Whether you’ve just finished high school, or you’re looking to take a break from your university studies, or you want to take a career hiatus, a gap year in Malawi will be perfect in helping you find the spark and passion you’re looking for! Whether you’re looking into a medical or teaching career, or just looking to spend a year not in school, Malawi has something for you.
Malawi has endless opportunities for learning and growth, and thankfully, you don’t even need to look that hard to find them! Malawi has a particularly big need for educators and volunteers interested in health, medical careers, and community development. Some of these programs can be quite costly, so don’t be afraid to ask for financial assistance or use a crowd-funding platform like GoFundMe or VolunteerForever to help you raise any funds you might need!
Professional Internships and Work-Studies: One option for your gap year is to spend it studying (even though that sounds completely opposite of a GAP year!) If you’re taking a gap year because you’re not entirely sure what you’d like to pursue in the future, then work-study programs or professional internships that touch on a variety of issues are a good way to learn what interests you. Programs offer a variety of work-study or internship placements which typically focus on health, education, and community development.
Teaching English: In our current global society, English is a language that everyone needs to learn if they want to be a global citizen, and for those living in Malawi, it’s no different. One of their two national languages is English and it’s always best to learn from a native! You have plenty of options to choose from, ranging from TEFL certification programs to assistantships to simply volunteering.
Medical Volunteering: Medical assistance is a major topic on Malawi, as it is in many sub-Saharan African countries. Malawi is specifically hard hit by HIV/AIDS, with an estimated 910,000 people living with HIV. Because of this, there’s a great need for medical volunteers to help in local clinics, hospitals, and schools (to provide health education). If you’re even thinking about pursuing a career in the medical field, medical volunteering will help set your resume and future applications apart from the rest!
Planning a gap year in Europe can seem a bit daunting, but being money savvy and open minded will help your dream become a reality. How much money you need will vary based on your travel destinations, how long you actually spend abroad, and if you are planning on working or not.
Cost of Living
Malawi isn’t too expensive to live in, which is always a relief to hear when you’re working as a volunteer! Rent in downtown cities range from $385 to $415, whereas living outside downtown areas (which is far more likely) often ranges from $65 to $150. You’ll be able to find groceries pretty cheaply as well, as milk, eggs, rice, oranges, and tomatoes all typically fall under $2.50 per item.
If you’re looking to further cut down those costs, check with your program to see if they offer a host family arrangement or use a website like WorkAway. You’ll be able to find even cheaper options of places to stay (often with the condition that you’ll do some work around the house)!
Culture and Etiquette
Malawi is very diverse when it comes to culture. With more than 10 different ethnic groups and a mix of influences from Christianity and Islam, there’s a lot of different customs to get used to! Culture Crossing has some useful information about the basics, like greetings and communication styles and Experience Malawi has even more, including a blog, Chewa language phrasebook, and maps!
Health and Safety
While there are no major risks to your health or safety, there are certainly things you want to make sure you take care of. The biggest and most common is malaria, a disease which is transmitted by mosquitoes. You’ll want to start a malaria prophylaxis (a fancy word for preventative) before you leave – and start as soon you know your departure date! Many prophylaxis require a start date two weeks before you leave to be effective. There are many different options, such as daily or weekly pills, so you can choose which will best serve your needs. You may also want to look into buying a travel mosquito net if you are unsure one will be provided for you upon arrival!
The CDC outlines other health and safety risks, a lot of which are common sense (like not sharing needles and washing your hands). They also provide information about food and water safety and finding medical help!
With all of this in your head, do your best to just relax! There will be health and safety issues wherever you travel, including in your home city. So just be smart and attentive, and you’ll have the best (as well as healthiest and safest) trip of your life!
Contributed by Rachel Pelham
Gap Year Programs in Malawi
Other Gap Year Programs in East Africa
Is it okay to take a gap year before med school?Yes! In fact, taking a gap year to work, intern, volunteer, or shadow in the medical field can boost your application and help you stand out against other Medical School applicants.
What should I do in my gap year before medical school?
There are many options including volunteering at a hospital, scribing for doctors, and finding other relevant clinical experience whether domestically or abroad.
When should I take the MCAT if I'm taking a gap year?
Take your MCAT around May of your senior year of college so that your studies are fresh in your mind and you have time to submit your scores for Medical School applications.