Is a gap year really important

Are you finally finished with school and don't feel like pressing the school bench or lecture hall bench right away? Then a so-called gap year might be a good decision. Here we explain the various options to you - from au pairs to work & travel - so that you can calmly consider what your future should look like.

The so-called gap year has become increasingly popular in recent years. Literally translated, gap year means something like "gap year". This means that in the year after you graduate from school you take a break and do not start straight away with your studies or an apprenticeship, but rather become clear about what you want to do in the future. So if you are left with a haphazard approach after you graduate from high school, a gap year is the perfect opportunity to try a few things out. In the best case, this will make you aware of the direction in which your further training should go.

Gap Year:
Break and departure

What can I do during the gap year?

The gap year is often also referred to as the term "Year abroad" equated. Most actually use this year to gain experience abroad or to take a language course in the respective country, but of course this is not absolutely necessary. How you design this year (which, by the way, can only be a few months and not a whole year) is up to you. In theory, you can also do various internships in Germany and count that as a gap year.

The typical ways are as AU Pair to go abroad, a Voluntary Social Year (FSJ) to complete or Work & Travel close. But there are other options too - let's take a closer look at all of them.

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For many, a gap year after school was already firmly planned - and then Corona came.

The pandemic has thrown all of our lives off course and put plans on hold. A stay abroad, which is often part of a gap year, is currently difficult or irresponsible, depending on the goal. If you wanted to use the gap year not "only" to explore other countries, but (also) for professional orientation, there may be the possibility of using short-term offers within Germany, such as a voluntary social or ecological year or a longer internship.

If, as an alternative, you would like to apply directly for a degree, you can already take into account when choosing the degree program that you are planning a semester abroad if the "abroad" stay is particularly important to you.

If you are looking for general information on studying during Corona, you can find it in our guide to your studies & Corona.

Going abroad as an au pair for a year is very widespread and particularly popular with high school graduates. You live with a host family and look after the family's children, help with the household and run errands. In return, you get board and lodging for free and, as a rule, also a small amount of pocket money.

By living with the host family like a family member, you not only get to know the country, the people and their culture from the ground up, but above all you can improve your language skills enormously.

There are a number of agencies that can help you plan your time as an au pair, Find a country and a host family that will prepare you for childcare. The most popular country for an au pair placement is probably the USA, but England, Australia and New Zealand are also frequently in demand. And those who would rather learn a language other than English are in good hands in South America, Spain, Italy or France. In principle, almost every country is available to you for a time as an au pair, so you can also go to China if this country appeals to you.

Tip: Since your main job is childcare, you need to have a certain amount of experience in it. You should be able to provide evidence of relevant activities, e.g. as a babysitter, tutor, supervisor at holiday camps or internships in kindergartens or schools. Depending on the country, the requirements can vary considerably. So be sure to pay attention to the country-specific requirements. Your agency will certainly be able to help you with this.

Also a real classic and not just for high school graduates. Work & Travel is about getting to know a foreign country and taking on a wide variety of jobs in between, in order to collect some money for your livelihood and your onward journey.

Depending on the job, you don't get a special salary, but work for room and board. The jobs can be very different: From the fruit picker to craftsmen, guest relations and cook to promo jobs such as distributing flyers, everything is included. The type of job always depends a little on the country. Especially in Australia and New Zealand - basically the most famous travel destinations for work & travel enthusiasts - there are many places on farms and plantations where you have to work hard physically.

How exactly you go about your work & travel also depends on your expectations. Would you like to travel as much as possible and explore the country completely, or do you place more value on the “work” aspect and want to get a taste of many different areas? The course of your stay depends on this. In any case, you will get to know many different people, improve your language skills and see and experience a lot.

And remember: There is not only Australia and New Zealand, meanwhile a lot of countries offer work & travel options: England, Chile, Norway, Canada etc. So it depends entirely on you which region you are drawn to.

As with au pairs, there are special providers and agencies who will help you with your work & travel stay, give you important tips in advance and find a job for you in advance so that you don't have to search right at the beginning.

Tip 1: When planning and organizing, make sure that you apply for a visa that allows you to work in the respective country. Otherwise, unfortunately, there will be nothing with work & travel, but it will remain with traveling.

Tip 2: Work & Travel can be expensive. Especially in relatively expensive countries such as Australia, New Zealand or Canada, you should definitely think about the financing in advance. Because flight tickets and living expenses can be a lot bigger than the budget if you can't find a job or if it only covers accommodation and meals. Some countries also require a financial reserve when applying for a visa (e.g. at least 1,700 euros) so that you do not suddenly end up completely penniless when you are unemployed.

