Like many students, Louis took a gap year before finishing his studies.
Last year, he decided to request a gap year to focus on a personal goal that was close to his heart. He discusses his experience, which was rewarding in every respect.
Can you tell us a little about your educational background Your role in your class
After two years of a preparatory course for the Grandes Ecoles, I enrolled at Arts et Métiers on the Aix-en-Provence campus, where I spent two years. Along with my coursework, I was the president of a photography club and a member of the Cercle des Elèves.
I then decided to request a gap year to focus on a personal goal: taking part in a humanitarian mission abroad.
I’m now pursuing a dual degree with IAE Aix-Marseille for a master’s in business management, which will allow me to further develop my leadership and project management skills.
Why did you take a gap year?
During my first two years as a student on campus, I discovered a wide range of academic disciplines and a sense of fellowship among the Gadz’Arts community. But, at the end of the two years, I still wasn’t sure what to specialise in my third year, between the extensive range of expertise available and my personal desire to experience the wider world.
So I asked to take a gap year. My plan was to do an internship, followed by an international humanitarian mission. All that was left for me to do was find a mission and an organisation to go through, since I had already found my internship.
How did you organise your gap year?
First, I did a three-month internship at Assystem to learn about the engineering profession in the hope that it would help me choose my specialisation. I was able to apply what I’d learned in my Arts et Métiers courses, to work on real industry problems. It helped me realise that project management is a better fit for me than working at a design office.
Then, I sought to put my energy into a different kind of endeavour. Service is one of the values of the scout movement, of which I am a member. I decided to take part in a six-month humanitarian mission abroad.
I was really excited about the idea of having the time to fully explore, understand and get used to a culture that was completely foreign to me.
It was a bit hard to find an NGO that wasn’t “voluntourism”, meaning volunteering in which the volunteers don’t have any real missions, and are only there to provide money. That kind of trip is very expensive for six months.
Luckily, I found a reliable NGO “Pour un Sourire d’Enfant" ( www.pse.ong) in Cambodia. For over 25 years, PSE has been committed to helping Cambodians escape destitution and obtain decent, skilled, adequately paid jobs by covering all of their needs and schooling from early childhood to vocational training. Their motto is “from destitution...to a vocation.” Over 6,500 children have benefited from these programmes this year!
Tell us about your experience
I worked at the Vocational Training Institution (PSE-I) at the School of Business as an assistant to the director.
I had a wide range of tasks including organising conferences with international speakers, helping the faculty for company visits, correcting students’ CVs, implementing mentoring programmes, planning practice interviews to help students practice.
But my contribution as a volunteer didn’t stop there! I also took part in other activities such as looking after babies at the PMI (maternal and child welfare centre), teaching evening courses for students, taking part in scouts activities at the weekend. Overall, I was quite busy during the 6 months I spent there.
What are your takeaways from this experience?
It was an amazing experience!
It was a huge challenge for me to go so far away, for such a long time, and arrive in a new country where I didn’t know anyone – with a language I didn’t speak and such a different culture.
But I was warmly welcomed and settled in quickly. I also had the opportunity to see quite a bit of the country, which was very rewarding, and I had the chance to learn the basics of the local language, Khmer. So, it was much easier to talk to people, and most importantly, I was no longer simply a “tourist”, but someone who wanted to discover the local culture.
The most rewarding and interesting part was meeting the students – they all come from difficult backgrounds, but do their best to work, since they know it’s the only way to escape poverty.
I developed real friendships with both the students and staff. The goodbyes were really sad. Now, all I want to do is to go back and see the students again, and see how they’ve progressed.
Would you do it again?
I can only encourage students who want to embark on a humanitarian mission! They won’t regret it. But, you need to thoroughly research the organisation beforehand.
I think it’s helpful for students who are undecided about their specialisation and career path to take a gap year. It gives them the time and opportunity to do a longer internship.
Now, if I get the chance, I’d like to go to Cambodia again, either as a VIE (international volunteer intern) or a VSI (international solidarity volunteer).
Students are increasingly opting to take a break from their studies to focus on professional or personal goals, whether going abroad, volunteering, doing an internship or working. Arts et Métiers offers Grande Ecole Programme students this “gap year” option and grants permission to students who request it, based on their specific goal. A gap year is not a sabbatical leave.
For more information, contact the PGE Registrar’s office for the PGE. Due to the regulatory status, apprentices are not authorised to take a gap year.