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Gap Year Teaching in Kenya Secures First Job

Sean Walsh graduated from Newcastle University in 2009.  His first attempt to secure a graduate job was unsuccessful so he decided to take a gap year placement teaching in Kenya arranged through Africa & Asia Venture (AV).  On his return he got the first graduate job he applied for!

"Parties over, pot noodle supplies diminished, dissertation burnt - just some of the indicators that University life has finished and the big bad world awaits. So, when I graduated in June 2009, I not only didn't really know what to do with myself in regards to a career but I also faced one of the most competitive and cruellest graduate recruitment markets ever.

Sean Walsh with his class on his gap year teaching placement in Kenya with Africa & Asia VentureFinding even unpaid internships is a mission in itself these days, so trying to find a career outside of Politics with only a Politics degree looked a dismal affair. I could have gone on like many of my fellow students and delayed the process out as long as I could by taking a post grad course but then I may be in the same position in a year's time with an even larger overdraft. Alternately, I could have sat at home, raiding the fridge, played Call of Duty and enjoyed 1pm siesta's for the rest of my life - but then that comes with the constant maternal nagging and need for "talks about your life", so I gave that a miss as well. What could I do? And in true cheesy writing fashion 'that's where AV came into the picture'.

My search for graduate jobs wasn't particularly successful (Although I managed to score plenty of internships) so I bit the bullet and decided that a September start wasn't realistic. Instead, I'd aim to try for January - a less competitive time for job hunters and it would give me some time to reassess everything (and of course delay the full transition from tax dodger to tax payer). Having never taken a gap year prior to my degree, it seemed that travelling somewhere far-flung and exotic sounded like an idea. Whilst I could have done this on my own no problem, what would I have to show for it to my prospective employers come January? Not much, not even a nice tan, as my Irish ancestry means I burn standing under a light bulb for more than 10 seconds. AV was the clear answer

The Kipsigak football teamI could go out and explore Kenya (As I figured I may never get the chance to visit Africa again) and its surrounding neighbours whilst doing some worthwhile volunteer that would look great on my CV. So after much fundraising (and plenty of support from Pip at AV!), mollycoddling from my mum and a heroic effort to fit everything in my bag - I was sat on a plane to Nairobi. The next few days or orientation at Lake Naivasha will be fondly remembered and even now it seemed like it lasted ages. It didn't take long us lads to "bond" over a few Tuskers (and of course 'Whitecap' Laurence!) at the bar whilst the girls lapped up the rays. Within days we were all pretty much glued together and eagerly enjoyed our Kiswahili lessons with AV legend Charles Mbaabu as well as Lynette and Nigel's advisory lectures from everything from teaching methods to 'what-to-do-if-you-have-malaria-even-though-you-probably-won't" talks. And of course, the thrashing of the locals in the football on a football pitch made from bamboo goal posts, of which we no AV team had done before! It was in these first days that I immediately knew I was going to love every second of it, everything was a new experience from surviving the hellish road system to casually spotting giraffes, eagles and monkeys just roaming about. The whole place was constantly captivating and beyond any experience I could have imagined. One weekend it was a bungee jump, the next it was an inter-school football match with hundreds of kids as an audience. One minute I was in the actual Hotel Rwanda, the next day I was on a motorbike in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Read your Lonely Planet - it calls us "hardcore travellers" for that). Sitting at home or working in the local pub for cash was a distant memory.

Sean with Laurence, his volunteer partner, at their school in KenyaAnd that was just the weekends! During the week, Laurence and I taught History, English and Business classes with ages from 13 through to 23. Although daunting to start off with, I learned a lot in public speaking and self-confidence that I probably wouldn't have got had I stayed at home. Teaching the kids was so unlike my experience of school, although economically the students had very little and lived in basic conditions, their eagerness to learn everything about you really motivated us to do the best we could. For us, leaving the kids was quite hard to do as we would inevitably have our favourites and enjoy chatting endlessly about English culture, English history and on a daily basis English football! Laurence and I both agreed that we felt part of the community at Kipsigak and it was a complete privilege to get to know not just the students, but the teachers and local neighbours as well. I don't mean to shamelessly plug AV (well I do) but AV put us in a great school, a particularly sweet house and really set up a fantastic teaching experience for us.

Overall, AV was one of the best things I have ever done - we were given the liberty to travel and see as much of Africa as we could, whilst safely experiencing living and working in real communities where our help was genuinely thanked for. I have so many different memories with so many different people that it's really hard to recollect them all at once, yet, anyone back home will tell you "Séan can fit Africa into any of his conversations and won't shut up about it!" Importantly, on my return back to a very snowy and cold England (Wearing the only clean clothes I had left - sandals, shorts and a very dirty hoody), I came back visibly more confident and assured with what I wanted to do. I got the first graduate job I applied for (working at a Venture Capitalist - having enthusiastically talked about my AV experience in a 2-hour interview! So you won't run out of stuff to talk about!) And I actually came back entirely focussed that I would get my pilots licence, something that I would have previously been too shy or anxious to try for prior to AV. I came back with a multitude of stamps, stories and a whole bunch of new friends (many who are younger than me as I'm a grad, but that never really caused any problems at all). My outlook on the life I have here has changed dramatically having seen the poor conditions others live so happily through.

My advice to anyone considering AV? It'll get you a job. You'll do stuff you never dreamed you could. You'll have the time of your life."

Sean Walsh's teaching placement in Kenya was arranged with Africa & Asia Venture.