal growth

Traditional academic institutions are increasingly endorsing the benefits of a gap year. Harvard, famously, sends out letters to students after accepting them for admission advising their parents to consider postponing their child’s education and encouraging them to take a gap year before college. Harvard’s official reason for doing this is that they believe today’s students are under far too much pressure and that greatness comes not from imitating others but from knowing yourself, following your interests and playing to your own unique strengths.

What type of gap year program is best for you?

You’ve decided – it’s time to hit the pause button. To take some time off to do something epic. To join a gap year program that “future you” would thank you for.

How does this sound: pack your bags, travel abroad, meet like-minded people, have the time of your life, get immersed in the natural splendour of scenic locations while supporting locally-led conservation projects?

We thought you’d like that idea.

Volunteering vs interning

But first, what’s the difference between volunteering and interning with GVI?

Depending on just how much professional development you’d like to get out of your gap year, you can either join a GVI volunteer program or a GVI internship.

Whether you decide to volunteer or intern with us during your gap year – you will have a life-changing experience. You’ll travel to one of our research stations or community hubs based on five different continents, and stay on base with our knowledgeable team members and a group of fellow global citizens. You’ll share adventurous experiences, have loads of fun socialising, and contribute to meaningful projects together.

By signing up to any of our nature conservation programs, you’ll also get access to some of the most vulnerable natural habitats on Earth – where many of the marine and wildlife reserves are protected by the local organisations that we partner with.

What’s the difference then? While all volunteer abroad programs include on-site training and work experience guaranteed to improve your employability, internships feature in-depth learning opportunities, more work experience, leadership training post-program career coaching sessions and exclusive job portal access. Internships allow you to master a wider range of skills and also offer the opportunity to complete four online qualifications endorsed by the University of Richmond to advance your career. 

So, if you are more focused on building your career and would like to take on more responsibility during your gap year, GVI internships are for you.

Internships with career guarantees and fast-track training

If you’re looking for advanced career-boosting opportunities or wanting to conduct in-depth research, then a professional apprenticeship or research fellowship during your gap year is the right choice for you. 

With a guaranteed job placement, our 24-week professional apprenticeship programs offer an opportunity to develop industry-specific skills and gain valuable work experience. You’ll spend three months completing on-the-ground project work, after which you’ll spend three months working for one of our conservation partners. Participants get ongoing support – including career coaching, a LinkedIn reference, certificates for online courses, and access to GVI’s online job portal. Some of the international partners you could work with include Save the Children, the Red Cross, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, government ministries for the environment, the South African National Parks Board, and other youth and education organisations in the countries we work in.

Looking to take your research to the next level and even author or co-author a scientific paper? With access to data that’s been cited over 1,000 times on Google Scholar and the opportunity to live on a remote research station, our research fellowships offer the chance to gain extensive experience in field research. On top of this, we offer guarantees of a job in the sustainable development industry within 18 months of completing the 6-month program. You can also take GVI’s post-program Careers in Sustainable Development online course, which is accredited by the University of Richmond and is offered at no additional cost.

Virtual internships

If you have time off but can’t travel, we also offer virtual internships where you can join structured online programs to get the practical experience you need to follow a purpose-driven career path – from the comfort of your own home.

Divemaster training

If you are drawn to the ocean and love admiring and studying otherworldly creatures underwater, we highly recommend joining a scuba-diving gap year through one of our marine conservation programs. It’s not just fun and games (although there’s a lot of that) – you’ll also get the opportunity to get your Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) Divemaster certification.

Not yet a qualified scuba-diver, but want to learn how? Or maybe you’re wanting to add to your diving qualifications. In Mexico, Fiji and Seychelles, we offer the opportunity to earn a number of PADI diving qualifications, including Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Divemaster, Emergency First Response, Rescue Diver and the PADI Coral Reef Research Diver Distinctive Specialty. This unique course from GVI and PADI teaches you the most effective techniques for underwater coral reef surveys.

If you decide to use your gap year to volunteer or intern with us, you’ll have the option of joining adventurous nature conservation programs with GVI Planet, or immersive community development programs over at GVI People. Or you have the flexibility to create a hybrid program, combining a variety of your interests.

