Global Citizen Year
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Global Citizen Year is an Oakland-based non-profit that recruits and trains a diverse corps of American high school seniors to participate in an immersion-based international bridge year – often called a gap year – before starting college. The organization is founded on the idea that America’s next generation of leaders will require global citizenship to effectively address the problems of the 21st century.
Global Citizen Year was founded after Abigail Falik won first place in the 2008 Harvard Business School Pitch for Change with her blueprint for the idea. After graduating from high school, Falik had looked for an opportunity for global service before college but found that the Peace Corps would not accept 18-year-olds, and that few similar programs existed for that age group. Abigail has since dedicated her professional life to creating new opportunities for young Americans to learn about the world. Falik received a B.A. and M.Ed. from Stanford University, and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.
The inaugural class of Global Citizen Year Fellows was chosen in 2009. Initially, Fellows traveled to Guatemala and Senegal, but in 2010 the program expanded placements to Senegal, Brazil, and Ecuador.
Global Citizen Year currently operates programs in Brazil, Senegal, Ecuador, and India and is expanding to other countries in the coming years. The program begins during the summer after Fellows graduate from high school with a summer organizing and fundraising campaign where Fellows raise funds to support scholarships and learn to use social media to engage their community. Global Citizen Year Fellows travel to San Francisco in the fall for extensive pre-departure training in language, global issues, international development, and social entrepreneurship. After the training in California, the Fellows travel to their respective countries and stay in the capital city for a in-country training block. They are then supported by team leaders and fellow Fellows during an eight-month homestay and apprenticeship with a community-based organization in their host country. Fellows complete apprenticeships in a variety of fields and projects including public health, agriculture, social enterprise, and girls’ and women’s empowerment. The time spent in the country is divided into blocks which are separated by training seminars. These seminars last around four days and are a time for Fellows to share stories, talk about common social issues and reflect on their experience.  During the program, Fellows are required to blog about their experience whether through posts or videos. Upon return, Fellows complete a re-entry training before transitioning back home and sharing their experiences through a final capstone project.
For her work in launching Global Citizen Year in 2009, Abigail Falik was awarded a Draper Richards Fellowship for entrepreneurs who are using innovative solutions to create scalable social change. She is a recipient of the Mind Trust Fellowship for education entrepreneurs who are developing system-changing strategies to tackle education’s greatest challenges, as well as a Harvard Business School Social Entrepreneurship Fellow.
Bridge years in the United States
In the United States, the practice of taking a “bridge year” remains a relatively uncommon practice, but in recent years the idea has begun to gain traction. Students often report academic burnout, the desire to learn about the world before college, or a desire to better understand themselves as motivations for participating. Some Universities such as Princeton University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Reed College have instituted formal policies allowing students to defer admission for the purpose of taking a gap year. Thirty "bridge fairs" promoting a variety of programs are hosted around the country – up from just a handful when the fairs began in the late 2000s. The practice has historically been more common among students with some level of personal or family funding, but an increasing number of organizations now offer scholarship funds to make bridge years more accessible to students of all economic backgrounds.
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