Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Chapter by Chapter

Gap Year 2011 - 2012

Teaching in Fiji
1/7/2011 - 2/8/2011

My year out begin in July 2011 when I had finished all my exams and officially left the Sixth Form I was attending. Reflecting back upon this year I want to emphasise how enjoyable and addictive the first month of travelling I experienced was. I spent it on the island of Viti Levu, part of the Fiji Islands; and participated in a voluntary scheme run by a well known Gap Year organisation. I  stayed with a host family and taught a variety of different core subjects and provided extra-curriculum activities to some of the Fijian students in a school just outside the Capital City of Suva.Whilst there, I learnt so much about Fijian culture: from drinking Kava (or grog) till the early hours with my host family to partying hard with the teachers I worked alongside - experiencing the wild, exhilarating Fijian night life through drinking Fiji Gold (their local beer) by the jugful. You've never danced properly until you've been on a Fijian dance floor! From the moment I set foot in the country, I fell in love. I fell in love with the people I met; who were so full of life, friendly, positive and upbeat. Although I was in the minority, in terms of skin colour and being a young female traveller; I did not ever feel unwelcome or ostracised in my stay there and they are by far some of the nicest people I've ever met in my nineteen years.

Each weekend, myself and the girls I travelled with, would explore more of the beautiful island. We visited fantastic beaches littered with white sand and palm trees; watched a rugby world cup qualifying match between Fiji and Samoa (Fiji won!); went scuba-diving in some amazing coral reefs and saw a variety of spectacular sealife; and did a 14,000ft tandem skydive onto a beach in Nadi. Whilst out there, I lived by two sayings: you only live once, so why not try it? And, I'm in Fiji, and on CONSTANT Fiji time. For those of you who aren't aware of "Fiji Time", it's their cheeky excuse for things being late which everyone loves as it's just a slooooow, chilled out island. But lateness can be from anything from an hour to beyond! Nonetheless, I gained so much from my time there and it really allowed me to grow and be more independent.
Full-Time Work
September 2011 - June 2012

After returning from my brief travels in Fiji, I began the search for full-time work, scrounging through endless job sites and sending off copious amounts of CV's and application forms; attending dead end interviews before finally I landed, not one, but two jobs! Neither have any relevance to the area of work I would, perhaps, like to be in after I attend University. But, they were a means of earning, and I couldn't really be picky as I wanted to go travelling again and soon, (responsibly, I also wanted to set some money aside for my degree studies).

And so began the hard work...

On average, I worked around 6 sometimes 7 days a week, with, perhaps, a morning or two off and proceeded to juggle two customer service roles: one in a well known UK Department store where I worked as a Sales Advisor, and the other in a Country pub where I worked as both a waitress and bartender. The hours were long, but the weeks and months, surprisingly, went quickly.
I was determined to meet my personal targets for the amount of money I wanted to earn in order to achieve my goals of travelling for a few months and surviving at University without relying on my parents. But, as the British summer rolled around and slowly the pennies mounted up; I knew my time working for both companies was almost up; and so would begin my next adventure abroad.

Backpacking and Teaching around South-East Asia
(Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam)
2/7/12 - 10/9/12
Excitedly I left England behind and headed straight for Bangkok; after meeting the rest of the trail we embarked upon a three week venture around Thailand: visiting the historical and cultural sights of the Capital, to cycling around Kanchanaburi, walking along the bridge on the river Kwai; chilling in Northern Thailand in the small town of Pai where we experienced tubing along the river drinking beer, riding and swimming with Elephants, partaking in a two day jungle trek and staying with a hill tribe, chilling in many a reggae bar with buckets full of vodka redbull; exploring more temples and learning about Buddhism in Chaing Mai and even visiting the Tiger Kingdom to casually hug and cuddle the biggest tigers; lastly we sunbathed and partied with the locals on the not so mainstream Island of Koh Chang.
From there, we crossed the border over to Cambodia and made our way to Siem Reap where we would spend the next four weeks. Here the trail was split into two smaller groups as we embarked on our separate volunteering projects - Conservation work in the forest and teaching English in a local school. I opted for the teaching and stayed in Siem Reap for the month; teaching the foundations of the English Language to 4 - 21 year old Cambodian's. I rediscovered my love for teaching and thoroughly enjoyed my time spent at the front of the classroom! One weekend, myself and the other volunteers went on our own small venture to Sihanoukville in Southern Cambodia where we sunbathed, saw some stunning beaches and, predictably, partied until the early hours. As the end of the month drew closer and our projects ended, we re-grouped and visited Angkor Wat and surrounding temples before leaving for Phnom Penh the next day. We spent our last few days in Cambodia visiting the Killing Fields and S21 and paying our respects.

Our last three weeks of the trail began as we crossed the border into Vietnam and headed straight for the Capital, Ho Chi Minh, where we explored the City and went on a 'Temples and Tunnels' tour before slowly travelling north to Mui Ne, where we relaxed on the beach and learnt to surf; visited the sand dunes, fairy stream and a small canyon! Next we headed further north to Nha Trang and went on a booze cruise around the small islands nearby. The boat stopped off at various locations where we were able to snorkel and see some spectacular underwater treasures. We also had the luxury of a seafood buffet on the roof of the boat; experience a condensed version of a lady boy show, and drink copious amounts of beer and free cocktails...

We then travelled onwards to the quaint, really pretty town of Hoi An; which reminded me so much of being in the South of France! Here we cycled around, explored more and witnessed their national holiday celebrations: even partaking by lighting lanterns and letting them float down the river alongside the fishing boats. Next we headed to Hue where we experienced true Vietnamese nightlife... and as a cultural and historic element, in out hungover states, visited the Citadel. Our last stop of the trail was the City of Hanoi where we visited more temples and explored the City and markets. In addition, we took a day trip to Halong Bay and watched in awe as we sailed through the natural phenomena of the rock formations cast out in front of us.

In Hanoi we all parted ways, and returned to our everyday lives back home. I came away with an increased knowledge, understanding and love for the different countries I visited and cultures we immersed ourselves within; made some amazing, strong, lifelong friendships and memories to look back on fondly, but the most poignent thing being I felt more grown up and calm. A strange sense of tranquility had taken over my inner being and I genuinely now feel at peace and content.
As a final note I want to conclude that this gap year, or year out, has really been really beneficial in making me a more rounded individual, and I would recommend taking one to anyone who doesn't yet feel ready to go straight into University or College. It has helped me grow up, clear my mind and really think; spark new ideas and passions, and helped develop more of an understanding of what I would like to do in the future.


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