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My gap year in South Africa

3 min read

College graduation was fast approaching. I could feel the approach of freedom, but I had no idea what I would do next. I’d get a job, of course, but I really wanted a break after four years of nonstop studying. My parents encouraged me to think creatively about the best use of my time. If I was going to do something other than work right away, it needed to have value. 

I’m from the USA but I’d always wanted to travel or work abroad, especially around wildlife, ideally African wildlife. Maybe this was my chance. Maybe it was time to take the leap and do a gap year experience

What can you do in a gap year in South Africa?

A group of women stand together in the African bushveld smiling towards the camera, with a sunset over a wide river in the background.

The internet is a vast place full of millions of ideas for how to spend a gap year. I quickly became intimidated by the number of options for gap year programs in South Africa, which I chose because of the many wildlife programs I’d seen based in Kruger National Park. Other things about South Africa – the ease of flying to Johannesburg or Cape Town, the beauty of the countryside, its unique history – also drew me in. 

During my research on South Africa, I came across wildlife conservation programs and safari guide training courses. Things I never really even knew existed! I certainly didn’t realise that a girl from Texas with a degree in political science could become a safari guide

A large bull elephant emerging from the bushes. His head is facing the left of the frame, as he moves towards a waterhole off camera.

But suddenly, this is what I was thinking about day in and day out. Just imagining catching up with my friends in September, discussing what we’d done since graduation. “I became a safari guide in South Africa. What about you?” I mean is there any better way to spend your summer? 

To be honest, deciding on the location for my gap year experience was one of the easiest parts of this journey. Wildlife plus travel? Yes please. But I knew that in order to convince my parents to support my decision, I’d need to have all the information available. 

What are the top 3 reasons why students take a gap year?

A group of women in a selfie-style photo, smiling brightly towards the camera, with a cloudy view behind them of the Blyde River Canyon and three rondevals.

I knew my parents would want to know the reasons for my decision to take a gap year. But before we move on, let’s be clear, I didn’t take a full year off to travel. Not everyone does! Gap year, as it turns out, is more of a broad term that applies to a life break, usually between high school and college, or after college graduation. It’s all about changing up your situation for a period of time and escaping the norm. That’s what I wanted and needed. So what were my main reasons for taking a gap year?

  1. Experiencing a new place in the world.

  2. Bolstering my resume with new skills.

  3. Meeting new people and making memories.

There are definitely more reasons that I’ve heard, like avoiding burnout, becoming more independent, or learning a new language. But these were certainly my top three reasons for heading off to South Africa on a gap year experience. 

How much does it cost to take a gap year in South Africa?

A leopard lounging in a tree. The leopard has its mouth slightly open and is looking towards the camera from where it lays, in the fork of a large tree.

This was an equally important question to my parents and me. I was going to partially fund my experience, with savings I’d earned at my job through college. Making a convincing argument to my parents that it was something worth their support, I laid out all my options for the summer. 

Yes, we would have to pay for a plane ticket and course fees. But if I stayed at home while looking for a job, I’d still need money for fun, food and travel in the area. Plus if I did a summer course, that would cost something anyway. 


A sunset view in the South African bush. An elephant in the distance along a riverbank, with a glowing red sun at the top left corner of the image.

The benefits, in my mind, certainly outweighed the cons. When I sat down and explained this to my parents, I was thrilled at how supportive they were. To be honest, I think they were a little jealous of the adventure in front of me. I would go to South Africa for three months and then come back as a qualified safari guide. The skills I’d learn from this course would go way beyond working on a safari. No matter where I went next, I’d be ready to start a career in conservation. Talk about a productive way to spend my gap year!

Are you considering a gap year in South Africa? Learn all about the different programs Bushwise offers, and make the most of your time abroad.

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