Slowly, slowly, the Verona High School class of 2011 is beginning to leave town. Some for colleges in the United States, some for colleges abroad, some not for college at all. At least not yet.
This past Thursday, Nic Freschi set off on what many Europeans call a gap year: Time off between high school and college to travel, volunteer or work abroad. Freschi is heading to Ecuador, where he will participate in a program called Global Citizen Year. He will stay with an Ecuadorian family, work as a volunteer somewhere outside the capital city of Quito and thoroughly challenge his idea of what it means to be a young American in the world.
“It’s becoming less and less of a fringe thing”, says Freschi of the gap year concept. “You get a lot more independence and opportunities to do things when you are on your own.”
If Global Citizen Year sounds familiar, it’s because Freschi is the second Verona student to participate in the program, which is a 21st century update on the Peace Corps. Under the tag line “one year to unlock a lifetime of potential,” Global Citizen Year sends a growing group of American high school graduates to Asia, Africa and Latin America on an apprenticeship in how the rest of the world lives. Last fall, the program sent Tess Langan, VHS Class of 2010, to Senegal. This is GCY’s third year of operation. In 2009 it sent out 16 students; Langan was part of a cohort of 30 in 2010. Freschi’s group includes 57 students, who will be sent to Ecuador, Brazil and Senegal.
But Freschi didn’t get into GCY because of Langan; the two weren’t entirely in the same circle at VHS. Instead, he was recruited into the program by GCY’s founder,Abigail Falik, because of his internship with VisionSpring, a New York City-based charity that aims to get eye care and eyewear into Third World countries. (Freschi worked with VisionSpring from the summer after his sophomore year until halfway through senior year, and blogged about the experience last year.) The GCY program will be his first trip to South America, though not his first outside the country. As a veteran of Verona’s Mandarin program, Freschi went to China for three weeks after his freshman year at VHS.
Much like Langan, Freschi will face a world very different than Verona. For starters, he’s not expecting to have Internet access that often. “I think it will be a good break away from constant technology,” he says. When he does, he will be posting to a GCY blog, which you can read here.
To participate in GCY, Freschi had to defer his acceptance to The College of New Jersey. He also had to pay to participate: $25,000, less a $9,000 scholarship. In the Peace Corps, which still operates, volunteers don’t pay to participate and get a living allowance, medical and dental care, transportation and money to settle in back home. But a Peace Corps stint is 27 months and with GCY, Freschi will only be away until next spring. Neither program confers college credits, though American colleges are increasingly recommending that their students take a gap year–especially the Ivies. They believe that a gap year can help focus the mind and make college more productive, something that Freschi agrees with.
“I’m undeclared right now,” he says. “I’m torn between environmental studies and global development or international studies. I have an idea of the direction. I want to take a year to help focus myself.”
Home page photo by Paul Stein via Flickr.