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A Break from Work to Volunteer Abroad: A Case Study

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 11 Oct 2010 | comments*Discuss
Career Break Career Break Volunteer

Three years ago, Tracy Bromfield, now 30, had an admin job she loathed. “It didn't excite me in the slightest,” she says. “So as I had always had a love of animals but couldn't afford to go on safari, I decided to take a career break and volunteer on a conservation project. It was the best decision I ever made.”

Tracy, who's from Winchester in Hants, found a programme where volunteers work on a game reserve in South Africa, something she had always dreamt of doing. So she rented out her flat, bought herself a ticket and flew out to the African hinterland. She was gone four months.

“I spent half my time on the game reserve, and the other half volunteering with children, putting together environmental projects for them to work on,” she says. “The game reserve was part of a programme, while the other work I did independently. It was hard work but absolutely worth it.”

Looking for a Job

When Tracy returned to Winchester, however, things were not quite as she had anticipated. “I had quit my job before I left and hoped that my company would offer me something when I got back, but they had nothing in place,” she says. “So I ended up moving back in with Mum and Dad, with no job.”

The next few months were incredibly difficult, Tracy recalls. “One of the hardest things was to go back home and live with my parents. After ten years living on my own it was really hard. I was used to have my own flat, a mortgage and lots of responsibilities, and now I was back to square one.”

With her parents as a safety net, however, Tracy was free to look for a change of direction. “I found some part-time admin work, eventually was able to sell my flat, and then decided to set up my own company called Vivisto,” she says. “It helps people who go on career breaks like myself, offering them both fantastic programmes abroad as well as a full-time support system.”

Putting Her Volunteer Experience to Work

Tracy hopes that her company will help fulfill a gap where others have failed. “On my career break I met so many people in my situation and my age who had given up their jobs and had to rent out their property. They were all fearful what on earth they would do when they got home.

Nobody offered a support service for people out there who encountered problems along the way, such as the structure of the programme, if two sets of volunteers perhaps were not getting along, or if somebody found out the programme was different than what they expected.

Those sorts of things happen to a lot of people. People on game reserves are fantastic, but people in the UK simply did not have the connections I had hoped they would. Part of my work abroad, however, was a lot of investigation into companies and the types of volunteering they could do – and what they could offer people overall.”

Her company offers people full-time support when they are away, as well as help finding jobs, including writing CVs and preparing for interviews, when they return back to the UK. It also helps them “cope with post-holiday blues which we all experience when we get back,” Tracy says.

Helping Others

The hope, she says, is that people will not find themselves in the situation she was, coming back to no job, no place to live, and no idea about where to go next. But despite that, she says the experience was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream – and one she'll never regret.

“During my career break I experienced the most amazing things I had ever dealt with before," Tracy says. "It most definitely was a true life-changing moment for me.”

She recommends that anyone contemplating a break also choose to do something meaningful, not just take time off for navel-gazing or hanging out.

“The only career break I would ever suggest is one where you can get something out of it, such as learning a new skill, volunteering, helping the planet or a child, something that either enhances your skills or helps you to become a better person.

Travelling the world is great but so many people do it aimlessly. I always recommend doing something specific - where you can get something out of it at the end.”

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