Stories from Australia, as our wonderful gappers past and present share their gap year experiences.

School Assistants in Darwin

School Assistant in Townsville

Gap year in indigenous australia

I volunteered at Shalom Christian College, an Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander boarding school in Northern Queensland, Australia. I lived on campus with the five other volunteers.

Being away from all my family and friends was of course going to be challenging. However, I found that the complete immersion in a different culture and experiences actually made my time there a lot easier. I feel that because my placement was so challenging, I got the most of out the experience.

We went to a separate campus each Wednesday for children with difficulties integrating into main-stream education. This was definitely the most challenging part of my work. For all of the children there, English wasn’t their first language. Most couldn’t read and write and many had behavioural problems. My duties there were basically that of a teaching assistant. In term one I helped and supervised the children during Maths, English and Science lessons. During the second term, they introduced a music programme so I was required to help with that. The children were far more responsive and engaged with the music programme than the literacy based subjects.

I spent the rest of the week in the primary school which was a day school. There was a focus on one-to-one tuition with children who were slightly behind with their reading and writing.

When you work on something with them for a long time and finally it sinks in; the look of achievement and happiness on their faces is something I’ll never forget. There were many things I took away from the experience. One thing I definitely do now know is how lucky I am. The accident of where in the world you are born has an enormous impact on the kind of life you are going to lead.

Aboriginal Australia is a world away from ‘white’ Australia and this came as a big shock for all those that I know who spent time there. There is no literal line that defines the boundaries but the boundaries are clear for all to see. Many start school very late in their lives if at all and education isn’t promoted in the communities as much as it is in the “western” world. There are 15 year olds who can’t read or write,  can’t speak full English and don’t have shoes to put on their feet. Yet they are the happiest children I have ever seen and I was the happiest I have ever been whilst I was with them.

I got close to students and staff at Shalom, friends that I know I will have for a very long time to come. There were definitely some very challenging times but volunteering gave me so much in return. You encounter new challenges and problems to be sure. But I learnt how to deal with things myself and I’m a much stronger person than I was before.

The year I spent away was the best year of my life. I will always look back on it with a smile and happy memories.