Gap year offers new experiences for teens

Entertainer James Belcher could probably get away with putting up his feet for a well-earned break after he jam-packed 2012 with a string of successes.

The 18-year-old was regularly travelling to Sydney to film scenes as an extra on the Australian television drama Dance Academy. He was winning dance championships and scholarships at various eisteddfods around NSW and the ACT.

The Athletics Wollongong star athlete bagged a double gold at the NSW All School Championships in hammer and pole vault. He also picked up double gold, for the same events, at the NSW Athletics Junior Championships.

He came sixth in the under-20 men’s decathlon at the Australian Combined Events Championships and scored a gold medal in the All Schools Decathlon Championships in the under-20 men’s division.

All of this, and more, led to Belcher being named 2012 Sportsperson of the Year at The Illawarra Grammar School.

And somewhere, in the midst of all this activity, the former TIGS student found time to successfully complete the Higher School Certificate, making it onto the region’s distinguished achievers’ list for students who achieved in the top band for a subject.

Belcher scored 95 out of 100 for HSC Dance.

So you can see the suggestion of a rest is plausible. But there was no such thing over the 2012-13 holiday period with Belcher firing on all cylinders.

He  flew to Los Angeles in December to audition for an entertainer’s job with the Disney Cruise Line. Then earlier this month he went to Victoria as part of a scholarship prize from Wollongong Eisteddfod to attend dance classes at Dance World Studios Melbourne. He will even appear on stage as an extra with the world-renowned Paris Opera Ballet during its Sydney season of Giselle, which starts this week.

Belcher, who is in the process of gaining qualifications to become a personal trainer, also became a state champion in the  under-20 men’s decathlon at the Athletics NSW 2013 Championships this month.

‘‘There is no rest for the wicked,’’ jokes Belcher, who is deferring starting a double degree of sports studies and communication at Charles Sturt University this year. Eventually hoping to become a sports journalist, Belcher is taking a 12-month gap year to pursue international entertainment work.

In the second week of January, just before he was due to fly to Melbourne, everything crystallised for Belcher. He secured a job as an entertainer at a holiday resort in Fethiye, a well-known tourist area in Turkey.

He  will fly out on February 5  to Turkey to start a two-month session of basic training and learning the choreography for his role. From April, he will present live shows during the evening and also work at the resort during the day running activities for guests.

It’s a dream job for the outgoing teen, who was born to entertain.

‘‘It’s really important to entertain people and make them happy,’’ says Belcher, who has also been singing since the age of six.

‘‘I love the reactions from people when they have been thoroughly entertained. For me, the smiles from the audience, the laughter, a round of applause at the end, is really fulfilling. If I can make one person say: ‘I really enjoyed that’ at the end of a performance,  I know I’ve done my job.’’

Belcher studied ballet, jazz, modern and contemporary styles of dancing for nine years at the Joanne Grace School of Dance. He learnt ballroom dancing at Dance World Wollongong and tap dancing at the Vanessa Lee Dance Academy.

He has already experienced short dancing stints in Hong Kong in 2008 and New York in 2011 when groups of students from the Joanne Grace School of Dance participated in the Dance Around The World program. And this whetted his appetite for more international exposure.

‘‘It’s a great life in Australia but at the same time I am curious about what else is out there. I want to immerse myself in something new over several months rather than in a short two to three-week period.’’

The gap year is also about Belcher finding his feet in the world. He is very close to parents Trish and Brett, both school teachers and high-level gymnastics coaches, having spent most of his out-of-school time with them either on the track and field or at eisteddfods.

‘‘It will be interesting this year to see what it’s like without Mum and Dad around the whole time,’’ he says from his Woonona home. ‘‘They have been very supportive to me over the years and now it’s time to see how I will go on my own.’’

Belcher believes his sport and dancing have naturally complemented each other.

‘‘I have always linked my ability to do well at all my sports back to dancing,’’ he says.

