These questions were developed out of the understanding that having the full 54 pages of AGA Standards in front of most people would be utterly useless. See them here to understand their complexity: www.americangap.org/2013_AGA_Standards.pdf. So, we created these 20 Questions as a way to help the individual navigate their own program. These may be for the more intrepid and independent traveler – someone who’s already done their fair share of traveling: a veteran sojourner. Or, perhaps these might be appropriate for someone who’s truly on a budget and the scholarships and financial aid available to them through another program isn’t sufficient. Obviously, the full 54 pages of Standards make great sense for an AGA organization to run through – ensuring the best quality and safety in an organized program. But not every student will want to do one of our accredited programs. http://www.americangap.org/assets/20_Questions.pdf
Q11: What Is The Local Transportation Like?
Having a basic understanding about the local transportation in the area where you’ll be living is a very important way to help prepare you for a successful journey. It happens quite often that students (you) who are traveling to a new site for your Gap Year may have never actually even taken the local transportation of your own hometown. So, whether that’s converted minivans called Matatus in Tanzania (that hold up to 35 people at a time and function as their buses), or if it’s the highly organized subway system of London, or even the public transit system here in Portland Oregon or in Boston, all of these carry different levels of challenge and risk, and each of them will be new! As always: AUTOMOBILE TRANSPORTATION IS THE HIGHEST RISK.
Now, I’m a big believer that most students can accomplish things far beyond what they think they’re capable of. Granted having signs in English or being able to ask someone in your native tongue what to do for routing is a much easier way to use a public transit system, but it’s important to recognize that most strangers in my experience are kinder than we think. Very often we are taught to fear strangers, in fact that’s a very common rule to tell a kid: “don’t talk to strangers” that somehow ends up as a guiding cultural norm. And granted there’s no absolute to this – as a single blond woman traveling to parts of East Africa I might phrase this differently – but in general strangers tend to be quite kind and part of what my Gap Year did for me was reinvigorate my faith in humanity by the ability to count on and trust in more strangers than I would’ve previously thought possible.
The other reason why transportation is so important to know, is that you’ll be using a lot of it. Whether it’s bikes, buses, public taxis, or the tube, you should get short orientation for them before having to rely on them daily. Whether this means a full course, or the courage and knowhow of asking strangers. Especially so on the airport arrival date. It’s often true that the times when you’re in transition are the times when you’re most exposed. So, if you’re going to be exposed it’s far better to know how to navigate through these heightened areas of exposure, as well as to learn what situations you can rely on which strangers in?
I remember quite distinctly taking my first Matatu in Tanzania. I had no clue what the right amount to pay was because there’s no posted fares, and it’s not like I would’ve been able to read them anyway. So I did what I encourage you to do… Ask the person next to you how much you should pay. They have no vested interest in scamming you, and certainly the guy who’s taking your money does have an interest in scamming you. As well, observe! Look at what other people are paying. Did they get on the bus at the same time as you did? Are they getting off at the same time? Finally, having change in the right denomination makes a big difference especially when you’re working in foreign currencies. In London they have the fantastic oyster card that will cover you as a prepaid and reloadable card. And Tanzania if you show up with the wrong denomination, they’ll either kindly chuckle at you, (which is certainly a wonderful and human experience), or you’ll give them a rather large bill and the ‘cashier’ will say, “we can’t break it here’s a pittance of change”, or you’ll end up overpaying because they’ll recognize that a high denomination is code for “I’m a foreigner and I don’t know what I’m doing.”
As a guest in a foreign country especially, I’ve always found such interactions to be humbling as long as I’m not taking myself too seriously. However, from a parents’ perspective, I’ve also had my fair share of stories of taking the wrong kind of taxi or hearing the horror stories of a bus accident that happened because the driver and vehicle were unlicensed and poorly regulated. So take the time to see what advice your organization has regarding transportation – hopefully they can give you a few pointers that will keep a crazy new experience as one that you emerge from with a smile on your face. Again, transportation (transition) is when you’re most going to be in danger, so do your best to prepare yourself so that the “I can’t believe that just happened” photo is a fun one!