Thanks very much to Dan for reporting back about his time as a Lattitude “gapper”, volunteering as a UK school assistant.
Hi there, my name’s Dan from New Zealand and I’m currently working as a “Gapper” (as the kids call us) in Hoebridge School, a prep school for kids aged 3-13 located in Woking, Surrey of England. My placement is a bit different from most school assistant placements in the UK, as I’m placed in a day school, which means that I have no boarding duties to do in the mornings and evenings, which allows for perhaps an easier wake up then some of my friends at boarding schools.
My daily routine revolves around a timetable set up to help support the teachers and students that need that little bit of extra help for whatever it may be. This can range from helping a Year Three child with their times tables or reading, to playing football with the Year Seven and Eights during Games (basically PE), to being a lab assistant in Science class to the teachers and students. And of course, throughout all of this, you’re constantly interacting and laughing with the students and the teachers alike.
I’ve never had a boring day while working at Hoebridge, and then when I finish work in the afternoon, myself and my three other gappers are free to relax in our flat. I am extremely privileged to be living in the old headmasters flat, so we have a large floor plan that we take full advantage of to relax and tell each other what happened during work today or what we’re planning to do on the weekends or the inevitable holidays where the prospect of an extremely close Europe lies in wait for us. I have my own room, which I take full advantage of to relax in the evenings.
As cliche as this sounds, it’s honestly impossible to pick a singular high point that stands out head and shoulders above every other day that I’ve currently experienced while being over here. The closest to a high point I could possibly pinpoint would have to be my eighteenth birthday that I hosted at my flat in January, as I came over to the UK as a seventeen year old. The entirety of the people who I invited were other volunteers from Lattitude that I met at my orientation in London, which I think speaks volumes about the great connections that you build within a small space of time during the Lattitude Orientation.
I was also very lucky to have my older brother do the same Lattitude program as I the year before, and was also privileged enough to be selected to go to Hoebridge as well. This meant that I had seen exactly what was needed to ensure that I could prepare correctly before embarking on the journey. Since my mother is a bit of planner, I had organised myself an Irish Passport through my grandmother which meant I did not need the charity visa that Lattitude recommends, but I do know that Lattitude was extremely helpful in guiding my friends in how to obtain said visa.
You also needed to keep in mind that you are going away for a year, so you really must thinking about all the seasons that you would go through, especially going from a New Zealand summer to an English winter. I also personally did not do the group flight that Lattitude offers because my family and I left a month early to do travelling around Europe and see my brother before he left his – and soon to be mine – placement, but again I know this was easy to do through Lattitude. The Lattitude briefings that I attended with my parents in New Zealand were also very informative about the placements and what the different kinds of volunteering you could be doing overseas, as well as outlining what was expected of you and what your year had in store for you.
Advice for the next “gappers”
First and foremost, my number one piece of advice is to do it. I’ve been overseas for nearly five months now, and I haven’t regretted a single second of it. I consider my decision to do this quite possibly the best I have ever made, and just to help prove this point, I’m currently writing all of this on a bus to Lisbon, Portugal from Madrid, Spain as myself and five mates that I’ve made whilst I’ve been over here are currently having the best holiday we’ve all had. If you feel uncertain about what you want to do for the next year, whether it be if you’re ready for university or don’t know what to do with your life, volunteer with Lattitude, as it provides you with the valuable life experience and confidence needed to be successful in whatever you choose to do.
Orientation was a chance to meet the friends you’re going to be spending your free time with for the next year, so it really is vital that you try and meet as many people as possible over the course of the two days. Aside from the workshops and briefings that you all partake in, you go on walking tours around London and take in the sights all while becoming closer with your new friends. And of course, since you’re now adults (or close to it), you can do what you want in your free time! Orientation is the perfect time to make new friends and settle into the timezone changes along with everyone else.
To sum it all up, the opportunities and experiences that volunteering with Lattitude provides you with allows you to grow and mature both as a person and as a vital component of the volunteering program that has benefitted so many of us. If you are to do this, grasp the chance to make the year your own with both hands, and if you do even just half of what I’ve done in five months, you’ll have the time of your life.