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What is a Gap Semester? Best Student Trips

Discover Gap Semester Volunteer Programmes

By Thom Brown | 27th July, 2022
Updated on 11th August, 2023

You crave travel that’s meaningful and leaves a lasting impact on you and the places you visit. You want to experience new cultures, build skills, and make lifelong memories. What you need is a Gap Semester abroad.

These student travel opportunities are more immersive than a typical holiday, enriching your experience. Gap Semesters last a little longer without the commitment of a full gap year.

Looking for Gap Semester ideas? Here’s more information on what they are along with some of the best Gap Semester programmes.

What is a Gap Semester?

Student volunteers in Peru

A Gap Semester is an international trip students can take as a break from their studies. Longer than a typical holiday, you'll spend 6-10 weeks immersed in a new culture.

Gap Semesters foster personal development and skill building. You'll also get to positively impact communities through volunteer work.

These are group trips so you’ll live and work with fellow travellers. This builds social skills and forges new relationships.

Gap Semester vs. Gap Year

You’ve probably heard of gap years: a rite of passage for young people looking for a break from their studies. They're profound, life-changing trips, giving students hands-on experience and broadening their horizons.

But a full gap year abroad could be too costly or time-consuming. You might want to spend your time off working, saving money, or simply relaxing.

A Gap Semester - lasting roughly the length of an academic term - might be the ideal sweet spot. You’ll still get all the benefits of taking an extended, immersive trip.

Take a Break

Your Gap Semester is a chance to take time out from your studies and do something different. Many do this before or after university, but you could do it during the academic year, as well.

Many universities let students defer a semester, giving them a chance to travel. Need a break from studying? Check with your institution whether this is an option.

If your course offers remote learning, then a Gap Semester abroad may be ideal. You could potentially travel the world while completing your studies online.

Why Take a Gap Semester?

Student volunteers in Peru

Gap Semester programmes offer all the benefits of travel and then some. Students travel to experience new cultures, forge their own identities, and build career-boosting skills. A Gap Semester abroad gives a structure to your trip, helping you squeeze every ounce of value out of it.

If you haven’t travelled much, going away for many months can come with added worries. By keeping your trip under 10 weeks, you relieve some of this pressure. Even if pushed for time, you can impact the world and build skills on a Gap Semester abroad.

Don’t want to travel alone?

Our Gap Semesters are group trips, so you’ll live and work with other travellers in your age group. This helps you build social skills as you form lasting friendships.

Looking for something longer?

You can combine our Gap Semesters abroad into a 28-week-long Global Gap Year or create your own combination trip! This is perfect if you’re keen to see more of the world and embrace new challenges.

Who Should Take a Gap Semester Abroad?

Gap Semesters are ideal for travellers aged between 17 and 24. You’ll likely have finished high school or college and looking towards further education.

You can take a Gap Semester abroad before you head off to university, while you study, or after you graduate. The timing is flexible - it depends on which option makes sense for you.

The most important factor is your attitude. Are you ready to leave your comfort zone and immerse yourself in a different way of life? Are you willing to do the work to build your skills and leave a positive impact on local communities? If so, then you’re no doubt ready for a Gap Semester volunteer programme.

Best Gap Semester Ideas

A Gap Semester is a chance to explore more than one destination. That’s why we recommend scheduling time to visit two countries.

Below, discover some of the best Gap Semester ideas and pick the trip that excites you most.

Latin America: Peru & the Galapagos

Gap Semester Peru volunteers

Taking a Gap Semester to Latin America will bring you to some of the world’s most spectacular settings.

Peru

Where better to begin your journey than the spectacular Amazon Rainforest? This will be your base as you complete animal conservation work.

Your tasks will include:

  • Ascending to the canopy to conduct bird surveys
  • Collecting data on wildlife
  • Viewing camera trap footage

You'll also join our animal release and breeding programmes. You'll work hands-on with a variety of animals, feeding monkeys and collecting turtle eggs.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement, you’ll then venture to the historic city of Cusco. There, you'll spend two weeks volunteering with children.

