My Irish Gap Year experience has been exciting, surprising, and the opportunity I was looking for to reflect on my gap year. Eight other students and I were the first ones to experience this brand-new program. Despite the perceived risks of jumping into uncharted territory, our program leaders adapted along the way to meet and even exceed our needs.
The House and Bundoran: Students in Irish Gap Year live in a huge, beautiful 2-story house from the late 19th century. The house was one of my favorite parts of the trip; we might go off on road trips or camping trips, but when we'd get back it was always a cozy safe haven with plenty of space for everyone to have alone time and recharge. That being said, gap year students don't usually get a whole house to themselves for a 3-month program, and sharing a house for the first time has its challenges.
Bundoran is a very small town of just a few thousand people, and a lot of its economy is based around surf tourism. At the beginning of our trip in September, there were tons of tourists from around Ireland and abroad coming into town who we got to hang out with at band performances at the surf school and in the local pubs. In November, the temperature dropped and there were suddenly a lot fewer social opportunities in Bundoran. That's one thing to keep in mind about winter here.
Did you know that Bundoran is one of the best towns for surfing on Europe? Imagine waking up, pulling on a wetsuit, and hopping on a land rover that takes you to a pristine beach with endless, clean waves. After a couple hours of surfing, you refuel with tea and digestives at the surf school. That was me about 20 times on this trip!
Instructors: The instructors for this program were incredible. They were positive, experienced, and easy to talk to. One time, they drove us to a village in the middle of Nowhere, Ireland and searched by foot for an abandoned castle ruin because they had heard it was the family castle of one of the students in our group. They also gave us a level of freedom that we, in some cases, had never experienced before. I am so happy we got to plan our 4-day trip to Cork and our 3-day trip to Dublin. They even gave us the freedom to have two alcoholic drinks whenever we're out, something that shows their trust in their students and sets Irish Gap year apart from other programs.
Activities: From surfing, cliff diving, ocean kayaking, and "hikes" that required us to climb up a mountain on all fours, to museum-going, willow sculpting, our indoor leadership class, and chill hikes, we did the whooole spectrum of activities.
One activity that was really special to me was volunteering with Liquid Therapy, an organization that teaches autistic children how to surf. I was paired with Annabel, a nine year old who was so thrilled to go surfing that we were always the first ones into the ocean. I spent five days with Annabel pulling her into waves on her board, cheering her on when she caught them, chatting with her about life, and sometimes playing games with her like seeing how long she could stand on her board in still water. It was incredible seeing her progression and getting to make a strong connection with a new person in Ireland. At the end of Liquid Therapy, the Irish Gap Year students threw a party for the kids and their parents at our house!
I would recommend this trip to everyone. I would especially recommend this trip to anyone who knows they want a structured program, yet a program that gives its participants a good-sized dose of independence and freedom to take their trip into their own hands.