‘‘Dancing has given me the strength, 

co-ordination, and the balance in order to be good at those sports.

‘‘My jazz and contemporary routines have developed my muscle strength and flexibility and dancing has given me aerobic endurance.’’

Belcher is only taking one year off university and plans to start tertiary studies in 2014.

‘‘I don’t intend to make a career as a dancer in a professional company because, as I’ve realised through athletics, your body can be so unreliable and it will only function for you at full peak for so long, and then after that if you don’t have anything behind you, you have absolutely nothing to go on. I want to make sure I have a fallback or two.’’

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With a high atar score of 95.85, former Moruya High School student Felix Ziergiebel can afford to be discerning when it comes to tertiary education.

Ziergiebel, the son of Moruya doctors Jorg Ziergiebel and Anke Dutschke, is considering medicine but  is also interested in engineering and communications.

The 18-year-old hopes his 12 months away from formal studies will help give him a better understanding of which university path to take.

‘‘That’s what the gap year is all about – to try and open my eyes and give me a new perspective and perhaps give me some new ideas,’’ he says.

He is working three part-time jobs in the Moruya area to save money to pay his way to Brazil in September to undertake volunteering project work with Antipodeans Abroad.

Through Antipodeans Abroad’s GapBreak program, Ziergiebel will spend three weeks helping in conservation projects at a jaguar breeding ground near Curitiba. Then he will volunteer for nine weeks at Florianopolis, the capital city of Santa Catarina, at a local children’s centre which provides eight to 17-year-olds with additional education and activities out of school hours.

‘‘I’ve always been interested in Brazil,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s one of the world’s fastest growing major economies. It’s a huge, vast country and it seems so different to Australia, in many ways.’’

Ziergiebel, of Mossy Point, is trying to be diligent in learning Portuguese but says there are some limitations learning a new language on the internet.

Ziergiebel says his German-born parents, who migrated to Australia from the United Kingdom in 2003, had influenced his desire to travel and to give something back to the community.

‘‘With this plan, I am enjoying myself and helping other people along the way,’’ he says of the Brazil trip.

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Former St Mary Star of the Sea College, Wollongong, student Zoe Vesey has decided to defer her university studies until 2014 to enable her to participate in church and community service activities.

When Vesey, 18, returns to university she is planning to undertake a creative arts degree, specialising in theatre, with a long-term aim to be a drama teacher.

This year, for two days a week, she will attend the Youthworks College in Sydney’s south to participate in the year 13 Youthworks Gap Year program.

Vesey, a member of the Dapto Anglican Church, is following in the footsteps of  older siblings Harrison and Eliza who also did the year 13 program, which is run for school leavers who want to make a contribution to the world and their own religious upbringing.

The Horsley woman will live on campus for two days a week, beginning studies for a diploma of theology, as well as taking life-skills courses such as first aid, advanced driving and financial planning.

‘‘I see this year as a time for me to read the whole Bible and get my life started to follow God and work for him for the rest of my life,’’ she says. ‘‘I want to serve him and serve others and this will be about learning what his plans are for me and where he wants me in life.’’

The course will include a trip to disadvantaged communities in Fiji.

‘‘It will be good to get mission experience because that’s something I’d like to do more of later in life,’’ says Vesey, who had her first experience of mission work at the beginning of 2012 when she was part of a group from Dapto Anglican Church who went to Bandung, in Indonesia.

In addition, she will volunteer for two days a week at her church. Her volunteer duties will include visiting primary schools to conduct year 6 scripture lessons,  and providing youth mentoring at high schools in the students’ lunch break.

Vesey also intends to pick up a part-time job as well as doing assistant teaching at the Gra Na Rince – South Coast Academy of Irish Dancing. Vesey, a competitive Irish dancer, has been learning the dance style for the past 12 years.

‘‘It’s going to be a very busy and rewarding year for me,’’ she says of her gap year plans.

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