Where in the World?

The Global Gap Year Fellowship (GGYF) at UNC-CH has been in existence since 2011 with five people in the first cohort who graduated in May of 2016. There are currently eight students in the 7 cohort. This program allows for students accepted into UNC-CH, to take a Gap Year abroad before starting their studies with support of a $7,500 stipend. One may wonder where GGYF received its funding? There was an anonymous donor who had children who had done GAP years and wanted to create an endowment for others to have a similar opportunity.

In order to be eligible, students need to be accepted early action (non-binding) to UNC-CH and be at least 18 by time they leave on their GAP year. What are the deadlines? One needs to apply early action by October 15th 2017. UNC-CH will get back with applicants about their status during the last week of January. Deadline to apply to the Global Gap Year Fellowship is about a month after early action decisions have been released. They are looking for students having already done exciting things (e.g. perhaps created an international club and/or done something with a focus on social justice) but prior travel abroad is by no means required.

If chosen as one of the fifteen finalists, students are invited to Carolina for an all expenses paid weekend. Afterwards, seven are chosen as Global Gap Year Fellows who will have at least six months of service abroad. Additional months of domestic service can also be incorporated. They will receive a stipend of $7500 with which they are expected to develop a proposal that stays with that budget. They are given support developing the proposals, making connections with organizations around the globe and with ironing out the details.

What if a student wanted to wait until they had been at university for a few
years? Well, there is an option to take a GAP year between Sophomore and Junior year called a Bridge Year (http://
globalgap.unc.edu/about/bridge-year/). Currently there are only one or two spots available, but there is hope that funding will increase over time (perhaps another endowment), thus allowing more students to be impacted and have an impact.

CHS has had four students to become GGY Fellows. Leah Berolzheimer (2012 CHS Graduate), Lee Mook (2014 CHS Graduate), Kristen Lee (2012-2013 CHS Student Body President, 2013 CHS Graduate) and Leah Simon (2015 CHS

Any of these four students could expound upon what their GAP years has mean to them. Having a global perspective as you formulate what you want your life’s path to be is invaluable.

Are you ready to be the fifth student? http://globalgap.unc.edu/about/global-gap-year-fellowship/

Information in this article gathered through interview with Sarah Smith (Director of Global Gap Year Fellowship).

Where in the World?

A quick bit of advice; when one is looking for cheap flights, Google flights (https://www.google.com/flights/) is a very easy and quick way of checking out many destinations and dates of departures.  Many people also like to use Skyscanner (https://www.skyscanner.com/).

Interview with 2012 CHS Graduate Leah Berolzheimer

Q: What inspired you to take a GAP year?

A: A drive to better understand healthcare inequalities, a desire to learn more about the clinical aspects of healthcare delivery and a need for a break from formal education.

Who else (if anyone) do you know who has taken a GAP year?

I was one of seven fellows at UNC-Chapel Hill who took a gap year. So, I know those six others, plus a whole other network of those who took gap years at UNC called “Gappl.” However, graduating from Carrboro, I knew very few others who were also taking gap years.

Where did you go & what did you do while there?

A: Nairobi, Kenya (4 months); Accra, Ghana (2 weeks); Kara, Togo (3 months) and  Budapest, Hungary (1 month). In Nairobi I worked with a non-profit based in Chapel Hill called Carolina for Kibera (CFK). I had read the founder’s book, It Happened on The Way to War, and had begun interning regularly in their Chapel Hill office my senior year of high school. So, when offered the Global Gap Year Fellowship at UNC, I knew working in Kibera was on the top of my list. At CFK I spent one day per week at the Tabitha Medical Clinic assisting and observing in one of the nursing triages. The other days of the week I focused on community development work: I helped out with the girls soccer teams in the evenings, documented events on the weekends and helped out where I was needed during the other days of the week. Mid-December I traveled to Accra, Ghana to visit a dear high school friend, Vanessa. I spent two weeks of vacation, including Christmas and New Years with her family. Next, I crossed the border from Ghana to Togo and traveled to a small town in the far north called Kara. There I worked at an HIV/AIDS clinic and community center called Association Espoir pour Demain (translated to “hope for tomorrow”). I worked alongside the nurses there and also joined in on an IRB research project that was initiated by a local Peace Corps volunteer. We interviewed over 50 women about what their perceived (and actual) barriers to accessing health care were. Lastly, I spent one month in Budapest, Hungary working with a democratic youth organization. I visited public high schools all across Budapest and gave presentations on the benefits of public service and taking a gap year.

Kara, Togo, the rural village where Berolzheimer spent three months working at an HIV community center/clinic called Association Espoir Pour Demain

Where outside the U.S. have you visited, if anywhere, and for how long and in what context?

I traveled frequently as a child, but most recently, I have spent time in Israel on a Birthright trip (December ’15-January ’16), and in Myanmar and Thailand from May-July of 2016 completing my nursing practicum.

