Winter Work and Travel. Part 1: Taking the plunge

Work and Travel

Want to know what it’s like to work and travel on an exchange program in Colorado? Read more and find out about James’ story working in the USA.

Over the summer of 2013, I went on an exchange program where I worked in Colorado for 3 months. The trip was incredible and I loved every moment of it. There’s a lot I have to tell about my experiences on the trip and so much information for me to convey to other students who want to do similar work and travel programs across the world.

Throughout my varsity career I had always wanted to go on an exchange program but I never really worked out exactly when to do it. As a student, you only really have your two big holidays to plan something like this: 6 weeks over June/July and 2 – 3 months at year-end. Let’s be serious, life gets in the way and suddenly your parents book a Mozambique trip over the December holidays which really throws a spanner in the works for planning an exchange trip that year. There are also a few other things you need to consider when planning this exchange:

  • You need to be a full-time student that is still studying in SA the following year. This is because when the Embassy grants you a VISA, they know you are returning to SA in order to complete your studies. If you are taking a gap year straight out of school, that is also acceptable just as long as you defer your studies to the following year and can show the embassy that you are returning to study. There may be some exceptions, so don’t hold me to this!
  • I don’t know about you, but I certainly didn’t want to miss my graduation, which is in December each year,– Masters was an option at the time – so you need to consider that carefully. I know a few of my friends didn’t really care and they missed it because they were hoping to graduate the following year.
  • Supplementary exams are a real thing and in UCT’s case they were written in January. I know by the time you actually know you have a supp, it’s too late because you will already be on your trip, but I’m just saying it’s a risk you need to consider. I certainly would hate to cut my trip short, pay money to move my flight and go home to study towards a supp exam! Subsequently I am happy to say that I got no supps.

Owing to the new 2019 NSC Supplementary Exam process the supp exams are to be written in May and June 2019.

So when 3rd year came around I realised that the end of this year was my last opportunity to plan this exchange program. Before I knew it much of the had year passed and I got caught up in life, as one does, and August came around very quickly. By this stage I was no further along the thought process of whether I was actually doing this or not. The mid-semester holidays came around in September and I went home to visit the family. At this point I realised that this was the final straw and I had to make a decision. My friend, who I had planned on doing the trip with, came over to my house and I gave him an ultimatum. I said “are we 100% committed to this or not, I need an answer right now?” You can guess the answer!

Over the next two weeks my friend and I started planning everything. We had been referred to a company which is a South Africa based agency that assists you through the entire process from sourcing accommodation, job placements to insurance etc. The program that we were doing was called the Winter Work & Travel Program. The main costs associated with this program are as follows (2015 figures)*:

  • Application Deposit – R950
  • Program Fees – $720
  • Job Placement – $510
  • Return Flight – R10 000 – R14 000
  • VISA Cost – $160

*My costs were slighty different as it was the year before. See Part 3 for my full cost breakdown.

Now there were a few questions that came up while doing this process that I would like to address.

No, you cannot. In order for your VISA to be granted, you need to be backed by a credited South African agency. So, unless you have a green card or American citizenship, you have to do it through an agency.

Yes, this is an option, but it is quite difficult. In order for your VISA to be granted you have to have proof of a job offer while you are on the trip. If you have a fantastic contact that can offer you a job while you’re over there, then this is an option for you. However my advice: I would just pay the fee and let the agency source one for you. The job placement is also sometimes tied to your accommodation, so if you forgo the job placement fee, you may have to source your own accommodation as well.

Yes, you require insurance for the duration of your job. While you travel you don’t require it but there is an option to extend it while you travel ($30 a day).

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