Whatever makes you tick, there’s a GVI nature conservation program to suit your needs, skills and passions.

Wildlife conservation

Wildlife conservation is all about protecting and restoring biodiversity, reversing habitat destruction, and preventing species from going extinct. On a GVI wildlife conservation program you could help to protect endangered lemurs in Madagascar or learn how to track and identify big cats like lions and cheetahs in South Africa.

Marine conservation

On a marine conservation program, you can contribute to restoring damaged coastal ecosystems and preserving endangered marine species. You could travel to Mexico and work towards conserving the second-largest barrier reef in the world, or head to Seychelles and collect data on coral reefs. 

Endangered species conservation

If you’re interested in protecting endangered species, consider joining an endangered species conservation program. You’ll get to see firsthand the challenges they face and how they’re being protected. Travel to Tenerife and contribute to the protection of bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales. Or head to the mountains of Chiang Mai in Thailand, where our programs focus on the conservation of Asian elephants and white-handed gibbons.

Citizen science research 

If you are interested in sustainability and want to help with conservation efforts, we have citizen science programs. You could contribute to bird conservation efforts in Thailand or work alongside marine biologists to identify marine species on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

Climate change 

Participants on a climate change program work on projects that improve the resilience of ecosystems, like coral reefs, mangroves and forests. During your gap year, you’ll get to travel to some of the most at-risk areas and make a real difference in the long-term health of these ecosystems.

Animal care

If you’d enjoy using your gap year to work with animals and contribute to the protection of their natural habitats, take a look at our programs focusing on animal care. We run sea turtle conservation programs in Thailand, Greece and Costa Rica, with a focus on four types of sea turtles: leatherbacks, loggerheads, hawksbills and green sea turtles.

Community-based conservation

Our community-based conservation programs are an opportunity to work on long-term projects that benefit local communities. We work with a number of partners, including the Huaypakkoot Elephant Community Foundation in Chiang Mai, Thailand and Ampasipophy Lokobe, the locally-managed protected conservation area on the island of Nosy Be in Madagascar.

Community development programs

We also offer a range of community development programs where we work in collaboration with local communities and partners on the ground, with the goal of fostering sustainable development in the areas of:

 

Is it good to take a gap year?

Taking a gap year can help you grow personally, find out more about yourself, and see things from a different perspective. You can take a break from the classroom and check out new cultures, travel, volunteer, or even work to gain some experience. And if you’re a student, a gap year can even help you figure out what you want to study or do in your career, and might even lead to better grades when you get back to school. 

Are gap years only for students?

Taking a gap year is not just for students! In fact, career breakers and older adults can also benefit from taking time off to recharge, explore new passions, and gain fresh perspectives. It’s an excellent opportunity to travel or even gain new work experience that can help enhance your skills and broaden your horizons. If you’re a career breaker, it can also be a time to reassess your career goals, while for older adults, it can be a chance to transition into retirement or explore new interests.

What is the best age to take a gap year?

The best time to do so really depends on your own personal circumstances and goals. For students, it can be an awesome idea to take a gap year before or after college, so you can get some real-world experience and explore different opportunities before diving into your career. And if you’re in the middle of college, taking a gap year can be a great way to gain some clarity about what you want to study or do in your career, or just to take a break from all the academic stress. For career breakers, you might need to figure out the best time to take a gap year based on your work or personal commitments. But if you’re feeling burnt out, a gap year can be an excellent way to recharge and refocus. Even older adults might choose to take a gap year as they transition into retirement or start exploring new interests. So, when is the best time to take a gap year? It really depends on you! Just make sure to think it through carefully and plan accordingly, so you can make the most of your time off.

What should I do during my gap year?