You will:

  • Promote early childhood development through fun activities
  • Renovate classrooms
  • Receive daily Spanish lessons
  • Enjoy tours of the Sacred Valley

Surrounded by the Andes, you’ll breathe clean mountain air as you wander the spiritual city streets. The highlight of this trip is hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu to explore these vast ancient ruins.

Ecuador: The Galapagos Islands

The second half of your Gap Semester in South America takes place in the beautiful Galapagos Islands. There, you’ll continue your wildlife conservation work, caring for giant tortoises and sea lions. You'll take pride in helping to clean up this unique and picturesque ecosystem.

You’ll also help the children of the Galapagos, teaching English, playing games, and hosting sports events. Throughout it all, we’ll make your Gap Semester one to remember with trips around the islands.

Read more about South American Gap Semesters >

East Africa: Kenya & Tanzania

Gap Semester Conservation in Kenya

Another Gap Semester idea is to visit the wild side of Africa, where the world’s greatest animals roam free.

Kenya

You’ll first fly to Kenya, where you can begin your conservation work. Your main focus will be lions and giraffes, which you’ll monitor closely.

Your main tasks will be to:

  • Research endangered species like the Rothschild's giraffe
  • Track animal populations on the conservancy
  • Set camera traps
  • Remove invasive plants
  • Maintain waterholes

Working with conservation experts, you’ll help protect the biodiversity of Kenya.  You'll enjoy an immersive experience from the comfort of a rustic ranch house. It's a long way from what you’re used to - a truly wild African adventure.

Tanzania

After that, you’ll travel to Tanzania where you can choose a mix of volunteer work. We offer Teaching, Women’s Empowerment, and Micro-finance. Pick an area where you want to build skills and make a difference.

Tanzania is home to a variety of cultural groups, such as the Maasai tribe, who you can learn from. It’s also a fantastic destination for lovers of the Great Outdoors. Spend your Gap Semester trekking in the foothills of Kilimanjaro or spotting elephants on a safari.

In East Africa, you’ll discover just how beautiful this planet can really be. Get to know an entirely different culture and make a real impact on the community.

Read more about African Gap Semesters >

Asia: Nepal and Cambodia

Rhinos in Nepal

Gap Semester travellers may prefer to explore the beauty of Asia. Specifically, you’ll head to Nepal and Cambodia, two of the continent’s most scenic countries.

Nepal

Your time will begin in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, where you’ll complete crucial building and renovation work. From painting walls to laying bricks, you'll leave your mark on the community.

Highlights of this trip include:

  • Trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas
  • A weekend trip to the serene lakes of Pokhara
  • Visiting the sacred temples of Nepal

Your Gap Semester journey will then take you into Nepal's wilderness to complete rhino conservation work. You'll be based at Chitwan National Park, which provides crucial habitats to tigers, elephants, and rhinos.

You'll help maintain the reserve, complete wildlife surveys, and take safaris to spot these incredible creatures.

Cambodia

After a life-changing experience in Nepal, you'll travel to Cambodia. First, you'll join the Childcare Project in Phnom Penh. You'll create lesson plans and think of creative ways to engage the children.

After this, you'll travel to Siem Reap to visit the world-famous Angkor Wat. You'll learn all about the Khmer Empire among the jungle-covered temples. You'll gain even more cultural understanding at the floating villages of Tonle Sap Lake.

After this, it's time to return to Phnom Penh to join the Public Health Project. You'll learn basic medical skills so that you can conduct health checks alongside professionals. You'll also help teach children about health and hygiene.

Read more about Asian Gap Semesters >

How does a Gap Semester sound to you? This could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get some real-world experience. No matter where you go or what you do, prepare for an immersive experience geared towards personal development.

Start searching for the perfect Gap Semester programme for you.

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