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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Students: Take a year off!

    Most American college students seriously consider studying abroad, yet few opt to take a year off before college to work, volunteer or travel internationally.

    Unlike our counterparts in the UK or Australia where taking a gap year is common, recent American high school graduates rarely postpone their future plans for a year of foreign travel.

    The gap year may gain popularity in the United States, however, if an innovative new program launched by Princeton University succeeds and spreads to other campuses. On Monday, Princeton announced plans for a new bridge year initiative that would encourage incoming students to spend a year performing social service abroad before enrolling in their first year of college.

    The pre-collegiate international experience would be entirely tuition-free yet would be directly supported by the university. As part of the “”Princeton in the World”” scheme, the bridge year program exemplifies recent internationalization efforts undertaken by the university. By throwing high school graduates into real world experiences all over the planet, the program promises not only to broaden the global perspective of incoming students, but also to instill a commitment to service and volunteerism.

    The program requires interested incoming undergraduates to apply for an international public service activity offered through approved partner organizations. Study abroad type programs would be excluded for their academic focus; the goal of the bridge year is to give students a break from scholarly stresses and a chance to gain a social and cultural education as well as valuable practical skills.

    Princeton’s latest proposal is a fitting response to the growing recognition of international experience, more specifically international public service, as fundamental to our understanding of the world.

    Through such volunteerism, we are better equipped to respond to global problems such as poverty and disease. Increasing numbers of young people return from such cross-cultural exchanges resolved to translate their experiences into meaningful change. They are the emerging cadre of social entrepreneurs who identify a societal problem and attempt to solve it with innovative solutions.

    Just as Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp turned her Princeton senior thesis into a national phenomenon transforming American education, young social entrepreneurs are tackling pervasive global crises with inventive strategies.

    One local praiseworthy example of social entrepreneurship is the International Alliance for the Prevention of AIDS (IAPA). Recent UA graduates Sanjay Sinha, Eric Hamm and Aniruddha Patki, returned from teaching HIV/AIDS prevention in Tanzania to launch a program that trains American students to teach AIDS prevention in schools and community groups throughout India. Projects like IAPA are not just about sending privileged American students on gratifying, do-gooder vacations; they strive to ensure sustainability and effectiveness of their social goal. In IAPA’s case, student volunteers train and work alongside Indian volunteers to guarantee the teaching of AIDS awareness continues even after they leave.

    Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka – an organization that supports social entrepreneurs ð- and also the man who coined the term says it best: “”Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish, or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.””

    Drayton’s model for change by melding the pragmatic tactics of an entrepreneur with the ideals of a social reformer can best be encouraged in our generation by immersing youth in cultures where they face the problems caused by the world’s inequities.

    Thus, Princeton’s newest initiative is an inspired and bold move the UA and all universities should emulate. Study abroad programs undoubtedly provide students opportunities to connect with diverse cultures, yet all too often they collapse into glorified international drinking clubs consisting of insular Americans. A more hands-on concentration on service however would better breed capable students willing and able to address the world’s inequities.

    Taking a gap year before college may be too late for many of us, but we can still explore cultural immersion service programs before jumping into graduate school or the labor force.It’s never too late to avoid that insidious American norm which prompts so many of us to slave for personal advancement at the expense of personal development.

    Christina Jelly is a senior majoring in biochemistry, economics and philosophy. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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