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The Sunshine State: A Reflection

Rachel Saunders snorkling in Australia
  • Senior School

When our pupils reach S6, they are invited to apply to spend a year as a Gap Year Assistant at our partner school, St Andrew's Anglican College on the Sunshine Coast. This initiative is part of a long standing agreement between Watson’s and St Andrew’s and offers pupils the chance to experience life in a different environment, culture and climate. The successful candidate leaves shortly after the summer term finishes in order to make it overseas in time for the start of the new term in Australia. 

As the 2021/2022 academic session came to a close last year, former pupil, Rachel Saunders jetted off on her year abroad. Due to Australia taking longer to reduce COVID restrictions, Rachel’s time was reduced to 6 months but within that period, she has relished every opportunity she was given in ‘The Sunshine State’. Now that she is back on UK soil, Rachel has reflected on her time at St Andrew's Anglican College, drawing on what she learnt as a Gap Year Assistant and how the experience has shaped her as she approaches University life:

“I was always set on taking a gap year. Going to University aged 17 didn't appeal to me for multiple reasons but mainly due to the fact that I might miss out on the nightlife or joining certain societies.

When the chance to go to Australia came up I questioned whether it could fit into my lifestyle. My parents encouraged me to at least apply for the opportunity and see if I might be selected. I have never been more grateful for their support in my life.

After multiple zoom calls to St Andrew’s Anglican College in Australia, I knew it was the right decision and arrived on 11 January 2023 to begin my 6 months at the school. Usually, the experience would be a 1 year program from late July to the following June however due to COVID restrictions, we were not able to go until January. I went with two girls from Mary Erskine’s, both of whom I had never met before but the connection was instant and it was not long until I considered them among my best friends.

We arrived at a fully furnished house provided by St Andrew’s.The school paid for all our groceries and offered an eating out allowance per week, on top of a small personal salary.

My day to day job consisted of helping out in PE classes, both within the junior and senior schools. I also assisted in food services, working across the small cafes and tuck shops located on campus. Due to my responsibilities in the PE department, I was assigned the role of ‘PE Gappie’ and spent the majority of my time there. My fellow ‘Gappies’ worked in other parts of the school, for example, the primary school, music or drama departments. 

St Andrew’s compiles your timetable based around your key interests and it is a very flexible program. After school you may have your own sports team to lead such as netball or hockey. Excitingly, the school is currently building hockey pitches that are due to open soon so they are always looking for helpers in that department! If you are not teaching your own team, you may opt to participate in a nearby team or train in their top performing swimming squads at their impressive Olympic size pool located at the start of their campus.

On the weekends and after school it is your own time to explore. We often took small trips away to the major cities such as Brisbane and Sydney, booking hotels and AirBnBs in which to stay. We also explored the more local sights around the stunning Sunshine Coast which has many walks, beaches and shopping centres.

In the holidays, I was fortunate enough to have my family fly out where we travelled up the East Coast of Australia, hitting spots such as Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns, The Great Barrier Reef and back to Noosa.

St Andrew’s has many opportunities to go away with the pupils on school camps. I was lucky enough to go on one to Melbourne, where I got to go to an AFL game with 80,000 spectators and Teppanyaki. Most importantly, I was able to learn about the people who work within The Big Issue and help out in soup kitchens which was a truly eye opening experience.

Everyone at the school - staff and students - are so lovely and really are there to help you explore more about life in Australia. There are a lot of fellow British staff members too, if you are ever missing home.

St Andrew’s also provides you with a lot of pastoral care, including a ‘Gap Mum’ and ‘Gap Dad’ who meet you at the airport and help with the house. Our ‘Gap Parents’, Tim and Susie, were there for us constantly, whether we needed a hug or a doctor's appointment!

One of the biggest sports in Australia is netball. The local women’s team is the Sunshine Coast Lightning’s and they often play big games nearby. Whether or not you are into netball, they are very interesting to watch and it is quite a spectacle.

I don't think I could recommend an opportunity more than I could recommend the Australian Gap Program. I am so grateful and thankful that Watson’s allowed me to go to such a wonderful part of the world and meet people I will look up to for the rest of my life.”

For more information on our partnership with St Andrew's Anglican College, please get in touch with our Enrichment Support Coordinator, Miss Everett.

  • Partnerships
Rachel Saunders and colleagues at St Andrew's Anglican College. Tim was Rachel's 'Gap Dad'.

Rachel Saunders and colleagues at St Andrew's Anglican College. Tim was Rachel's 'Gap Dad'.