How to use your travels to boost your career

Jenny Collins, of NGO Frontier, looks at how gaining qualifications during a gap year or sabbatical can give your career a welcome boost.

Gap years and sabbaticals are becoming more and more popular for young and old alike. Many who choose to spend this time volunteering also opt to gain a qualification at the same time. As well as experiencing new cultures and learning a variety of transferrable skills, coming home with a recognised qualification will improve your career and employability regardless of which stage of education or employment you are at, making volunteering abroad an invaluable experience.

teaching during a gap yearThere are various courses you can take depending on your interests and career plans. Aspiring teachers are able to take TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certificates or BTECs whilst teaching abroad. This normally involves keeping a detailed log book of your experiences whilst carrying out day-to-day volunteering duties.

There are a variety of other BTEC courses – all internationally recognised – that can be completed during a volunteer trip. Normally these involve a minimum stay to ensure you have the time to complete all the necessary work. Again these tend to be assessed through log books and/or presentations with most organisations having staff that will be there to help you with the tasks. The BTECS can come in a range of levels, depending on what you want the qualification for and how much work/time you want to put into it.

If you’re planning to study a conservation or environment focussed course at college or university, taking a BTEC beforehand could improve your chances of getting onto the course at your desired place of study. If you’re doing it afterwards or alongside, it could help you with your job search. Another option is to use a volunteering project to actually complete your university studies by carrying out research for a piece of coursework or even for your dissertation.

Wannabe and beginner divers can benefit from PADI qualifications when they take on a marine conservation projects. These can cover those who have never dived as well as people who already hold provisional qualifications and are looking to expand on them.Doing BTEC in a hammock

BTECs are particularly good for people wanting to officially document what you learn as part of a conservation research project. They’re also great for people wanting to learn more about leading expeditions or becoming field guides. If you’re considering a change of career, a qualification could be a step in the right direction and a useful way to make sure you are making the right decision before you take the leap.

When looking for qualifications, you should consider your reasons for doing so: what do you want to get out of it? Is one in particular is necessary for your future career progression? And importantly, are you are willing to put in the necessary work to make the most of it?

All qualifications gained abroad are particularly beneficial as they are being obtained in real-life situations rather than in a class-room environment – this not only makes the experience more valuable but more enjoyable too.

About the author: Jenny Collins works for Frontier, an NGO dedicated to safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, and building sustainable livelihoods for marginalised communities in the world’s poorest countries. Check out the wide variety of opportunities to volunteer abroad with Frontier: whether you’re looking for placements involving teaching abroad, wildlife conservation volunteering, or simply some adventure travel, Frontier is sure to have something suitable. Visit

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre Cafe, Norfolk

Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) Cley Marshes, Coast Road, Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk NR25 7SA

T: 01263 740008 /

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre

This gleaming piece of modernist sustainable design sits on one of the UK’s oldest nature reserves. Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley Marshes Visitor Centre reopened in 2007 as this eco-friendly powerhouse – and I’m putting it here in ‘Good Eats’ as the cafe is a great way to experience it!

Cley Marshes is a mecca for birdwatchers because it’s one of the best places in the country to view huge numbers of wintering and migrating wildfowl and waders, plus the rare bittern and marsh harrier. But you don’t have to be an ornothologist to enjoy a visit here – the North Norfolk coast is rugged and expansive so you can experience exhilerating walks along a truly wild and natural beaches. And when you’ve come back from the beach (or a stroll through the official Cley Marshes Nature Reserve – entry fee applies if you’re not a Wildlife Trust member), head to the visitor centre’s cafe.

The menu is basic (don’t expect large lunches, this is meant as a bird-watcher’s pit-stop) but there’s plenty of fresh and wholesome choices in the sandwiches, jacket potatoes and cakes. There are often daily specials involving soups, quiches, ‘Norfolk ploughmans’, locally made pork pies and sausage rolls (grab the onion marmalade ones if you can), and local crab sandwiches or salads (which is what we chose on our visit – nothing like eating seafood minutes from where it was caught). Coffee is good, as is the hot chocolate if you’re visiting on a cold day.Cley Marshes Nature Reserve

The great thing about the cafe is the building which was awarded Best Sustainable Development by Emirates Glass LEAF Awards for its innovative use of sustainable technology. The centre has a stunning sedum-covered green roof to attract butterflies, ease water drainage and blend into the landscape. Power by a wind turbine, solar panels and ground source heat pump, the centre has also been built to minimise energy wastage.

Enjoying a coffee and a fresh crab sandwich indoors you can sit along the cafe-wide window and gaze out across the windswept marshes and endless skies of Norfolk. Visitors can also take turns to use the binoculars provided (most visitors have their own high-tech pairs!) and watch the comings and goings of various birdlife. If you need help, the extensive bookshop (and gift shop) behind you will have a wildlife book for you.

Recommended for… Bird-watchers and nature-lovers (but also anyone who appreciates the wild, natural surroundings of the Norfolk coast)

Be aware that… The menu is small and only meant for quick snacks and light lunches (it closes at 4.30pm, or 3.30pm in winter).

‘Good’ credentials:

  • Award-winning sustainable building
  • Energy use and waste is minimise
  • Recycling, reusing wherever possible
  • Small wildlife garden to the rear, and green roof attract wildlife
  • Locally-sourced and produced food
  • Wheelchair accessible
  • ‘Wildlife Detective’ bumbags available for kids for free
  • Proceeds from the cafe (and gift shop) go to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust conservation charity



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