What was your budget?

I was awarded $7,500 by the Global Gap Year Fellowship at UNC-CH. I did my best to budget this as closely to that as possible, though traveling to several countries in Africa and Europe over the course of eight8 months made it difficult. I ended up spending only about $500 more than that amount, as I had a generous donor that gave me thousands of airlines miles which paid for two portions of my flights.

What did you hope to get out of the GAP year?

A: A break. Overcoming the challenge of living and traveling solo for eight months. French language immersion (Togo). Clarity on what I wanted to study once starting at UNC. A greater perspective. A chance to serve others, while also serving myself–validating my own needs to see new places, experience being a minority and learning how to live with and learn from people of backgrounds different than my own.

Did you get out of your GAP year what you hoped to and what did you gain, realize, etc that you did not anticipate?

Yes. I learned that you truly cannot plan or anticipate what will happen over the course of eight8 months. My gap year was really tough at times; it was in these moments though that I learned the most. I came back to UNC with a much wider perspective, a much greater appreciation for the salad bar at Rams Head Dining Hall, and a passion to study Nursing.  

What research or preparation did you do?

I had a weekend long orientation at UNC in which we had time to talk through our expectations and start searching for organizations. I did a lot of networking on my own and found that the best experiences were those that I had personal connections to, rather than ones I found through online research. I’d be happy to share my own connections that I have made with anyone interested!

What worries or concerns did you have about the GAP year?

Traveling as a solo female definitely made me cautious. I learned to take things day by day, or even minute by minute, and also learned to follow the advice of locals—–they truly were always right.

What advice would you give others who are contemplating taking a GAP year?


How did you integrate yourself into the local culture?

I think the first step to doing this was by traveling on my own, rather than in a group of other westerners. I stayed with host families in Kenya and rented out a small hut/house in a compound with other Togolese people while in Togo. I was open to eating almost any foods, tried tirelessly to learn the local languages and assumed the position as the learner, rather than the teacher, wherever I went.

What were your experiences of culture shock abroad?

My most extreme experiences were actually with reverse culture shock upon returning home! Though I was ready to come home when the time came, it was extremely difficult to pick back up with friends who had just completed their first year of college, to pick back up with my job as a summer camp counselor, and to move back in with my family after living on my own for so long.

Include anything I didn’t ask, but which you feel is important to know.

I continue to say that taking a gap year was the best decision I’ve made. This is a unique time in our lives—–taking a “gap year” after college is SO different. My gap year influenced what I study today at UNC, how I think about and approach each of my patients as a soon-to-be nurse, and how I consider the value of walking in someone else’s shoes before making assumptions. Thanks!

Feature image: The Fruitful Women cooperative (a makeshift school and foster center) in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya.  Photos courtesy John Hite.

Where in the word: travel tips

One helpful item for travelers to have is an International Student Identity Card (ISIC.) In many places around the world, it can get you about half off the costs of museums or movie tickets. It can also be instrumental for getting discounts on tickets for transportation, and acquiring accommodation at better rate. Currently, the cost of an ISIC card is $25. You can order one online through STA (Start The Adventure, formerly Student Travel Association.) For more information, go to their website: http://www.statravel. com/student-discount-card.htm/.

Below is an interview with 2013 Carrboro graduate, and former student body president, Kristen Lee. Lee took a gap year in 2013-2014 via Global Citizen Year (http://www.globalcitizenyear.org/.)

What inspired you to take a gap year?

I wanted to learn a new language, travel, explore and learn more about myself and others.

Where did you go, and what did you do there?

I went to Brazil, to Florianopolis and Curitiba. I lived with a host family, learned Portuguese and volunteered at farms and schools.

What was your budget?

I had a budget of $5000.

Where outside the US have you visited, if anywhere, and for how long did you stay?

I’ve been to Europe and the Caribbean for week-long trips. I also went to southern Africa (Zambia, Namibia and South Africa) for a total of six months, for research and to study abroad.

What did you hope to get out of the gap year?

I hoped to challenge myself, learn more about myself, explore and grow.

Did you get out of your gap year what you hoped?

Yes! I also gained so much more than I could have thought. To name a few things: the importance of patience, the ability to trust one’s self and how to be alone. I also realized that religion and language are life-long practices.

What research or preparation did you do before your trip?

I read books about Brazil, talked to people I knew who had gone there and researched on the internet.

What worries or concerns did you have about the gap year?

I worried about money primarily, and then safety.

What advice would you give to those considering a gap year?

You can make it work no matter your financial status; there are lots of resources, programs and information/support for students who want to take a gap year. Gap years can be used in many ways. Finally, if you think you’re interested in taking a gap year, ask yourself this question: What would I like to do with one year of my life?

How did you integrate yourself into the local culture?

I went to local parks and rode the buses. Living with a host family also helped a lot.

