Gap Year Series, Part 3: Global Citizen Year

In the first two posts of this series I discussed how gap years are beneficial to students and how universities are putting programs in place to encourage them to take advantage of these opportunities. In this post I will focus on an outside organization that is aiming to make gap years universal in the US.

Global Citizen Year (GCY) does not consider itself a gap year program. Gap years have the stigma I have already discussed, so they call themselves a Bridge Year. This way, it is framed not as falling into a gap, but as crossing a bridge that will transport students from the life stage of high school to the life stage of college. GCY prides itself on preparing kids for success in college, careers, and our global economy. They see the American education system as failing to prepare students to succeed in facing global challenges—“High school graduates are entering college underprepared, families are questioning their return on investment, and colleges are facing growing concerns about relevance and retention.”

Why join GCY? Their arguments are convincing. They say being a Fellow helps develop leadership in the form of undergoing training in the US and abroad, becoming fluent in a new language and culture, and learning alongside global experts. They also market themselves as helping students uncover their passions on their own time and terms as well as finding meaningful ways to have an impact through their work. It also allows those who participate to be at the forefront of a movement that GCY sees as reimagining education and leadership in America.

They see themselves as being a step apart from other bridge year programs in several main ways: total immersion, personalized apprenticeships, a diverse cohort, intensive training, and a lifelong network. The Fellows work in community apprenticeships alongside local people where they can learn a language, form lasting relationships, and gain firsthand insight into the issues that shape their hosts’ lives. Fellows come together with staff to participate in monthly training seminars to amplify their learning and to come together as a country cohort to process their experience.

Many people question how a bridge year can more adequately prepare students for college. GCY addresses these concerns by saying that their program is uniquely designed to bridge the high school and college experience through a combination of immersive learning and world-class training in areas directly relevant to the higher education environment. They focus on three main learning spheres: entrepreneurial leadership, global skills, and college and career readiness. Their curriculum is unique, rigorous, and involves two-week departure training, ongoing training blocks, and a one-week re-entry training to tie together the year’s learning. They actually train the Fellows before they leave on Stanford’s campus, which exposes them to the college setting. They also ensure that all Fellows develop intentional learning plans for their year abroad and for their college experience after which allows them to test their interests and define their passions.

They also have a Capstone phase to their year in which Fellows must reflect, analyze, and express their learning and growth. There is a final presentation in their country about the work they’ve done and the lessons they learned over the year as an apprentice and member of the community. Once they are back home they deliver a product of presentation that encapsulates their experience to “instill the power of global citizenship in their friends, family, and home community.” They leave the way they can do this wide open, so Fellows can choose how they want to present their experience.

This all sounds too good to be true, right? Well it is unless you can come up with the money to pay for it. According to their website, all fees for GCY are determined on a sliding scale based on the Fellow’s family’s ability to pay. Over 80% of Fellows have taken advantage of their financial aid packages, including a third whom who have had their year fully funded. Aside from tuition, each Fellow is responsible for any passport and visas, vaccinations, or early withdrawals from the program, but airfare is provided by GCY. Students submit the FAFSA for aid like they would for any college and their aid is determined based on that. Fellows are admitted without looking at their financial situation and any aid awarded is determined after acceptance. If a family was getting no aid the full tuition price would be $30,950, which is roughly around the same average price of tuition and fees for a private university in the US for the 2013-2014 school year.

Fellows are also required to raise $2,500 in the summer before they leave for the fund that supplies their financial aid as well as sign on 50 blog subscribers to follow their year. The website is very vague about how students are supposed to succeed in this summer campaign besides that staff will provide them with guidance and tools to do so. This is something students need to consider before applying for this program as it will require extra time and effort on their part. They also don’t mention anything about what happens if they don’t raise the money. Do students then have to make up the difference themselves?

Despite this, GCY seems like a good option for students who want an organized program to follow on their gap year that gives them tangible results, like a Capstone project. Currently GCY only has programs in Brazil, Ecuador, and Senegal, but they are looking to expand. Programs like this, along with the university initiatives mentioned in my last post, have the potential to change the views on gap years in the US, but there is a long way to go with reversing the negative stigma associated.

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