TREATING a gap year after school as an extended holiday is a thing of the past. Many young people are broadening their horizons and trying to do something useful.
Each year thousands of young people do work placements abroad. And, with the uncertainties of what career path to follow after school, a year of gap travels can allow young people to decide.
Lattitude Global Volunteering (LGV), a non-profit organisation supporting international volunteering, offers young people aged 17 to 25 the opportunity to broaden their horizons and immerse themselves in different cultures.
Port Elizabeth LGV spokesman Trevor Long said the pros far outweighed the cons of such travel.
"Many 17-year-olds have never been away from home and gap travel allows them a chance to spend some time on their own after school," Long said.
"They are immersed into a society where they learn new cultures and the different attitudes of the people they meet."
Long said the number of Eastern Cape gap-year travellers had dropped in the last couple of years.
"Travelling is fairly expensive and that could be the only con and possibly why numbers have dropped."
However, gap-year travel remains a growing trend among international visitors embracing South African culture. "Many international travellers have never been confronted with a nation as diverse as South Africa.
"Many of them have a constructive and positive outlook and in the six months they are here they learn something."
LGV's programmes involve helping in schools, hospitals, care homes and conservation projects.
"Gap travel is a growth period allowing people to stand on their own feet while in a safe support system," Long said.
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University student San-Mari Geldenhuys, 25, travelled to Swansea, Wales after school.
"I was uncertain of what to study but knew I wanted to be in the science field," Geldenhuys said. "I'd always lived with my parents and the time away from home allowed me to mature and find myself. It opened a whole new world for me."
Her first job was on a chicken farm where she sorted eggs.
"To find work is easy because on my way home I knocked on every hotel and restaurant door until someone gave me a job as a waitress. I did this for one month before I got a six-month job at a nursing home," she said.
Geldenhuys was able to save enough money for her first year of studies.
"My boyfriend travelled with me and in the 10 months we were in Wales, we saved R45000. We split the cash and this was enough to pay for my studies."
Additional reporting by Tommy Cookson