Alan joined a Raleigh International expedition after graduating with a degree in architectural engineering. He joined the charity’s ten-week expedition in India working on sustainable community and environmental projects.
Alan Smithies, from Herefordshire, decided to take a gap year as he wanted to travel and volunteer aboard and felt that there was a lot to gain from learning about different cultures and countries.
“For me, it is all about taking yourself out of your comfort zone in order to learn new things and meet different types of people,” he explains.
He turned to Raleigh as he considered it a very respectable organisation that focuses on working in different communities around the world in order to benefit both the locals and the participants.
He was lucky enough to be awarded a student bursary, which helped fund the volunteering and made it possible for him to begin his gap year adventure.
Alan spent ten weeks living in India working on sustainable community and environmental projects, and he loved that Raleigh’s Host Country Venturer programme gave individuals on the expedition the opportunity to experience the Indian culture firsthand.
Although a great experience, the expedition had both its highs and lows.
“Particular lows were the early mornings and stresses that come with living with the same people for two months,” he explains. “The highs were working with people from different cultures and making friends that I am still in contact with today.
“The experience has allowed me to learn a lot about different communities around the world and given me even more determination to work with disadvantaged communities both aboard but also in the UK,” he adds.
As well as working with Raleigh on a project in India, Alan also taught English in Brazil for four months and spent another month or so teaching maths in a school in Uganda. He feels he gained a huge variety of skills from his gap year, particularly in dealing with difficult/stressful situations and communicating with people from all walks of life.
“I do think it has helped a lot in terms of my confidence and also a wider appreciation for different cultures and communities,” he notes. “I’d definitely recommend taking a gap year - it’s a fantastic experience that can give you a different outlook on life.”
Alan’s gap year experience led him to reevaluate his career plans and he made the decision to move into teaching.
“Right now I’m in my second year of the Teach First Programme, which is an educational charity that trains graduates to teach in schools in disadvantaged areas around the country. I am currently teaching maths in north Liverpool, although I have taught engineering as the school has an engineering specialism.
“Adapting to difference situations is invaluable within teaching and the experience with Raleigh International has allowed me to develop these skills further whether it be dealing with an array of different types of people or physical and mental challenges. Coming from an engineering background, and although now in teaching, the love of finding solutions to a given problem has stuck. I feel I have developed these skills further through the Raleigh experience,” he concludes.