Written by Georgia Glenser on 25 / 07 / 2023
Gap Year Advice
Last week we had the lovely Georgia in the office, a past Leaper who came to peak behind the curtain and do some work experience with us. We loved having her and also loved hearing about her experience as a Leaper, on her gap year, back in covid times (how things have changed since then!), and she wanted to share with everyone how joining a Leap programme impacted her life.
Sometimes in life you just need to make that leap, especially on your gap year. Taking the first step can kick start you into many life-changing directions and one decision or baby step can propel you towards opportunities that you never even envisioned or dreamed of. I want to write about why I now have such a passion for travel, and how my experience with The Leap on my gap year has altered my mind-set forever.
Covid was sudden and frightening. I was told to leave school on a random Tuesday in March, no leavers celebrations, no preparations, no A-levels and no indication of what would happen in the future, just sitting at home waiting. The excitement of getting into uni came with its challenges. Shut indoors, no fresher’s week, and keeping to a bubble of 6 in a strange city. Then the corridor in my halls of residence went into isolation and I wasn’t even allowed a bubble of 6. Feeling pretty miserable, my friend sent me a text one afternoon asking if I wanted to go to Namibia. She had heard of a travel company called ‘The Leap’ who were able to send people abroad to volunteer, despite Covid restrictions. I wasn’t sure about this but something needed to change, I needed to experience something different.
Covid was putting up a fight around the world, and it had spread to Namibia which went onto the red list, another disappointment. The Leap, who were monitoring all the various zones of travel suggested we went out to volunteer in an animal sanctuary in Costa Rica instead. I didn’t know what to expect from this trip, I like structure and get anxious when plans are changed at the best of times.
However, as soon as I stepped off the plane for our change over in Madrid and saw other anxious but friendly faces embarking on the same journey, I felt slightly more reassured that I wouldn’t regret this trip.
On the boat on the way over to Costa Rica I was so in awe of the sublime beauty of the palm trees, the sea, even the butterflys and birds, everything in exquisite technicolour. I knew I wouldn’t want to leave here for a while. My concerns, anxieties and nerves about getting back in a hurry after my 4 weeks flew away, I thought - why am I worried about any of the mundane issues when beautiful places like this exist? I had never left Europe before and just physically being on the other side of the world, knowing that what I was seeing was real, blew my mind. I had a burst of excitement and adrenaline, and I knew this would become so much more valuable to me then stressing about missing out on occasional get togethers as the UK began to open up a bit after Covid. I was already planning to extend my stay.
Making friends was much easier than I expected, from the very start we were put into a room together in San José and once we all started chatting there was no stopping us. The next day we took the next part of our journey to ‘The Wild Sun Rescue Centre’ and somehow, I already knew who would be my close friends for the next few weeks.
The volunteer work was hard but always felt super rewarding afterwards. We were learning to build areas for the animals. It was hard physical work but it made the lunch time swims feel extra enjoyable. As the week went by, we bonded over shovels and planting, learning so much about the environment and what was needed for the animals.
Soon we had a routine in our room too, where we would take turns to wake each other up every time we went to the bathroom for extra protection against any particularly large spiders, we eventually got used to the presence of the odd scorpion spider lurking by the sink.
One of my favourite experiences of volunteering was meeting Eric. Eric was a local Costa Rican in charge of our building work, he was extremely practical and just pointed at the bricks he wanted laying and which gravel got mixed with water to create the cement. My friend Charlotte and I grew very fond of Eric, who spoke no English, and was probably a bit overwhelmed by our constant laughter and chitter chatter. We developed a bond with him despite our lack of Spanish, pointing at various insects and plants as we named them in our respective languages. This became so successful that when Eric spoke to the rest of the group in Spanish about mixing various sands and gravel, Charlotte and I were able to show the group.
