How does a country where most of its citizens have never traveled beyond its borders learn how to participate in a global community? Abby Falik believes it can happen through a full immersion in the developing world, re-imagining the transition between high school and college as an opportunity for students to gain the insight and experience they can’t get by staying at home. Insights which are actually key to “understanding” what it means to be American.
In recruiting for her bridge-year program, Global Citizen Year, Abby identifies a “diverse corps of motivated students” and through an intensive 9-month training program opens their eyes to the world of social innovation in a global context. Empathy, compassion and grit — characteristics that are key to being successful in college, careers and life — are not easily cultivated in a classroom. Instead, Global Citizen Year immerses young people in communities across Latin America, Africa and Asia for cultural training; media skills; apprenticeships in economic development, public health, the environment, or education; and a Re-Entry Transition when teenagers learn how to integrate their experiences into action at home.
The model for her organization stemmed from her desire to have had this kind of opportunity when she was 18. When Abby finished high school, she called the Peace Corps, but was told to “come back in four years,” so she cobbled together a journey of her own design in Brazil and Nicaragua, that turned out to be one of her most formative. Now she has the nation’s top universities listening. While many schools allow or even encourage a service bridge year, offering the equivalent of deferred enrollment, Abby has entered into a pilot program with The New School to jointly admit students to both, then return them to The New School with sophomore standing. It’s a powerful validation of the awareness and skills that Global Citizen Year instills in its participants.