Sunday 22 January 2017

'Why college can wait for another year.... and I'm packing my bags for South America'

In my opinion...

Peter Benson

Published 14/09/2016 | 02:30

Peter Benson is getting set for a year's adventure
Peter Benson is getting set for a year's adventure
Peter Benson Zeminar volunteer

It was only last April, a couple of months before my Leaving Cert, that I began to seriously consider taking a year out. There were a lot of reasons behind my doing so. Firstly, I wanted to see where I could direct my own learning before letting university do that for me. In the words of Mark Twain, "I've never let my schooling interfere with my education."

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So far, I have booked a TEFL course that will give me a basic certificate in teaching English as a foreign language. I have my eye on a ski instructor course in mid-January and I managed to become a volunteer with the Irish Second Level Students' Union (ISSU), the national umbrella body for second level student councils.

Volunteering at ISSU has given me the opportunity to meet some amazing young people who are hugely involved in student affairs and politics. They have shown me the inner workings of running a non-profit organisation. They have taught me basic IT skills such as composing/sharing google documents between the various members of the national executive. They demonstrated how to use social media as a means to promote membership of ISSU, to launch campaigns and to set up inter-county working groups.

Lastly, they have shown me the level of preparation needed to run events such as Zeminar (where they will have a designated area this year), regional elections and school visits. Furthermore, I managed to get a job working in retail, which has taught me so much about customer service, communication and sales. In fact, this leads me on to my second reason for taking a gap year.

Obtaining work experience is becoming paramount in the modern day. The job I have has taught me so much in a short space of time. I've learned how to do beginning/end of day paperwork, correctly process contracts and the basic things such as stock counting and managing deliveries.

Personally, I have more self-discipline, am more punctual and have much more confidence in dealing with strangers. I am quite sure that had I gone straight into third level, I would not be as capable to work in a high-pressure environment as I am now.

Aerial view of Miraflores Park, Lima - Peru. Photo: Deposit
Aerial view of Miraflores Park, Lima - Peru. Photo: Deposit

Landing a proper full-time job now will stand to me after completing my degree as it shows that I have ability outside of academia and school. Besides, employers look for individuals who have done things differently and have proven that they can survive in the working world.

Many employers now focus on a potential employee's extra curricular activity such as volunteering, work experience, training, society and club involvement. They realise that an individual with a wide range of skills and experiences will be capable and willing.

Also, the money earned from this job is going towards my travel fund, an essential part of any gap year student's agenda! I would love to see far away places with my own eyes and expose myself to different cultures and people. The plan is to volunteer in South America, supporting English teaching programmes, and to visit Southeast Asia.

I also wanted to grow up a bit and mature before heading to college. I feel that getting a university degree requires determination, focus and a good work ethic. According to Jean Fan in her Ted Talk, and countless third level admissions officers, students who have taken a year out often return to education with more confidence and a clear mind.

Lastly, and most importantly, a year out gives you the opportunity to support yourself financially when you return to education. Saving money and learning how to budget lessens the burden to take out loans and/or request financial support from loved ones in the future.

Peter Benson is a work experience student with the ISSU, an Official Student Partner for Zeminar, the Education, Empowerment & Well-Being event for Generation Z taking place in RDS, Dublin from October 11-13. See zeminar.ie

Irish Independent

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