There are different types of volunteer service:

At WWOOFING, the focus is on you working on an ecological farm for board and lodging and helping the farm owners with their daily work. You will get to know nature better and experience the natural processes on an ecological farm. WWOOFING can overlap with a Work & Travel stay. This means that you actually do work & travel, but one of your jobs takes you to a farm as a volunteer for accommodation and food.

You can WWOOFING in almost every country - including Germany, if you are looking for a meaningful job but are currently not enthusiastic about going abroad.

The Federal Voluntary Service (BFD) has replaced the former community service and is similar to the Voluntary Social Year. The advantage of the BFD is that it is open to all age groups. So if you think about taking a break after your studies, you can still do a federal voluntary service.

There are positions for a BFD from various institutions. Similar to the International Voluntary Service, you can find out from humanitarian institutions which projects they are offering that you would like to help with, but the official website of the Federal Voluntary Service also provides a good overview of the central offices and the various areas of activity.
Basically, the areas of application are very broad, whether in the field of social affairs, ecology, sport or culture - everywhere there are vacancies for the so-called "Bufdis", the federal volunteer service.

You do not need any professional experience or subject-specific knowledge, the social component is in the foreground in all tasks. The duration is between 6-18 months and you can count the time as a waiting semester.

International voluntary service

Various non-profit organizations and associations have ongoing projects in other countries that you can join, such as B. the German Red Cross.

You will help with a specific project for a year, for which the organization prepares you in advance. The countries available for selection depend of course on the available projects, but you don't necessarily have to go to Africa, there are also offers in England or Finland.

Voluntary Social Year (FSJ) / Voluntary Ecological Year (FÖJ)

The voluntary social year (FSJ) or a voluntary ecological year (FÖJ) is also one of the popular and classic ways to get some distance from school after graduation.

In principle, an FSJ and the BFD are similar, but the maximum age for a voluntary social year is 27 years. The duration can vary, usually 12 months, but anything between 6 to 18 months is possible.

The main field of activity of an FSJ is in the social area, but over time the field of application has broadened: There are now various offers in the cultural, sports and political areas. The Voluntary Ecological Year is aimed primarily at those who are interested in nature, sustainable action and socio-political issues.

With the FSJ and FÖJ you usually get a small amount of pocket money as compensation. You can also have the time you spent as a waiting semester count towards your study application.

Tip: FSJ and FÖJ can also be completed abroad. You can also find out more from various institutions and organizations about the options available in order to apply for something suitable.

Of course, there are also a number of other ways in which you can organize the time between Abitur and the start of your studies or training in a meaningful way.

A language trip is a good middle ground between work & travel and pure vacation or traveling around. You will learn a new language on site or deepen your previous knowledge and get to know a foreign country and its culture better. If you like it extreme, you can combine several language trips with each other by traveling to another country immediately afterwards.

There are many different providers for language travel, each of which has different packages on offer. So find out early and look for the best offer.

If you don't know exactly what you want to do after graduating from school, it also helps to do an internship (or several) and check whether you can imagine working in this area for the long term. Internships definitely help you to become clearer about which direction you should go and whether it should be a degree or an apprenticeship. And maybe even an apprenticeship or a dual course of study will emerge from the internship.

This point should not be underestimated either. Of course, you don't necessarily have to go to work in your gap year, just enjoying the time and getting to know foreign countries is very helpful in forgetting the stress of school, taking a break and then starting the next phase of life relaxed. Even when you are traveling, you can think about how you envision your future. As the saying goes: Travel forms the character - so you don't have to worry if you haven't filled your gap year with language trips, internships and part-time jobs.

Since long-distance travel is currently less popular due to the coronavirus, it is advisable to get to know your own country a little better. Whether the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, southern German mountains, warmth in the Rhineland, East German nature or metropolitan flair in Berlin - there is a lot here. If you get the travel bug straight away, stop by the tour operator FTI Touristik * - also for domestic holidays, of course.

However: Traveling costs money and not everyone has the opportunity to simply travel the world after graduating from high school. So if you are interested, you should think about the financing early on. Maybe a work & travel year is a good alternative after all.

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Basically, a gap year is a great way to treat yourself to a little break after school and first of all to be clear about how things should go on. This gap in your résumé is usually not interpreted negatively by employers, especially not if you have actually gained work experience during that time.

Another possibility is that you do not complete the gap year immediately after graduating from school, but maybe only after your bachelor's or master's degree. However you spend your gap year, you should definitely enjoy the time, because everyday life quickly catches up with you.

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