Royal Patron: HRH The Duchess of Edinburgh GCVO
Is a gap year right for you?

by Tom TaylorOSCAR Charity Ambassador

Should I take a gap year after school? Should I focus on getting my degree as quickly as possible and starting work? Am I making the right choice for my life? What if I regret taking a gap year? 

These are all questions I was asking myself during my final year at school and questions I am sure people ask themselves all the time. There is no right or wrong answer to those questions, but when I left Brighton College in 2019, my choice was a gap year followed by a 4-year MA in Economics at Edinburgh University. 

Tom in the Science Lab at Brighton College with the OSCAR Boy’s Team 2019

I have recently graduated, and I now work for a boutique fund placement agent in London. But what does any of this have to do with OSCAR? 

Well, after leaving school and spending a few months working in a pub, I booked my flights to India with the intention of volunteering for OSCAR, travelling for four months around India and Nepal, and coming back to OSCAR for another month before going home. I arrived in Mumbai in January 2020, with three other volunteers, and immediately fell in love with India. My month of volunteering covered so many areas including teaching, playing football and supporting the ever-expanding OSCAR team in the office. No day was the same, and I think it is safe to say that the four volunteers learnt some valuable skills in that time. Unfortunately, the pandemic put a stop to a lot of my plans but that only further encouraged me to stay in touch with OSCAR. Since 2020, I have been involved in countless projects and am proud to be one of the Young Ambassadors in the UK. 

In the OSCAR office in Mumbai.

As I said volunteering with OSCAR, and continuing to be involved with them, has provided me with so many skills and attributes that I think are extremely important for university, working and life as a whole. So, what are these skills and attributes that I’m talking about? 
I think the best way to explain the impact OSCAR has had on me, is to split it into the three areas I mentioned: immediate future, such as going to university; going into the workplace, whether full-time or as an intern; and your life as a whole.

Following my time in India, I started at the University of Edinburgh in September 2020. Obviously, the pandemic put a stop to a lot of the usual activities that freshers get up to and it was a really strange start to my time in Scotland. However, OSCAR taught me a few things that helped throughout my time at university, and I think the first one that comes to mind is working outside of your comfort zone. India is an amazing place but an extremely busy, noisy and hot place at the same time. You learn very quickly how to work and live in this environment, and believe it or not, I applied this at university. Student halls can be noisy, your first year is extremely busy and you spend your time trying to juggle a social life and getting the bare minimum of work done. 

Tom organised a fundraiser at his prep school.

Tied in with this, being resourceful is another skill that OSCAR helps you develop: India is incredibly vibrant and busy, but sometimes things don’t always go to plan and you have to think on your feet. Again, in your first year of university you might be confronted with a situation that you’ve never seen before, and this is something that still happens to me today. 

I finished at Edinburgh in May this year and found myself counting down the days until I was starting work in London. But this job was the result of many rounds of interviews, countless applications and hours trawling the internet for openings. During this process, a pattern definitely emerged: the people interviewing me were more interested in my time with OSCAR than they were in my degree or A-Levels. You are able to differentiate yourself and OSCAR is something that people are genuinely interested to hear about. 

Returning to Mumbai with his fellow graduates and friends from Edinburgh University.

Now that I am working, there are three attributes that I think I have built upon over the last few years: first, teamwork second, confidence and third, resilience. OSCAR is one big family and there is a huge emphasis on teamwork. In the workplace, you are also part of a big team and collaboration makes up the majority of your day-to-day. Confidence in the workplace encompasses both confidence in the work you do, but also confidence in the questions you ask and the relationships you build. 

Resilience is something you are always building but you need to be able to work under pressure in any job you do. 

Looking ahead, there are a few things I picked up with OSCAR that will continue into the future: philanthropy and intrinsic value and lifelong friendships. 

Naturally, working for an NGO will teach you to appreciate things more and the intrinsic value that I feel from volunteering is enough to keep me involved with OSCAR. You also learn to value those around you more, and to make an effort with anyone and everyone. You think twice before ignoring a homeless person on the street; instead of pretending to be on the phone, you might stop and chat to them, or offer to get them something to eat. 

In July 2023, I went back to India for 6 weeks to travel with friends but my first stop, naturally, was Colaba. Working with OSCAR creates lifelong friendships with staff and beneficiaries. Whether it is catching up briefly over a chai, visiting families in the community or going and joining in at a football session, you are always made to feel welcome. It really is one big, global family. 

Now I will say, these are my experiences, and I can’t promise everyone will have the same experiences or views. But what I can say is that volunteering with OSCAR is the experience of a lifetime and if you have the chance to do it, take it. 

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or want to know more about what I did!

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