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Perfect time to take a break

Published on Thursday, 28 Oct 2010
Kannie Kan goes skiing during her year of travel and volunteering in New Zealand. She quit her job in Hong Kong to join the Working Holiday Scheme.

Feeling frustrated about your career? Volunteering abroad may just be what you need to put life into perspective again.

Taking career breaks - which can last for weeks, months or even years - is increasingly common among members of Generation Y, born in the 1980s, who have become disillusioned with nine-to-five jobs.

Several organisations in Hong Kong offer "volunteer travel" programmes. They include the government-backed Working Holiday Scheme, which encourages Hongkongers aged between 18 and 30 to take up short-term employment while holidaying overseas, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as VolTra and Raleigh Hong Kong, which is part of a global network.

According to volunteers of VolTra, which was founded last year, the number of people placed, or who completed projects through the organisation, has nearly doubled from 68 last year to 118 this year. The group teams up with international work camp organisations, arranging projects for participants to live and work with locals and volunteer in areas such as environmental conservation, cultural heritage and social justice. 

"I don't think it is a must for us to reach a managerial position, get married and have children," says Kannie Kan, a volunteer with VolTra, who quit her job as a website content manager to join the Working Holiday Scheme.

Kan spent a year in New Zealand where she performed manual jobs on a tangerine farm, at a hash brown manufacturer and a factory making carrot-based products, while travelling around the country.

Returning in July, Kan says the experience gave her the opportunity to learn to appreciate life.

She is now working as an assistant supervisor for an NGO helping the disabled. "I want a job where I can convey positive messages," she says.

Lucy Jiang, 24, and Alvin Chan, 25, also opted for a career hiatus and volunteered abroad. Jiang, a former consultant trainee at a semi-governmental organisation, and Chan, who used to work in an electronics company, left their jobs and spent more than two months volunteering for projects co-ordinated by Raleigh.

Chan recalls the three weeks during which he hiked across a remote jungle in Costa Rica. "Tackling the physically and mentally demanding challenge gave me the confidence to master any problem in the future," he says.

Jiang, who helped build a school in a village in India, says she was inspired by the positive attitude of the charity workers.

"I realised that work would be a torture if you don't enjoy your job," says Jiang, who is considering moving into international charity work full-time.

Maggie Lo, a volunteer with Raleigh, says young people taking a break to travel, while committing to meaningful projects, are preparing themselves for future challenges. These experiences would look good on their resume too, she adds.

"[It shows that you] are willing to accept challenges and embrace changes," Lo says. "These are qualities that employers treasure."

 Holidays with a heart

  • Raleigh Hong Kong ( runs four-to-10-week projects on the mainland and overseas for about 20 people a year. Expeditions consist of community work, conservation and an adventure project.
  • VolTra ( offers projects in more than 100 countries, with a choice of destination and projects based on interests and skills, such as nursing sea turtles in India or repairing temples in Korea.
  • The Working Holiday Scheme is for Hongkongers aged between 18 and 30 to travel and work in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Germany, Japan or Canada. Inquiries:

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