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Graduate takes gap year to volunteer in Costa Rica

When did you decide to take a gap year and why?

 After University I was unsure as to what I wanted to do for a career, so whilst in this difficult economic climate I decided that I would do some volunteer work in a country I had never before thought of.  I liked the idea of working with other people to improve the environment which we were in as well as having the chance to meet and interact with other people who were native to that country or other volunteers.

Where did you go and why?

Carly Bray on the Volcano Trail at La Fortuna in Costa Rica with Lake Arenal behindI decided to go to Costa Rica because in all honesty it sounded a bit like a paradise and does not have too many governmental problems, especially as it has no army.  Not to mention that the Costa Rican style of living appealed to me no end as it was work and lots of play.  The wildlife which I might have the chance to see were also appealing as well as the fantastic scenery including the volcanoes, waterfalls and beaches, all amazing.

Which different options did you consider?

 I considered going to Africa to work with big cats or going to Australia to do paid work in a bar so I could then fund going around the country and seeing the sites and wildlife.  These are options for later when I can take another career break.  Once you go travelling and do something as amazing as this you are always wanting to go again and do something else new and different, and to learn the other cultures and ways of living.

What was the best thing about the year and the worst thing?

 The best thing was actually doing the volunteer work and meeting so many people, I can't begin to describe how great it was. Yes the workCarly with a Tepezcuintle in La Marina Zoo, Costa Rica was simple labour in the zoo and of course it rained quite a lot but we still had loads of fun in the rain, laughing, joking, talking to the animals etc.  The whole experience was great and I loved the six weeks I was there, and yes I did miss home too.

The worst thing was not being able to take my friends and family there to experience it with me, I would have liked to have shown them what I did and where I went as photos don't always do it justice.  The other worst thing was that I wish I could've gone for time I will.

How did you fund the gap year?

 I had saved money over the years from my weekend job in a department store which I had always said I would use towards getting a new car, a flat when the time came or travelling.  So I decided to use some of it to go travelling, as well as having a bit of help from my parents which was really good of them.

What benefits do you think it has given you in terms of employability?

 I would hope that by doing volunteer work and going out there on my own it would indicate some key personality traits which might be desired for a future job.  It may also open new horizons for me as to what sorts of jobs I can do seeing as I have now had some experience handling animals, which is totally different from my degree.  Who this space.

How would you talk about it in an interview with a prospective employer?

 Talking with enthusiasm, highlighting the good points and bad points of the trip, emphasising on what I learnt from the experience and what I think I can take from it for the future.  There would be no point in just saying "I went to Costa Rica for 6 weeks and did volunteer work in a zoo." It would need to be "I decided to do something totally different and put myself out of my comfort zone by going to Costa Rica with no language and learning how to communicate with everyone.    Of course it had its ups and downs but one thing I really learnt is that if you can't laugh at yourself and if you don't try, then what is the point?  It really opened my eyes and allowed me to experience a different culture with different people."

Do you think you have made the most of the gap year on your CV?

 Probably not.  I could write a lot about my volunteer project as this questionnaire has already shown, and no amount of words can really do it justice.  I just hope that my summary is enough to give anyone an idea of what I did and what I felt I achieved from it.

What advice would you give to a school leaver thinking of taking a gap year before uni?

Do it.  No matter where you go or what you do it will be an experience you will never forget.  In all honesty there will be bad times and there will be amazing times but all together you will take something from it and use it later on.

The advice I received from so many people before and after I went is that you should do these things when you are younger, because seriously you don't always get a chance to later on.

Why shouldn't you go? You can work on gap years to fund your travelling and fun, you can do volunteer work which is great as you are giving something back.  Chances are you will meet loads of people and make some good friends.

Just remember, take your camera and bring back mementoes!"

Carly Anne Bray, 22, graduated with a degree in Biomedical Science at University of Essex.

Her placement in Costa Rica was arranged with i-to-i.