Release: 50 years later, a new call to service

50 years after President Kennedy launched the Peace Corps, Global Citizen Year has issued a bold new call to serve to the pre-college set, committing to send 1,000 high school graduates abroad to prepare them for effective leadership in a globalized world.

San Francisco, CA, October 11, 2010 – Fifty years ago this week, President Kennedy made a now famous challenge to the students of the University of Michigan that led to the founding of the Peace Corps.  Today, Global Citizen Year, a San Francisco based non-profit, is expanding upon Kennedy’s vision by calling for a new generation of Americans to engage in service abroad – before pursuing their college degree.

GCY founder, Abigail Falik, is a Harvard Business School graduate who has spent the last decade refining a blueprint for a movement to engage American high school graduates in a global “bridge year” before college. “I remember graduating from high school, hungry for an experience far from the traditional classroom, and calling the Peace Corps to see how I could serve.  When they told me I needed either a college degree or significant work experience, I was struck by the irony that at 18 my only option for serving overseas would have been through the military. Ever since, I’ve been trying to answer the question of how our country can create opportunities for many more – and more diverse – young Americans to live and work in the developing world, before college.”

At a time when 9% of Americans speak a second language and only 22% have passports, American citizens are lacking in international exposure and understanding. Simultaneously, with over 30% of American college freshman not returning for a second year and students taking an average of six years to complete degrees at four year institutions, there is growing evidence that those who take a structured “bridge year” like GCY before college arrive more motivated and better prepared to persist and complete college.  A recent study published in Education Week suggests that these students have significantly higher motivation in college in the form of “planning, task management, and persistence than did students who did not take a gap year.” (Source: Research suggests a ‘gap year’ motivates students. Education Week. September 15, 2010).

GCY began with a pilot in the fall of 2009, and in one year has tripled the size of its second class of fellows.  This year’s cohort hails from 13 states and represents a cross-section of our nations’ diversity. Over 82% percent are receiving some level of financial aid to participate with one third receiving full scholarships. Fellows are already accomplished as community organizers, athletes and poets, and aspire to careers ranging from politics to mechanical engineering to global public health.

Alberto Servin, one of the 2011 Fellows, is preparing to embark on an entirely different kind of higher education from those in his graduating class at Branham High School in San Jose, California. Alberto has deferred his admission from Middlebury to live in rural Ecuador.  While his classmates are bracing themselves for a continuation of twelve years of classroom study, Alberto will be integrating himself with an Andean community and teaching at a local school.  As last years’ Fellows begin their freshman year at colleges across the country, 2010 Fellow Laura Keaton reflects on the power of her experience with GCY: “I knew I would develop fluency in a new language, but my Global Citizen Year brought me fluency in a new way of life.  I’ll carry my new found empathy, self-awareness, and entrepreneurial skills with me into college and beyond.”

Alberto and Laura are the just the beginning of a broader movement of young people developing a global perspective on themselves, the nation, and our world, before beginning college.  In September, at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, Global Citizen Year made a public commitment to engage 1,000 diverse American high school graduates by 2015.  Over time, GCY aims to build a pipeline of new global leaders who are prepared to address the global challenges of the 21st century.

Last week, at the GCY Send-Off in San Francisco, Harris Wofford, former US Senator and architect of the Peace Corps with President Kennedy and Sargent Shriver addressed the GCY Fellows before they embarked for country posts in Brazil, Ecuador and Senegal.  Wofford shared anecdotes from his own early experiences overseas which shaped his perspective on himself and the world, and provided the foundation for a distinguished career in public service.

In a closing statement, Wofford voiced his support for the courageous and critically important step the students were taking, and the potential of Global Citizen Year to seed a broader movement: “When the veterans of World War II went back to college, the faculties of higher education declared us the best generation of students they had ever had.  Bridge years of military service are still available, but far better for America and the world will be the maturity, curiosity, and commitment that come from a Global Citizen Year of apprenticeship and service. The time has come for this bold new idea which will prepare the next generation of Americans for leadership in a complex world.”