Education and careers: hands up for positive moves

An overseas placement can provide invaluable knowledge and life experience for school leavers, higher education students, and those already in employment, while making a CV highly attractive to employers.
Image: Project TrustImage: Project Trust
Image: Project Trust

About 250 young people aged between 17 and 25 carry out sustainable volunteering projects at communities across the world each year, thanks to Isle of Coll-based Project Trust.

Its mission is to empower young people to develop skills, confidence, awareness, and leadership skills through a long-term and ethical volunteering experience at67 global locations.

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Since 1967, the organisation has supported individuals to fundraise, train, and carry out structured overseas experiences in order to develop their knowledge and add value to their CV.

Volunteers immerse themselves in communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America for eight months to a year, usually teaching English, primary education or STEM subjects.

Unlike some other international experiences, a Project Trust placement is “a year without gaps”, says Jil McMeekin, the organisation’s HR and policy director.

“We are very much about providing a structured and supported gap year, so the benefits are very clear,” she explains.

“We change young people’s lives. We provide the means for them to develop skills for life while making an absolute positive contribution to a community abroad.

“They are adding value to communities while challenging themselves in a structured way, developing and learning new skills, learning about the world, becoming a global citizen, and being a positive force in that community.”

Individuals apply for a placement and are selected for a project depending on their interests and skills, with departures typically taking place in late August/September or January.

Fundraising support staff are on hand to offer tips and advice throughout the process, a task which is as beneficial to a young person as the international experience, according to McKeekin.

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“In Scotland, fundraising may be done through hosting a ceilidh, so the individual will need to book a venue, look into licensing laws, get friends and family roped into to help run the events, book a band, advertise and market,” she says. “They won’t all be doing big events such as that, but that really is appealing from an employer’s perspective.”

But it is not just school leavers who can benefit from an overseas experience.

Final-year medical students undertaking their junior elective, as well as those who are qualified and even retired, can support the delivery of medical services and education for programmes in Tanzania and Peru through Leith-based Vine Trust.

Volunteers can choose to work aboard the MV Jubilee Hope ship on Lake Victoria, Tanzania, or on the organisation’s flagship vessel, Amazon Hope, which launched in Peru in 2001.

Expeditions last from 14 to 20 days with the option of adding on activities at local health facilities or a Peru-based language placement.

More than 20 expeditions are planned for this year and will see students with medical, dental, nursing, and other health-related training work alongside healthcare workers in remote communities to offer support and develop their own skills.

For those at university, many courses offer the chance to study overseas as part of a placement of exchange programme.

At the University of Aberdeen, work placements or research projects abroad allow students to carry out roles such as teaching English within modern languages degrees, or carry out medical sciences degrees with industrial partners.

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Louisa Stratton, manager of the university’s Go Abroad team, says Europe is the most popular location, but students also visit Canada, the US, Australia, and China.

She currently has an art history student on exchange at a partner university in Italy, a neuroscience student on industrial placement at a research institute in Switzerland, and a politics student on exchange at a partner university in Japan.

Students return from their period abroad having developed a whole range of skills that can really enhance their future employability.

“We really see a major transformational impact on students’ confidence, on their problem-solving abilities, on their time management, and other organisational skills. [This] gives these students a lot to talk about in a job application or interview.”

Stratton emphasises that Universities UK studies demonstrate that students who have gone abroad as part of their degree tend to perform better academically.

She adds: “While these professional and academic advantages are important, our students also highlight the personal benefits that have really been enhanced by their time abroad –those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, such as reindeer racing in northern Norway, or snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef.

“Students come back to Aberdeen with amazing stories and friends from all over the world.”

Such experiences also create life-long bonds, says McKeekin: “It is really quite special when you hear about a group of people who are now middle aged and having a reunion, after maybe fundraising for Project Trust or their host communities some 30 years ago.”

To find out more about each of the organisations, go online and visit their websites at,,

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