Travelling alone was a challenge - but got me a job back at home!
Wendy Mawson, 22 is an occupational therapist from Leeds. Last winter, she took a three-month career break in Brazil.
“When I finished university last year, my friends were applying for jobs and I was booking up flights to Brazil. I’d qualified as an occupational therapist but really wanted to go travelling before I started working full-time. I knew people who had taken gap years and their stories sounded really exciting.
‘I went to see famous sights and threw myself into the Brazilian lifestyle’
Yes, at the same time, I didn’t want to fall behind in my career ambitions. I found out about Projects Abroad, who offer volunteering placements in rehabilitation centres, on the internet and thought they sounded perfect. I could spend three months in South America while getting some overseas experience in occupational therapy.
I was really worried about travelling on my own and so was my mum. She kept asking me if I was sure I wanted to go, and convinced me to only sign up for three months in case I didn’t like it. But we were both reassured when I was told I’d be met at the airport and given accommodation in a safe place.
It was amazing working in the centre in Rio. I looked after adults who’d suffered strokes and spinal injuries, and helped children with Downs Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy. You learn that you don’t need expensive materials and equipment to improve their lives – they can spend hours playing with bits of old newspaper.
I went to see famous sights, like the statue of Christ in Rio and the amazing Iguazu Falls, and I threw myself into the Brazilian lifestyle to try and make more friends.
The whole trip cost me over three grand, but it was worth it. I’m starting my new job as an occupational therapist this year and in my interview they asked me what I had that was special compared to other applications. The answer was easy – I’d worked in Brazil!”