/ 26 January 2024

Find your direction, purpose and passion

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During a gap year students broaden their horizons by immersing themselves in different cultures and communities, which helps them to become true global citizens.

Taking a gap year can pave the way for future success

After 12 years in the school system, many matriculants feel lost about what comes next. Without much life experience, the pressure to pick the “right” study direction or career path can be overwhelming. This is why gap year programmes are an increasingly popular alternative for young South Africans looking to explore their options before committing to further studies. 

“A gap year allows one to step away from the traditional academic or work environment and explore new interests, passions and perspectives,” says Ruan Viljoen, Adventure Specialist at Warriors Academy. “It enables young people to better understand themselves, their goals and their values, and allows them to develop valuable skills like confidence, independence and adaptability that will benefit them personally and professionally going forward.” 

Established over 20 years ago, Warriors Academy runs a gap year programme that aims to foster personal growth through adventure activities, workshops and mentoring, while meeting the stringent standards set by the International Gap Year Association for a safe and structured year of exploration. “We focus on helping develop independence and emotional maturity in our students while giving them the skills needed to adapt and thrive in this fast-paced and challenging world,” he adds. 

Self-discovery and skill-building 

Viljoen says the programme helps young adults find direction by incorporating several personal growth and development workshops. This includes a self-mastery course designed to help individuals gain a deeper understanding of themselves, develop greater self-awareness and acquire the tools and skills needed to take control of their lives.“This course covers topics such as emotional intelligence, mental fitness, goal setting, time management and mindfulness to empower individuals in navigating challenges and realising their full potential.” 

“Gappers” also take part in public speaking and presentation skills workshops and are given an introduction to event planning and project management, which provides them with fundamental principles and skills in areas such as logistics, timelines and coordination. Leadership development and personal branding courses also help young people establish and set themselves apart in an increasingly competitive post-school environment. 

A targeted career guidance workshop provides participants with insights, resources and strategies to make informed decisions about their professional paths, and offers guidance on exploring career options, honing relevant skills and creating a personalised career plan.

These learning opportunities are rooted in practical, real-world experiences, contributing to a well-rounded skill set, and empowering young people to clarify their future educational or career paths. 

During this time, students are also encouraged to step out of their comfort zones through various adventure activities. “You can expect to meet other young people from across the globe, travel across the country, have bucket list experiences, find direction, become more independent and ultimately learn more about yourself.”  

Expanding horizons and gaining clarity 

Viljoen says that taking part in these activities is where the benefits of a gap year lie: “During a gap year, students broaden their horizons by immersing themselves in different cultures and communities, while travelling to new places exposes them to diverse traditions, languages and lifestyles. This fosters a sense of global awareness and empathy, and shapes true global citizens.”  

Engaging with people from diverse backgrounds allows students to establish connections and build a network of contacts that they would not otherwise have. “These relationships can be valuable for future collaborations, mentorships and even job opportunities,” says Viljoen. “Engaging with different communities and organisations can expand social and professional circles.” 

During this time young people also take part in practical, hands-on experiences that impart skills not taught in a traditional academic setting. “Whether developing leadership abilities or learning technical and soft skills through workshops, these experiences can enhance an individual’s résumé and make them more marketable to future employers or educational institutions,” Viljoen explains. 

Taking some time after completing school also provides an opportunity for personal reflection and self-care. “This is a time for school leavers to recharge, reduce stress and develop resilience before embarking on the next phase of their lives,” Viljoen says. “This improves mental health, increases self-confidence and helps them better achieve balance and fulfilment.” 

Research and planning are key

Viljoen says prospective gappers should embark on extensive research and planning if they hope to make the most of their gap year experience. The first step is to find a programme that aligns closely with one’s specific interests and future aspirations.

School leavers should define their objectives and make sure that the programmes they are looking at offer relevant growth opportunities: “There are many programmes out there, but they are not all created equal. You must do proper research, be sure of what you’re signing up for and check references. When a gap year programme is accredited by a body like the Gap Year Association, then there is peace of mind that it meets several global standards related to safety, programme outcomes and goals.” 

This also means that the programme has a focus that is not limited to travel and adventure. “By choosing a structured gap year programme specifically focusing on personal growth and development, you know that the gap year experience will not just be a party or a holiday,” he says. 

Viljoen advises starting financial planning early. “If you have a specific gap year in mind but know you don’t have the funds, there are so many options for raising the money,” he says. “These include crowdfunding campaigns and part-time work or freelancing. Some people organise a garage sale or sell handmade crafts, or offer tutoring or pet-sitting services to raise funds.”

Seeking sponsorship from local businesses, community organisations or family friends is another option for financing a gap year programme. “Remember to communicate your goals and plans to potential supporters and be transparent about how the funds will be utilised during your gap year,” Viljoen advises. 

The Warriors Academy Gap Year Programme is structured into four seven-week “Quests”, each with its own set of adventure activities, soft skill workshops and personal mentoring sessions. This flexibility is ideal for prospective gappers who cannot commit to a year-long programme. ”Students can take part in any number of quests, depending on their schedules, studies and finances.” 

Real-world benefits for future success 

Viljoen says globally, gap years are not seen as a year off: “Developed countries often encourage gap years, because universities and employers prefer candidates with a more developed sense of emotional fitness. A gap year helps one grow, become more self-reliant and gain life experience.” 

Concrete examples of accomplishments and projects during the gap year provide tangible evidence of the time invested. “When you connect these experiences to future career aspirations, you can demonstrate the practical application and relevance of the skills gained,” Viljoen explains. “Collectively, these aspects position the gap year as a valuable and purposeful period of growth and development, making a compelling case for parents, universities and potential employers.” 

To maximise enrichment, Viljoen recommends an open mindset: “Don’t let self-limiting beliefs stop you from achieving your potential. It’s okay to be scared or anxious, but you must be open to trying. Get outside your comfort zone. That’s where self-belief grows and when you develop and overcome challenges.”

With proper planning and an open spirit of adventure, a gap year promises tremendous personal rewards. “This transitional stage can set the trajectory for your entire adult life,” says Viljoen. “Use a gap year to develop your inner compass. Embrace new perspectives that expand your horizons.” In doing so, young people are better prepared to enter the next chapter of their lives, with increased confidence, purpose and maturity.