There is no doubt the Gap Year is a threatening cloud on many a mother’s horizon, and merely a haze for their children, who are more concerned with A-Levels than planning a fifteenth-month program of supposed self-improvement. Mrs M would have recommended an eighteenth-century Grand Tour, complete with personal tutor to accompany the young lady or gentleman on their trip through the great cities of Europe. But times have changed, so a somewhat more affordable, but equally constructive agenda must be developed.

If your child shows creative flair and an interest in the history of art, two good courses operate: John Hall and Art History Abroad (AHA). Both are based in Italy, the principle destination for most of the grand tourists so Mrs M would approve, and offer opportunities to draw, paint and learn Italian as well.

John Hall is largely based in Venice (six weeks), with two extra optional weeks in Florence and Rome. It is not so much an art history course as a course in Italian culture. Mornings consists of lectures, given by experts in their field, on art, architecture, music, and film.

In the afternoon it is largely left up to the students to explore the churches and galleries by themselves, enthused by their inspirational lecturers. Taking place between January and March, the sites are largely empty and tourist-free.

If you doubt your child’s discipline to visit the sites by him or herself, AHA may be a better choice. Led by two young guides (usually recent graduates) the days will be spent exploring art galleries and churches, with no lectures as such. It is more an extended tour than a course and is spread out across Italy, starting in Venice and travelling through Padua, Verona, Florence, Pisa, Siena and Naples to Rome.

For budding artists there are drawing and painting courses also available in Italy. The Charles Cecil school in Florence is the most prominent of these. Cecil traces his artistic lineage directly from Reynolds, and teaches a very traditional style of draughtsmanship and painting. Be warned though, the school is notorious for rather aimless girls spending year after year at the school, not learning much but having a nice time partying in Florence. Rather like most universities, Mrs M feels.

Conservation is very much a buzz-word these days. WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) is an organisation that provides a list of organic farms and vineyards across the world for volunteers to work on; they will be unpaid, but will receive free bed and board, the board aspect often being exceptionally good. Being out in the country, the youngster will have less of an opportunity to spend your money, whilst being able to show on their CV that they are abreast with current environmental issues and do not shy away from hard manual labour.

Beware of planning the fifteen months to the day before your child’s exams have even finished. As they break out of the predictability of school, they will develop new interests in things to do or places to go. They will also resent their parents acting as travel-agent figures, fitting them up with a plan in which they have had little say.

There is no doubt it will take a certain amount of research, encouragement and plain nagging from you to build up a worthy program. With effort and thought, though, after fifteen months they will be ready for university hopefully having furthered their academic learning, developed a work ethic, seen a little of the world and discovered some things in life that arouse their curiosity, perhaps even informing their career choice in three or four years time. Mrs M would be proud!

Orlando Bridgeman

John Hall Art History Abroad
Tel: 01473-251 223
Tel: 020-7731 2231

The Charles H. Cecil Studios
Tel: 0039-055 285 102



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