A gap year can help shape your future, so do something that matters

With many young idealists considering their gap year options, sustainable development charity Raleigh International is encouraging young people and their parents to ditch the usual ‘backpacker’ trips in favour of an adventure that matters.

A gap year can help shape your future, so do something that matters
Harry Richardson (third left) and three other Raleigh volunteers. Photo: Raleigh International

A gap year is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for young people to develop personally, experience career paths they never thought possible, and to gain a greater understanding of the world. However, many young people worry that they could waste both time and money on a year spent travelling when they could be gaining academic qualifications or professional experience.

Unlike an ordinary gap year, volunteering overseas with a reputable, experienced development organisation like Raleigh International offers young people more than just the opportunity to travel the world making a difference. It also gives them the chance to build skills for future careers or study that will help them stand out from the crowd.

Learn more about volunteering with Raleigh International

Harry Richardson, 18, volunteered with Raleigh on a Nepal Expedition in 2017. After not receiving the A-level grades he had expected, Harry decided to take a gap year before re-sitting his exams.

Harry Richardson. Photo: Raleigh International
“I decided I wanted to take some time out before further education, but I wanted the time to be spent doing something useful,” recalls Harry.

It was at this time that Harry’s dad suggested he went on a Raleigh Expedition.

“Someone he knew had done it after finishing school. Raleigh provided an opportunity to make good use of my time and also allowed me to take some time away from home to think about my next steps – whether it be university or a career.”

A Raleigh Expedition is a life-changing programme for 17-24 year olds that combines sustainable travel and volunteering in Costa Rica, Nepal and Tanzania. Young people live and engage with remote communities not visited by tourists, and work on meaningful projects that create lasting change and protect natural resources.

Whether you are in North America, Europe, or elsewhere, as long as you are 17-24 years old, have a valid passport, and a passion to help others, a Raleigh Expedition can be the opportunity that enables you to have an unforgettable experience of creating lasting change in the world.

Anyone inspired by Harry’s experience will be happy to learn that Raleigh is currently recruiting new volunteers for its Expedition programmes in autumn 2018 and spring 2019.

Download an Expedition Guide to discover more about life on Expedition

“I think volunteering is one of your best options that you can do with your time,” says Harry. “If you are in the situation where you want to travel but are unsure what you want to do with your time abroad, this allows you to do some good. It also provides the opportunity to become more educated in wider issues and life skills.”

Harry adds that he feels he developed significantly as a person while volunteering.

“Raleigh enabled me to become more decisive and I feel I have learnt a lot about teamwork and determination, which are key skills. It is not easy to learn practical skills like this in a classroom. I feel that the only way to gain skills like this is to do it practically in real situations, through experiences you get volunteering.”

Raleigh volunteers can spend their Expedition in beautiful Nepal. Photo: Raleigh International

Harry’s father, Nick Richardson, believes the experience of volunteering internationally with Raleigh International has really benefited his son.

“Volunteering with Raleigh International provided focus for Harry. It’s not just the travelling – it’s learning the skills of being out there on your own, planning the trip and doing your fundraising. It’s about putting life in perspective and gaining new skills – I think that’s what Harry did and he’s a lot happier and more focused for it.”

Crucially, young people shouldn’t feel bad about wanting to get something out of volunteering on their gap year. Raleigh believes that organisations who work through young volunteers to make an impact should also be committed to helping their volunteers develop personally. Skills such as team work, communication, adaptability and the passion to become active citizens back home, will benefit young people greatly throughout their personal and working lives.

“What I’ve learnt in being away from home while volunteering – having to problem solve and work with people you don’t know while overcoming cultural differences – it’s hard to see how these won’t be useful at university or when I’m working. I am now planning on returning to the UK to do resits to get into university,” says Harry.

Raleigh runs Expeditions in Nepal, Tanzania and Nicaragua & Costa Rica for four, five, seven and 10 weeks. There are limited places available on Expedition programmes departing between September to December 2018 and February to April 2019.

So, if you want to change your life and the lives of others – or know someone else who might be interested in being a Raleigh volunteer – share this article or click on the link below to learn more.

