For those not seeking a typical college freshman year, a gap year can provide a life-changing experience.
The Global Citizen Year (GCY) program has become popular with RM students in recent years. This program allows students to gain a broader understanding of the world before they head off to college, giving them a chance to make a difference abroad and immerse themselves in a completely different culture.
“Global Citizen Year recruits and trains really fantastic high school graduates from all different backgrounds, all different races, ethnicities, socioeconomic status, different parts of the country to come together and then spend an academic year abroad as a part of the global majority,” GCY Vice President David Omenn said. This program is based in four different countries: India, Senegal, Ecuador, and Brazil—each with different apprenticeship opportunities from teaching to medical to environmental.
Students in this program go through a multi-step process which includes a summer campaign, pre-departure training, integration with a host family and a community, and finally a return and send-off to college. Each of these steps includes skill-building opportunities that allow students to grow.
“They come back with the global skills, the self-awareness, the sense of purpose to really take college by storm and understand what do I really want out of my higher education, and how does that fit into the change that I want to see in the world,” Omenn added. From gap year programs like Global Citizen Year, students can change their world perspective, which is an advantage for when they join the workforce, especially in terms of power skills like empathy and building relationships.
RM alumni Noah Montemarano and Elise Steenburgh recently set off on a gap year of their own. Steenburgh decided to participate in the Wildlife Preservation and Environmental Sustainability program in Brazil. In the program, Steenburgh has already had many adventures, such as nursing baby penguins and interacting with capuchin monkeys. “Global Citizen Year will give me so many more opportunities to grow,” Steenburgh said in a Huffington Post article. She described learning Portuguese, following her dreams, and loving new people as experiences that will stick with her forever.
Steenburgh also talked about her goals for the rest of her gap year. “In Brazil, definitely, I want to go to the beach all the time. Make Brazilian friends my age. Enjoy the culture and the atmosphere,” she said. The Global Citizen Year program also includes an independent travel period, during which Steenburgh would like to explore places like Rio de Janeiro and the Amazon rainforest.
A gap year can help many students decide what they want to do with their lives and find out what they are truly passionate about. It can also help students decide what kind of major to take through real-life experience in a field. “We haven’t had time to experience the world yet,” Steenburgh explained. “When we decide where to go to college for the next four years, we’re deciding what we’re going to do for the next 20% of our lives.”
A gap year is also a great option for students interested in travel and adventure. Many programs involve going around the world and learning about new cultures while living with a host family.
For example, Montemarano is taking part in the Teach for India program. “The year’s been incredible! I’m staying with an adorable young family in an apartment outside Pune,” Montemarano explained. So far, he has taught sixth grade math and English classes, learned Hindi, and explored the local culture, including eating incredibly spicy foods. Montemarano is also planning on starting a student-theater program there.
Although gap years can bring numerous opportunities, some students are still hesitant to take a year off because they are worried about being behind other students and paying for the program tuition. However, the Global Citizen Year program addresses these concerns.
“A lot of Global Citizen Year alumni are graduating college in less than four years and for some of them, not only is this year not putting them behind, it’s actually accelerating their time to college graduations,” Omenn said. Furthermore, many gap year programs offer financial aid to students in need. Global Citizen Year provides financial aid to over 80% of their fellows and 30% of those have received a full ride.
For students thinking about participating in Global Citizen Year, the process begins with a rolling online application. Students are then evaluated in an interview. If they are admitted, students can pick which country they would like to go to and apply for financial aid.
“I would start by encouraging anyone to get clear on what you hope to accomplish during this year,” Omenn said. It is important for students to have a plan as they leave high school, no matter what path they choose to take. A gap year can give students more time to consider their options while taking part in a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Montemarano had some words of wisdom for high school students thinking about taking a gap year. “Try to do what scares you most. That’s the only way you can intentionally mature as a human being,” Montemarano said. “Work hard. Do what you love. And everything else should fall into place.”
Featured photo courtesy of Elise Steenburgh