A gap year in Malaysia

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A gap year is a great option if you feel like you need a break between school and further study. If you want to go overseas during your gap year there are lots of organisations you can travel, work or volunteer with.

Marlie, 19, from Torquay, applied for an overseas volunteer placement and spent six months teaching English in Malaysia.

"I always knew I wanted to take a gap year and I always knew I wanted to travel," says Marlie, "but I didn't want to go just anywhere for a couple of weeks then come home. I wanted to do something special."

Living and working in Malaysia

Marlie was placed in Johor, on the Western Peninsula of Malaysia. She lived in a small fishing village called Pontian and taught English as a Second Language (ESL) at a boarding school.

"Most of what I did was based around conversation and oral work, not so much grammar and all that stuff. I played a lot of games that pushed the students to use what language they already knew and also gave them an opportunity to stretch their knowledge and learn more."

Marlie also helped out with the school drama group and sports teams, which gave her more opportunities to travel. She visited surrounding islands such as Tioman Island, Penang and Langkawi and made several trips to Singapore.

Coping with a different language and culture

Marlie studied Indonesian at high school, which is similar to Malay, so she was able to use both English and Malay to communicate. She found the Malaysian people, who are mostly Malay, Indian or Chinese, to be very understanding and welcoming.

"Most people in Malaysia know some English so you can generally get around pretty easy," says Marlie. "But Malaysia is predominantly Muslim and the school in which I was teaching took religion pretty seriously."

Marlie understood that when living with people of a different culture and religion she would have to show understanding and respect even if she didn’t always agree with them. Over time she made some "pretty incredible connections" with people and felt she became part of the community.

"No matter where you are, things are going to be different, but you need to find the beauty and greatness in each different culture and lifestyle."

Learning from the experience

There’s value in a gap year for both the person taking the gap year and the community they’re working with.

On Marlie’s last day at the boarding school, teachers and students were crying because they didn't want her to leave. It made her feel like she had achieved "something pretty special".

Marlie is confident that her gap year experience will impress potential employers. "You can talk to them about things like the kind of independence you gained and all these pretty much priceless transferable skills you’ve picked up," she says.

"Once you have experienced something like this you have so much more independence and confidence to face anything."

For more about gap years, visit our Taking a gap year and Tips for planning a gap year pages. For more about volunteering, visit our Volunteering & work experience pages.