Apply to be a Raleigh Expedition volunteer


This article was produced by Raleigh International


No joke! US expat makes Swiss living from laughs

American comedienne Sylvia Day, 45, gave up her communications job to move to Switzerland in 1995. Here, she tells The Local how she’s carved out an unlikely career in comedy — and how she uses improv to fight stress in the Swiss workplace.

No joke! US expat makes Swiss living from laughs
The poster for Sylvia Day's upcoming show 50 Shades of (Christmas) DAY! (left) and Day as 'Lady Dada', a spoof of Lady Gaga.

What brought you to Switzerland?

I’m originally from the States but my father is Swiss, so I had a Swiss passport. I’d lived in Brussels as a child and dreamed of returning to Europe as an adult. So I just gave up everything, leaving a stable job in corporate communications, to follow my dream and move over here.

Eventually, I found a job in the same sector but I also started doing some acting and improvisation on the side.

What’s it been like integrating?

It took about three years for me to feel as if I was really at home here. The main thing is finding at least one good friend, because —  as an adult — it’s much harder to make friends. But once I’d made one really good friend, it just grew from there.

My mother, who’s from Brazil, didn’t speak German so we only spoke Portuguese and English in the home. This meant I had to learn German the hard way. And, given my background in communications and theatre – both of which are almost entirely language-based – that was the biggest challenge I faced.

How did you develop your acting career in Switzerland?

I’d already studied acting and improvisation in the States, and I soon became involved in an English-speaking theatre group here called the Zurich Comedy Club, doing straight plays. But I’d always wanted to do more improvisation, so I introduced that method to the group.

From there, I started to do my own performances and eventually set up my own company – Sylvia Day Productions.

Was it difficult to set up your own company?

It takes a lot of courage and self-confidence because you have to sell yourself all the time — it’s like constantly being in a job interview. Self-motivation is the hardest part.

I teach improvisation to everyone: non-actors, business people, children and those who simply want to use improvisation to improve their personal or professional lives.

In my opinion improv can improve someone’s life by teaching them basic and important communication skills in a fun, playful way. Often weaknesses that appear in an improv performance are the same ones people have in real life. It can be very eye-opening.

I’ve also started something called SMILE – Stress Management Improv Lunches for Everyone — where I go to a place of work and offer an hour workshop where people can laugh and let off their stress. It’s all in English, which is the corporate language in many international companies here.

Is improvisation common in Switzerland?

There’s some improvisation going on in the local languages, but I offer classes and performances in English.

What kind of comedy do you perform?

I do a lot of character comedy and different accents. Although I speak five languages now, I always perform in English because I feel that humour comes from within – and instinctive humour is best expressed in your mother tongue.

Some of my impressions include Julie Andrews, Sarah Palin, Cher and Lady Gaga (who I call Lady Dada). Often, I’ll ask the audience to give me a person to impersonate, and I’ll just improvise them right there and then.

When I perform, I want people to relate to things in my scenes. So I often do scenes about families, people in the workplace and especially in the corporate world. But even in my comedy sketches, there’s always a deeper meaning. My aim is to take the truth and find humour in it. I want to make people think through laughing: while they’re rolling in the aisles, they’re actually laughing because it’s true.

Who comes to your shows?

All kinds of people. Not just native English speakers. I’ve had Swiss, Italian, German, Danish, Swedish and Spanish people in the audience.

And you’ve got a Christmas show coming up? What does that involve?

50 Shades of (Christmas) DAY! is a sketch comedy/variety show that I wrote about the holiday season. Regardless of your religion or beliefs, we’re all affected by this season and the stress of it all. This is a fun way of coping with it.

How would you describe the Swiss sense of humour?

Swiss comedy is much more physical and slapstick.

In fact, one of the things I miss the most here is the English sense of humour. In English, we play much more with words — whereas German is such a literal language, which means there aren’t so many double meanings.

Sylvia Day will be performing on December 4th, 5th and 7th at the Boulevard Theater in Zurich. For more information click here. For tickets click here.