If you’re wondering what to do during your gap year, there are a ton of options depending on your interests, goals and budget. If you’re into travelling, you can explore different parts of the world, learn new languages, and have some amazing experiences. Volunteering is another great option, where you can contribute to global conservation or community development programs, develop new skills, and make some awesome connections with people from all walks of life. And if you want to gain work experience, there are internships and part-time jobs you can look into, which can help you develop skills that will be useful in your future career. Taking classes or pursuing a hobby you’re passionate about can also be a great way to grow personally and professionally. Ultimately, the choice is yours! But whatever you decide, make sure you have a plan and set some goals, so you can get the most out of your time off. A gap year can be an awesome opportunity to gain new perspectives, learn new things, and become an even better version of yourself.

What do people usually do in gap years?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. People use gap years to explore their passions and interests, gain new experiences, and learn more about themselves. Some people might choose to travel, where they can explore different cultures and cuisines, visit iconic landmarks, and learn new languages. Others might volunteer their time and skills, whether it’s working with children, animals, or on community development projects. For those interested in gaining work experience, internships or part-time jobs are also a popular choice. This can give them a chance to develop new skills and build up their resume, which can come in handy once they’re ready to launch their career. Some people might also use their gap year to focus on personal development, taking classes or workshops, learning new skills like painting or coding, or even starting their own business. The bottom line is, there are plenty of options to choose from, and the best thing you can do is figure out what you’re most excited about and go for it!

What should a student do during a gap year?

If you’re a student thinking about taking a gap year, there are a wide range of options. You might consider backpacking through Europe, exploring Southeast Asia, or hiking through national parks in the United States. Volunteering is also a popular option, and there are plenty of organisations like GVI that offer international programs with a focus on everything from teaching English and gender equality to working with animals and marine conservation. For those looking to gain work experience, internships or part-time jobs can be a great way to get your foot in the door and develop new skills to add to your CV. You can also consider taking classes or workshops to learn new things and expand your knowledge base. And if you’re still trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, a gap year can provide a valuable opportunity to explore different academic or career paths. The key is to figure out what you’re most excited about and make a plan so that you can get the most out of your time off.

What are the best gap year options?

When it comes to gap year options, the possibilities are truly endless. Some of the best gap year options are those that allow you to explore new cultures and gain real-world experience. Travelling is a popular option, and you can choose to explore different parts of the world on your own or with a group. Volunteer work is another great way to make a difference in the world and gain valuable experience. You might also consider interning or working part-time, which can provide valuable work experience and help you build a network in your field of interest. Ultimately, the best gap year option for you will depend on your interests, goals, and budget.

Are gap year programs worth it?

If you’re looking to gain new experiences and develop important skills, gap year programs can be a valuable and worthwhile investment. These programs offer a range of opportunities, including travel, volunteer work, internships and academic courses. If you’re interested in volunteering during your gap year, GVI offers a variety of programs that allow you to make a meaningful impact in communities around the world. From wildlife conservation to teaching English, GVI’s gap year programs provide hands-on experience and the opportunity to work alongside experts in their field. GVI also offers internship programs that allow you to gain valuable work experience in fields such as environmental conservation, community development, and public health. These programs provide a structured and supportive environment for those looking to enhance their skills and gain real-world experience.

When should I apply for a gap year program?

It’s important to start planning and researching well in advance. Ideally, you should start looking at programs at least six months to a year before you plan to take your gap year. It’s important to give yourself enough time to complete the application process and make any necessary preparations. GVI offers a range of programs that allow you to gain valuable experience and make a meaningful impact in communities around the world. By starting early and planning ahead, you can maximise your chances of finding the right program and having an incredible gap year experience.

What do gap year programs do?

Gap year programs offer a variety of opportunities for individuals to take time off from traditional academic or work environments and engage in meaningful experiences. Some gap year programs focus on volunteering, allowing individuals to give back to communities and make a positive impact. Others offer internships, which can provide valuable work experience in a specific field. Many programs also incorporate cultural immersion and travel, allowing participants to explore new places and gain new perspectives. Overall, gap year programs aim to provide individuals with the chance to learn and grow in unique and impactful ways outside of their typical routine. Programs like those offered by GVI take it a step further by emphasising responsible and sustainable practices in their volunteer and internship opportunities, ensuring that participants are making a positive difference while also gaining valuable experience.

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