Deirdre Mullins looks at the phenomenon of the gap year and suggests ways to spend it.

A year away travelling is considered a rite of passage in Ireland. When I finished college I did a world trip which was one of the best experiences of my life. I swam with whale sharks, slept under the stars in a Bedouin desert home, danced beside the 40-foot 'Burning Man' and traversed glaciers, salt flats and mountains.

Of course, there were times that weren't so inspiring, such as falling knee-deep into an open sewer in India, working and living in a fish factory in Western Australia, being ravaged by bed bugs and becoming ill from the parasitic disease Giardiasis.

But even during the bad days I learned more about myself and the world we live in than I have staring at a computer in my office cubicle.

Whatever the reason for taking a gap year, and for however long you go, it's a hiatus from the humdrum that can be fun, interesting and productive.

CVs can be enhanced by learning new skills and languages. A greater self-confidence and maturity can come from encountering new cultures. And the chances are that you will come home a more rounded person with experiences that you will draw from for the rest of your life.

Below are some suggestions on how to spend a gap year:

Ski Season
With perks including a free season lift pass, five months in a ski resort is not a bad way to spend the winter. Chefs, chalet hosts, holiday reps and nannies are in demand. The season lasts from December to April and popular destinations include Austria, France, Switzerland and Italy. In the UK there are a number of Ski Chalet Cookery Courses which can give an advantage when going for a chalet job. Information on courses and ski jobs can be found at: www.seasonworkers.com/skijobs.

Teach English Abroad
As native English speakers we have an asset that is in huge demand. Teach English as a foreign language and get the opportunity to work abroad and to learn another language. Asia has plenty of jobs for English teachers, with Thailand, China and South Korea having the most vacancies. It's possible to get a job without any formal teaching qualifications but it is recommended taking a TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) course. www.tefl.ie runs a 120-hour online course, or if you prefer to learn in a classroom there are TEFL centres nationwide. For more information on teaching abroad, TEFL is running an open evening on May 23 from 6pm to 8pm in the Temple Bar Hotel, Dublin.

Bollywood
India's film industry is the biggest in the world. Most of their movies have scenes that take place in Western cities and Caucasians are in high demand to be extras in them. To get involved it's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Spend some time hanging around Leopold's Cafe in Mumbai and sooner or later you will be approached. Then let the singing and dancing begin.

Volunteer
Volunteerism is a great way to do rewarding work while immersing yourself in another culture. Be sure to check the credentials of the organisation and whether the work it offers is genuinely helpful, or just a profit-making venture. The European Voluntary Service (EVS www.europeanvoluntaryservice.com) and the Leonardo da Vinci Project (www.adam-europe.eu) are funded by the European Commission and offer young people the opportunity to do voluntary work abroad. Humanitarian organisations VSO (www.vso.ie), GOAL (www.goal.ie) and MSF (www.msf.ie) offer placements ranging from a months to years in duration.

Sail the Seven Seas
Landing a job on a yacht cruising around the Mediterranean or the Caribbean could be an interesting way to spend a gap year. Websites such as www.crewseekers.net and www.crewrecruit.com list yacht work opportunities worldwide, from crewing to stewarding – many of which don't require previous yachting experience.

Adventure Tour Leader
Get a job with adventure tour companies such as Intrepid or Explore, and let some of the world's most beautiful locations become your office. As a tour leader you get to experience exciting holidays, albeit from the other side. Your duties would include arranging accommodation, travel and meals. Visit: www.intrepidtravel.com and www.explore.co.uk for more details.

WWOOF
Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms is a network of national organisations that facilitate placement of volunteers on organic farms. There are WWOOF hosts in 99 countries and the aim is to provide volunteers with first-hand experience in ecologically-sound growing methods, and let volunteers experience life in rural settings. The host provides food, accommodation and the opportunities to learn, in exchange for assistance with farming activities. Workdays average five to six hours and the duration of the visit can range from a few days to years. For more information, visit: www.wwoofinternational.org.

Deirdre Mullins
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