By the end of our time in Animal Sun Rescue, Charlotte and I presented Eric with a drawing labelling the parts of the sanctuary in both English and Spanish. The volunteering was extremely rewarding and something I’ll never forget. I subsequently got much more out of the travelling I did after I left the sanctuary, as I felt I had earnt the fun stuff. I also felt that I had made an effort to explore the culture and community.
The Leap programme is so diverse, you do not just work in one area or one part of Costa Rica. We went from lush green forests with waterfalls to the beaches and palm trees of Santa Teresa to the misty cloudy forests of Monteverde.
Part of the Leap programme took us for a week of fun in Monteverde, the cloud forest. I am really not a fan of heights; in fact I am terrified of them. Imagine my parents shock when they got the video of me flying across the highest zip wire in Latin America and jumping off the Tarzan swing.
I would never ever have thought I would do something like that. I was not peer pressured, but the whole experience of seeing how others lived and how much the world had to offer put a spring in my step. It provided me with a very positive can-do attitude. I think it was the group experience, the support of my new friends and the lack of judgement and just pure encouragement that gave me new confidence in myself. It certainly wasn’t easy and there was a lot of panic and hesitation before I took this leap of faith, and I definitely cropped out that 20 minute bit before uploading it to my Instagram story.
All the other Leapers were extremely supportive as it is a genuine fear of mine. My Leap group leader was so proud and followed me on the zip wire to take a video so I could show my parents and friends at home because otherwise they simply wouldn’t believe me.
The Leap gave me an opportunity to make new friends many of whom I felt I’d known forever.
More red list dramas came our way and anxieties heightened in the group. The Leap sent amazing emails updating us on the situation and ways of leaving Central America without crossing through the red areas. We waited to see when the amber countries were going to turn red, an extraordinary time especially for my first experience of travel, but the Leap were incredible in their knowledge of what we should do.
During the chaos most of the group decided not to stay on, but Lucy and I (a girl I had become close with during our travels) thought why leave when we are already out here in this amazing place. Two postponed flights later, we said our goodbyes and headed to Mexico together, unsure of what was ahead.If I hadn’t gone on the Leap for what I thought would be a four week change of scene/holiday I would have never had an experience like this where I felt confident enough to explore and I would have never met Lucy. We went on to meet some exceptionally interesting people from all cultures. Without the Leap I wouldn’t have been encouraged to spread my wings and onward travel.
Lucy and I saw some incredible things, from swimming in cenotes in Valladolid to the blue aqua water lake of Bacalar, to seeing Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico City. I fell in love with travel in a way I would have never expected. I saw and experienced life through a completely different lens, and it really opened my eyes to how vast the world is and just how many different lives are out there.
I came back full of life, and this trip has been on my mind ever since and will always be in my heart. The following summer I worked in a restaurant whilst doing my second year at Edinburgh University and decided to go to Thailand for a month. A highlight of mine being an elephant trek where I stayed over night in the mountains in Chiang Mai with no phone signal no distractions just the view and the sound of thudding rain against the tin/ wooden roof. The locals cooking us our supper over the fire.
There is so much I would love to see and experience. I can’t wait for more adventures, and I would love to use my time after university to do something that makes a difference in giving something back to the amazing countries and communities out there which the Leap has given me a desire and a passion for.
Are you able to help with onward travel after my Leap programme? Absolutely; all of our Leapers are automatically made a member of Leap VIP once they sign up to a team programme, this means that we can help you with all of the travel you might decide to do post-programme.
I like the sound of what Georgia did, can I do the same? Yes! We still run programmes to Central America, including the Costa Rica Adventure trip which is very similar to the programme Georgia did on her gap year.
I'm a bit nervous about travelling, should I still go? Joining a team programme is the perfect way to travel but without the stress of having to plan all of the logistics yourself. You can turn up at the airport and immediately be whisked off on your adventure without having to worry about how to get around, where to stay, or what to do. If you're still nervous then read our blog here about how to beat those travel nerves.
on 25 / 07 / 2023