Hello. My name's Miriam. I'm 20 - I'm a second year student at Nottingham University in England.
I thought you should all know about my experiences with GAP Activity Projects.
I arranged to spend my gap year in Canada with them. I originally applied for Toronto, but apparently that wasn't available, and I ended up placed in Vancouver. I had planned this for months, looked forward to it for months...everything seemed fine until I got to Vancouver.
In the first couple of weeks of starting my placement at Crofton House School, I began to realise that things were not great with this placement. I was placed in the junior school, working with kids aged 6-11. The children themselves were remarkably easy to handle - this is one of the top schools in Canada, and considering the amount these parents pay for their children to be educated there, they'd better! The teachers, on the whole, were also nice. However, my boss soon revealed herself to be a power-crazed bitch. She would pull me into weekly meetings, where she'd criticise anything from the fact I bit my fingernails to the fact I holepunched a piece of paper too low. She began to follow me around, checking up on every single little thing I did. She started calling up my homestay, having weekly conversations with them about me. In many of the meetings, she reduced me to tears. She'd then tell me that I was angry, which was why I was crying. I learnt to withhold my emotions after speaking with my 'mentor', one of the teachers there, who knew her to be this horrible person. She then would accuse me of not feeling enough. Basically, whatever I did, it wasn't right. By calling my homestay regularly, she interfered in the work/home divide that there is meant to be, and left me without any frontiers she couldn't batter down.
At home, my homestay dad was selfish and domineering, and things thus drastically went from bad to worse. The personality clash was immense. I tried my best to stay out of his way, but this wasn't always possible, and I began to feel more and more homesick. I tried speaking to GAP, and they, like every agency wanting to keep a client, did absolutely nothing. The support theoretically offered to me was non-existent. One of the girls I was working with left two months in because she was so unhappy. Vancouver is a nice town, and in the summer there's lots to do, but once that's done, there's not so much an underage girl can get up to. It is also very big, and became increasingly lonely, mainly because I wasn't interested in relationships with the male Gappers, and most of the female Gappers lived further away from us and were 'involved' with the males. My friends were Canadians I met in a variety of ways.
By Christmas, I had learnt to keep my emotions in check, tell my boss nothing, and do my work impeccably. By this time, my meetings were reduced to once every few weeks (which would have been normal) and I was told I was doing really well, that I was 'flying'. Basically, I was doing really well, no inkling that anything else had been felt. I went on my Christmas holidays unhappy with the placement, but thinking I could stick it out. After all, I'd planned this forever. I love Canada, I wanted to make it work. My parents booked flights out for near my birthday in February, costing them a helluva lot of money.
I came back to work on the 10th January, thinking everything was dandy. The first day I was back my boss called me into the office. The head of the entire school was there. I freaked out inside, trying to figure out what was going on. Without any more ado, they told me my homestay didn't want me any more. I was slightly surprised, but knew I didn't get on with the dad, so fine. What I didn't expect was for them to then tell me I was to be sent home. Because, apparently, things had never really been quite right. Right...so the fact I got on with the teachers, the children loved me, my work was in the main impeccable...counted for nothing. My boss took the opportunity to get rid of me. Clever. They then forced me (and I mean forced me) to call my parents, late at night as it was in England. Sobbing, they then refused to let me leave the staff room until school was over. They wouldn't let me talk to the other Gapper, although they told her something was wrong, but not what, leaving her thinking my Mum had been run over, or something, or to my mentor, who had slipped into the staff room during the afternoon and had seen me crying and found out what was going on anyway.
The next week and a bit was a complete nightmare. I called GAP. They were spectacularly unhelpful. Again, wanting to keep the client. Lacking in money, I had nowhere to stay but the homestay. I booked a flight for the nearest possible time, which was a week on. I booked tickets to California so I could stay with my friend, giving me somewhat of a breathing space before I had to go home. Once I had finished at the school, my boss said, my homestay had no reason to let me stay, so I should be grateful for it. She and the homestay forced me to come to work, even though she'd told me she wanted me out, and told me I was NOT allowed to tell the staff that I was leaving. She ended up doing it the day I left. I had managed to tell some of my closer friends during that week, which had been hard enough by itself - I had to take a walk around the perimeter of the school with one and duck and dive around the classrooms with another, because my boss was watching me all the time. The kids never really understood. No one told them until I had gone, and they were mainly small enough to not understand why. These were children who had given me Christmas cards and gifts, and cuddles. Teachers who had done the same, who'd lent me books and money...people I liked. My boss hated me. My homestay dad hated me.
It took me the best part of a year to get over what happened out in Canada. I am an intelligent woman. I love children, and work well with them. I am friendly, and have many friends of many ages. I was looking forward to this experience more than anything else. I will be forever scarred by what happened to me. I don't know whether I will go back to Vancouver, for a long time, which saddens me. I'm actually scared to run into them on the streets. My parents managed to get all but £300 of their money back, which maddened me the most -- we're not rich. I don't understand why they couldn't have just told me before the Christmas holidays. Then we wouldn't have wasted the money.
They say gap years change you. Mine did, but perhaps not in the way most do. I grew up. I really, truly, grew up. You have to.
My advice to you all is:
Be careful. GAP Activity Projects are not as nice as they seem. Sure, lots of people have wonderful years out, but their support network is shit, and they will keep the placement over you at all costs.
Watch out for your bosses and homestays. Pander to them. If it's not working out, be the one to get out. Seriously. Don't let them hurt you like they did me.
Enjoy the time you have. I still love Canada, but I had so many plans left unfulfilled. I will have to go back to Vancouver sometime, to sort my head out.