Citizens Of The World
by Sasha Kanal
When student Will Kemp, who joined Sussex Living for work experience in 2014, first decided upon a gap year, little did he know that a trip to Nepal with International Citizen Service would bring such life changing experiences. Sasha Kanal finds out more
When you think of the traditional student gap year, all sorts of options spring to mind. Backpacking with friends in South East Asia, travelling around Australia or interrailing across Europe to name a few.
There are also numerous charitable options that young people can access to gain life and work experience in some of the worlds’ poorest communities.
This is what Will Kemp, 18, from Sussex did when he was looking to fill part of his gap year in 2017. Will chose to go with International Citizen Service (ICS) – a UK Government funded programme providing volunteering placements to 18- 25 year olds and team leader placements to 23-35 year olds.
“I always planned to do a gap year and trying to get on a placement with ICS felt like a great way of filling part of it in a meaningful way. I opted for ICS because of the gravitas associated with this organisation and the projects they undertake in developing countries,” says Will.
ICS is run by respected development organisations and funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development. Their projects are carefully designed to help end poverty in a socially sustainable way.
So, in October 2017, Will spent 10 weeks in rural Nepal, staying with a Nepalese host family and fully immersing himself in their way of life. According to Will, this was one of the highlights of his trip with ICS. He explains, “Experiencing family life in the small village of Tiltar was amazing. My host family were wonderful and couldn’t have been more welcoming towards me. They were literally the happiest people I’ve ever met. In terms of Western culture, they have very little in the way of material things, so their life as a close-knit loving family is everything.”
Part of Will’s project in Nepal was to teach in two local schools. “I taught lessons on culture, careers and geography for 7-11 year olds and to older kids of about 15,” says Will. “It was really interesting as many of the children said they wanted to be pilots when they grew up. They had a real thirst to travel.”
Much of the other work he undertook was infrastructure and agriculture-based with a particular focus on climate change. “We helped to build poly-tunnels, plastic ponds, vegetable gardens and even worked with the local blacksmith. After the 2015 earthquake, the country is still recovering to a certain extent.” How did Will find the language barrier? “There were four ‘in-country’ Nepali volunteers in our group who would help to translate into English. Plus, because I was so immersed in the culture, I picked up quite a bit of Nepalese by the end of my trip,” says Will.
And what were the challenges to being away from home and in an entirely different culture for 10 weeks? “Oh, there were lots!” laughs Will. “As a young person, having no WiFi and therefore little access to social media was a real challenge for me! But in the end, it was actually brilliant to detox from it all. Where I stayed was really remote and very rural and it took a while to acclimatise. Also eating the same meal of rice and beans each day with little variation took some getting used to. But this really makes you appreciate other people’s way of life compared to your own.”
Similarly, the highlights for Will were multifold. “I met so many great people. There were 12 of us in the team and I’ve made some lifelong friends out of it. When you’re forced out of your comfort zone with others, you tend to bond. A good example is our participation in a Buddhist and Hindi five day festival where we had to dance every night in the village as part of the festival offerings – there was no getting out of it! Plus, Nepal is a stunning country. We went on so many wonderful treks and I had plenty of time to self-reflect.”
Will also came face to face with his arachnophobia when a friend planted a giant spider on his shoulders. “Well I got over that phobia and fast!”
Aside from facing his fears, Will also grew in confidence on his trip. “I used to be a relatively shy person,” he says, “but I’ve gained so much in terms of confidence and ability to meet new people and challenges. The beauty of an ICS scheme is that’s it’s structured and you receive plenty of training and support. Two out of the ten weeks you are given the role of Team Leader which means you have to organise everyone’s daily timetable and oversee your team. It gives you invaluable insights to take back to your own life and career.”
Indeed because of ICS’ focus on climate change, Will’s experiences in Nepal fit perfectly with his career goals and he plans to study Natural Sciences at Leeds University in October.
“Applying to do ICS is one of the best decisions I ever made,” says Will. “Plus, the way it is structured enables you to get on with the process of working hard and challenging yourself. The Government funds 90% of your trip and as a volunteer you fund 10% yourself – usually around £800. Your visas, flights, travel and medical insurance, medication, vaccines, food and accommodation are all included.”
So, for anyone thinking of taking a gap year, consider ICS – it could be one of the best decisions you ever made.
For more information on ICS, go to www.volunteerics.org