There were a number of specific things I wanted to get out of my gap year: experience of field research in a remote area, an idea of possible career paths for after university using my zoology degree, the chance to really experience a new culture, and scuba diving! I looked around a lot of organisations offering various packages in various exotic parts of the world, but I chose BV because I felt that they were a relatively small and focussed organisation with clear values which seemed to be genuinely involved and interested in making a real difference in Andavadoaka. And of course the opportunity to go to Madagascar seemed like a dream come true!
Over the three months I was in Madagascar I had such a wealth of experiences it's hard to know where to start! I really enjoyed learning how to conduct underwater transects, including all the fish species which felt almost like old friends by the time I left. More profoundly, the experience of being completely apart from 'home', of being almost completely isolated in a small community of fantastic people gave me a whole new perspective on life, and on what really matters. I learnt that it is possible to come up with new fancy dress themes every week when all you have to work with are palm leaves and sarongs, that you haven't seen a night sky until you've been to Andavadoaka, and that cheese triangles and peanut butter can be a valuable commodity!
I gained a variety of useful skills (scientific data collection, divemaster qualification, etc.) that I can build on in the future. BV demonstrates how responsible research and conservation in a variety of fields can be carried out, and proves that it is possible to make a real difference to fragile ecosystems and the people who depend on them, which is reassuring.
Try to read up on as much as possible before you go, in particular the coral reef ID guides, and try to get as involved in everything as you can! Being able to have a gap year is an amazing and privileged experience, so try to get as much out of it as possible.