The gap year – a term that may not be familiar to our US and Canada readers – is one of the most popular times for young people to take a trip abroad for work, travel, or volunteer. So it makes sense that more and more travel agencies and nonprofit organizations have begun to focus on specific gap year programs that match travelers with meaningful work placements.
Oyster is one of these organizations, and calls itself the "gap and responsible travel specialist. " Based in the UK, they have placed more than 1,000 people in gap year travel programs around the world since they were founded in 1994. A number of their administrative staff is actually graduates of the program themselves, which is a very good sign.
Projects and Destinations
Oyster provides project opportunities on four of the five continents, in places like India, Costa Rica, Chile, Tanzania, South Africa and Canada. You can search either by region, or by type of work. They have extensive listing for animal welfare projects (lions and monkeys and turtles, oh my!), as well as volunteer work in child care and medical assistance. For the sporty gap-year traveler, they have a large number of placements with Whistler Mountain in Canada, where you can get paid to work in hospitality and hit the slopes!
Projects range in duration anywhere from two weeks to one year, and you can filter programs by length of stay in addition to location and service area. Shorter trips are perfect for those who want to do lots of travel during their gap year (some travelers may opt for multiple trips with Oyster during the year), while longer projects allow participants to embed themselves in the work, often learning a second language and gaining valuable work experience.
They have a very straightforward application process, including an initial application where you make preferences for your program based on the information listed on the website. This is followed by a face to face (recommended) or phone interview with a "destination manager" to talk through some of the specifics on that placement, and answer questions. You will then receive an information packet with more detailed information about the project. You have a week to look that over before you officially accept the placement and start planning your adventure. There are few organizations that require an interview, and I completely appreciate that Oyster recommends an in-person meeting. They also build-in time in the application process for your own personal consideration of the program, which is incredibly important.
Fees and Services
The fees for participating in Oyster programs vary depending on program destination and length, and are anywhere from £1,000 – £5,000. They have fee options that both exclude and include flights, so you can decide whether you want to pay for the full-service package, or try to find a cheap flight on your own. The program fee includes assistance with the visa/work permit process, food and accommodation (this depends on the program – in some cases there is a fee for accommodation that is deducted from your wages), and an extensive training program before you begin work. Some of the Oyster placements are job placements, and include (in some cases, modest) weekly wages that are guaranteed by Oyster.
An overview of all programs as well as the associated fees is available on the Oyster programs price list, which is an incredibly handy resource if you are looking to compare projects to one another.
I’m also enamored with the Oyster blog, which is updated regularly, and features a ton of first-hand and in-depth information about programs. The photos accompanying many of the posts are stunning, and hopefully can help some prospective participants picture themselves in another country during a gap year service project. Check out this post about sharks off the coast of South Africa to see what I’m talking about.
For anyone who is UK based and thinking about how to spend their gap year, I’d recommend looking into Oyster. They appear to be very focused on personal attention during the application process and beyond, and certainly have some eclectic program offerings. Do you have an experience with Oyster? If so, feel free to leave in the comments. And be sure to check out our other organization spotlights for more information about gap year travel programs!