South East Asia is a brilliant destination to either work or volunteer on your gap year. Paid work almost exclusively comes in the form of teaching English as a foreign language – more commonly known as TEFL – and volunteering packages often involve working with animals, the environment or vulnerable people.
Almost every paid job in South East Asia comes in the form of teaching, which not only can really help boost your budget but also look fantastic on your CV. The bulk of TEFL jobs are in Thailand, but they can be found elsewhere too, particular in the rest of Indochina and Singapore.
You generally need a degree to be taken on as an English teacher and knowledge of the native language is not necessary – in fact, the less you know the better; the general rule of thumb is to communicate exclusively in English to the children as this makes learning easier. You also usually need a TEFL qualification; these are usually obtained in the UK but you can study abroad for them too.
Wages may not be high by western standards, but everything is relative; in the country you are teaching you can pretty much be guaranteed a very lucrative income by local standards.
There are abundant opportunities to volunteer in South East Asia, be it working at an elephant camp in Laos, supervising children at an orphanage in Cambodia or helping to preserve coral reefs in Indonesia.
As with any volunteering project anywhere in the world you should think very carefully about your strengths, weaknesses and natural interests before committing to anything.
If you’d like to volunteer with animals in South East Asia there are lots of projects to choose from. Thailand and Laos are the best countries for volunteering with elephants whereas further south, on the Malaysian side of Borneo, you can volunteer with orangutans and various rehabilitation centres which care for the endangered species.
Cambodia is a popular destination for gappers who want to work with neglected children, many of whom are orphans, and also with landmine victims, of which there are many.
Further south, particularly around Indonesia, there are plenty of opportunities for environmental work, particularly in the form of marine conservation.