Ali, China

From Gap Year to Career – Ali’s Story


When I was 17 and just finishing high school, I knew that I didn’t want to go straight to university. I knew that I needed to go out and see the world and contribute to it before I committed to three further years of study. But I knew that I didn’t want to do the same gap year that everyone else was doing – it just didn’t seem like a big enough of a challenge to me.

Ali and her class in China

Between classes I would regularly walk past the gap year supervisor’s office and he has a poster in his window for Gap Activity Projects, now Lattitude Global Volunteering. I had walked past that poster hundreds of times without actually asking what it was all about, but one day I went in and asked for a brochure. Little did I know how much that one action would impact upon my life.

I ended up volunteering in China as an English teacher for a year, completing two placements at a couple of different schools. My experiences from that time cannot be put into words very well. The excitement and joy of teaching 60 teenagers English tongue twisters, participating in preparing students for the annual English play competition and walking to class in the freezing early morning and having “Hallo Teacher!” screamed at you excitedly from every direction was amazing.

I learnt so much about myself from my year away. For instance, I am a lot braver than I thought I was. Since, and even during, my gap year, I gazed upon the Pyramids of Giza, walked Tiger Leaping Gorge and stood on the edge of the world at the top of Scotland. I then completed a Bachelor of International Studies both here at home and in France, and my gap year gave me a unique insight into the world and our place in it.

Ali and fellow volunteers visit the sights of China

After being a Tour Guide in Paris for a season and then tackling the wilds of retail travel sales, I am back at university now pursuing my true passion.

I’m now studying to be an audio engineer with the hope of recording orchestral soundtracks internationally. Taking that time overseas really opened my mind – the world is much bigger than we think and is just filled with so many amazing opportunities.

Challenging myself by heading to China opened my mind to ask “what do you really want to do?” and then taking that chance to say, “that is what I want to do”. Because I know that I can teach a class of 60 students English and get myself out of tight situations when I don’t speak the language, I know that I can achieve my goals.

I now have no qualms in saying, I’m going to complete my degree and then move to London or L.A. to pursue my passion. It’ll be a snap compared to being 18 and living somewhere so foreign and not knowing the first thing about myself in those conditions. I would never be where I am now if I hadn’t taken that step into that office.

Exploring the countryside in China

My time in China will always have a special place in my heart. I did things I never would have imagined and I’ve made friends for life. Nothing can compare and I am so grateful for my experiences.