Why time out doesn't mean time off

A gap year before starting university or getting a job doesn’t just mean a 12-month holiday. Several teenagers reveal what else is on offer


Experiencing Israel
Daniel Bratt, 18, Hendon

● I chose Israel because I feel a close connection to the country and recognised this might be my only chance to live here as more than a tourist.

I'm on Bnei Akiva's Lehava programme. The programme has a great mix of opportunities - we do a leadership course, Yeshiva study, the Marva army experience, volunteer and live on a kibbutz. Evenings and weekends are ours to explore Israel.

The best part is doing everything with a group. You have the opportunity to share different views, although living with the same people for a long time has its challenges. You can get to know a little too much about people!

At the end of the year we are spending a fortnight in Brazil to help the Jewish community and put into practice the leadership skills we have learnt.

I'm heading to Birmingham University next year. I'm excited but don't want this year to end too quickly.

Interning with a business
Sam de Kare-Silver, 18, Stanmore

● The IBM Futures Scheme is a gap year with a difference - you get paid and end up with nine months' experience in an international company.

The placement has showed me what roles are out there for future. My job involves technical and financial tasks; from taking minutes at meetings to working on enormous spreadsheets. I get to hear and experience a lot about my department and how it's run.

The hardest thing is getting used to the early starts. I have to be up before the sun to get to work in time.

Another great thing is that I'm living away from home with three other people on the IBM scheme. At Halloween we hosted a party; it was an amazing night although the next day the carpet required professionals!

I'm pleased I took a gap year. I sometimes feel jealous when I see photos of friends already at university, but then I remember - I get to do that too.

Teaching in Africa
Keziah Berelson, 18, Woodford Green

● knowing I wanted to volunteer, I looked into organisations for university holidays. But I realised a few weeks just wouldn't cut it and am now teaching English in Uganda through the charity Project Trust. In one class there are 57 pupils, in another there are 72. In the afternoons I play with the kids who can't afford school fees.

I wake at dawn and shower outoors with a jerry can and, if I'm lucky, a sponge grown in the neighbour's garden. Lunch is Posho (a glop of maize, flour and water). We start cooking early because lighting the charcoal stove takes around 20 minutes. It gets dark at six, so bedtime is pretty early.

English in the village is poor and my Lugandan is pitiful, so conversation can be hard. But it's a great community and I love it. I've also learnt how to get out of any sticky situation, from endless marriage proposals to being asked to take mass at a Catholic Church!

Working as an au pair
Elan Shuker, 19, Woodside Park

● I'm currently living with a family in Sicily teaching their sons English.

I didn't choose a gap year – I was given one by my university, where I will be studying French and Italian. Maybe they thought I could do with some sun. Faced with whether to travel, do something of academic value or earn money, combining all three seemed ideal.

From lunch until the kids go to bed I look after them, talking in English, helping with homework or joining in their games. Mornings and evenings I'm free to explore Sicily, attend lectures at the university and socialise.

The job requires a huge amount of patience; it can be frustrating to spend time on something that might be forgotten the next day. But my Italian has got better, which will help next year.

I wouldn't think twice about doing this again. I'm living in an amazing city, and the food and the climate are both wonderful. It's a good life.

Volunteering in Britain
Sam Kennard, 18, Hendon

● In June 2009 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Last December I got the all-clear but when I was ill I learnt about the charity Camp Simcha. They run projects for kids suffering from cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. I knew I wanted to help.

I help with digital marketing and I'm also a medical clown, dressing up and doing magic tricks in paediatric wards. Nothing beats being part of an organisation that makes a difference to children who need it. The smiles on the children's faces are undoubtedly the most rewarding looks I've ever seen.

David Gee, 18, Elstree

● As well as clowning for Camp Simcha I am a carer for the elderly for a nursing company. It means early starts and you need a lot of patience, but it's great because you really feel you're making an impact on people's lives.

Last updated: 1:22pm, December 10 2010