So, you’re almost done with your degree. But after dedicating several years of your life to the pursuit of knowledge, you realise that you can find absolutely no job that can make use of your expertise. It feels like you’ve wasted years of your life in pursuit of nothing. In your frustration, you start looking at other options that have nothing to do with your field. In light of this, Perdeby investigates a few alternative career routes that could change your life forever.

The idea of taking a gap year dates back to the 1960s. It is used to describe students who make the decision to travel, to volunteer or to go on working holidays, sometimes abroad. This usually takes place after they finish school, varsity or other academic institutions. This is usually done in the pursuit of expanding your horizons and gaining life experience. Some hope to find a sense of purpose in this increasingly competitive world. BSc (Hons) student Gehart Kalmeier wishes to break away from a habitual lifestyle. “I just want to get away from all this for a while.”

International employers have recognised these needs and often employ foreign students.

An internet search for jobs abroad shows results which include various employment agencies which specifically cater for “young, vibrant people” who wish to work abroad. You may have heard about opportunities such as working as a summer camp leader in the United States, an au pair in the UK or doing voluntary work on a farm in Israel. Second-year psychology student Nelis Uys worked in the US on a one-year contract as a travelling carnival playground operator. “The pay was very good in comparison to South Africa. The social scene was very nice … groceries were cheap.” However, when asked about working hours, he says, “It was very confusing because one week you would work 12-hour [shifts] and more, or less, the next week.”

But simple jobs geared towards students aren’t the only options out there. There are various countries that need English translators and teachers. People with technical skills are also a highly appreciated human resource. Gareth Joubert, a former BSc Zoology student, worked as a salesperson for third-party safety inspections in Saudi Arabia. “The pay was much better than in South Africa. About double what I would’ve been earning here for the same position,” says Joubert. Additionally, the living costs were very cheap. “I used to buy petrol with my change,” he remarks.

In Saudi Arabia there are also no taxes to be paid. “That’s the one thing I think they got right.” There were, of course, also negatives. He says that Saudi Arabia is “a country with very strict rules” and adds that there were no opportunities for career growth. When asked if he would return to Saudi Arabia to work there again, he simply replies, “No, the lack of a social life and the rules you have to obey aren’t worth the extra money for me personally. I don’t see the point of making lots of money and being miserable while I do it.”

According to, the cost of applying for a tourist passport is roughly R450, provided you already have a valid South African ID. The cost includes ID photos and a collection of other required documents. It takes about ten weeks to process the application. A South African tourist passport is valid for ten years. The next step is to apply for a visa. This can be done through a travel agency or in person at the nearest embassy of the country you wish to visit. Various requirements need to be met before a visa is issued. These requirements differ between countries and some include stating why you are visiting, divulging personal information such as medical records and getting vaccinations against foreign diseases.

“I love South Africa. It’s my home and I’d rather live here than anywhere else in the world, despite the problems we may have here,” Joubert says. Uys, on the other hand, feels entirely different. “Unfortunately, there’s not really work in South Africa because of the country going backwards.”

Whether your short- to mid-term plans include going out there to see the world and learn new things is up to you. On the other hand, whether you are willing to sacrifice a great deal of time with your friends and family, a nice braai on a sunny day or the unmistakeable beauty of South African nature in exchange for new discoveries – well, that part might be a good reason to think about it once more.


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