Did you have experiences with culture shock, and what were they?

My culture shock experiences were primarily experiences with the opposite sex. Also, not initially being able to speak Portuguese meant that it was extremely hard to make friends at first.

Where in the World? Mind the Gap

This column was started last year, but not with a proper introduction. In creating ‘Where in the World?’, I wanted to have a place with a consistent international focus as it relates to CHS Jaguars. This may manifest itself in many ways. Some of our graduates have taken gap years and every year, I have students who seek advice, guidance and connections on how to make this a reality for them. Some of our students come from outside the US. We have exchange programs to France and the Dominican Republic and service trips to Ecuador and Nicaragua. Perhaps you want to travel internationally, but don’t know how to do it in an affordable way. Maybe you would like to volunteer somewhere, but are not sure how to go about doing that.

If you do decide you want to take a gap year after graduation, I would strongly encourage you to make sure you have a plan for afterwards and do as much of the organizing prior to leaving. You want to be able to focus on where you are, rather than be sorting out things on a continual basis. If the plan is to go to a college or university after graduation, then apply, get accepted and then see about how to defer for a year. If you have extensive scholarships that will be lost if you take a gap year, then it will probably not be worth it.

Taking a gap year does not have to be expensive. There are many organizations that one can do all the organizing for you, but some of them are more about making a profit from those wishing to travel abroad. If you are hoping to go to several places, then do as much research as possible before. Relative easy access to the internet is not a given. Talk with others who have taken gap years. They are a wealth of information. If you would to speak to me about ideas, then feel free to contact me.

Interview with 2016 CHS Graduate Lauren Bartek prior to her leaving for her gap year. I will do a follow up when she is in the midst of her gap year.

What inspired you to take a gap year?

Growing up I felt like GAP years were stigmatized in the community I lived in as a break that people would only take if they didn’t know what they wanted and often lead to never going back to school. While GAP years are great if you don’t know what you want yet, many driven people have chosen that path and it has recently gained popularity in America. I first started to think of a GAP year as a potential future for myself at the end of my freshman year of high school when my friend and former president of Carrboro High School, Kristen Lee, broke this stereotype. She had the option to go to college right away but instead decided to participate in the Global Citizen GAP year where she traveled to South America to stay with local families and volunteer. I have always wanted to learn about other parts of the world and was intrigued by her choice. Over the rest of my high school career I watched many other friends take the GAP year route. The idea stayed in the back of my mind as I applied to universities. I was waiting to find a college that I was super passionate about but never really did and instead felt super burnt out. At the same time I was following Leah Simon and Katie Caruso’s GAP year adventures traveling the world on social media and realized this was definitely the right path for me.

Who else (if anyone) do you know who has taken a gap year?

I knew Kristen Lee, Alice Brower, and Bri Merrigan from our Carrboro lacrosse team. All of them spent their GAP years with programs volunteering in South America. Katie Caruso and Leah Simon I knew first as mutual friends and are a grade above me. Both took a year off and made their own travel plans without the help of a program. In addition, Laney Peterman, who started at the University of Chicago this past year, decided to take off this year to travel. I will hopefully be meeting up with her in Thailand in January. In my grade I am in touch with Oskar Hutchinson is spending time with a program in Japan, and Monica Herrera is taking a year off to work in Chapel Hill.

Where outside the U.S. have you visited, if anywhere, and for how long and in what context?

I have actually never been outside of the U.S.!

Where all do you plan to go & what do you plan to do whilst there?

I will start my trip in Kathmandu, Nepal, during October and November. I will first be staying with a family from my church who is currently living there now and helping the wife start a clothing business for Nepali women. I also plan on backpacking either the Mount Everest Base Camp Trek or the Annapurna Circuit with a group for about two weeks. In addition I will be staying with a local Nepali family, and volunteering for a host with Workaway. In the beginning of December I will fly to Bangkok, Thailand, and stay with W’wan who was an exchange student at Carrboro High School last year. After a few days I will take a bus up to Phop Phra which is in Northern Thailand where a Migrant Learning Centre that predominantly houses Karen refugees called Thoo Mweh Khee is located. I will be volunteering at Thoo Mweh Khee as an English and art teacher for refugees while also living in their community. In late January I then hope to meet up with Laney Peterman and backpack through Thailand exploring some of their cultural landmarks. Finally, I will finish my trip visiting Greece in March and April. During that time I will likely be staying with organizations like US Servas, Workaway, or Wwoofing but I am still finalizing plans.

What is your budget?

I am starting my trip with $6,000 for 7 months. This doesn’t include all of the preparation trip expenses which were altogether about $1,000. The majority of the money for my trip came from the jobs I worked this past summer and graduation money. I was also very fortunate to have money donated to me for my trip and my parents contribute to the trip preparation expenses.

What do you hope to get out of the gap year?

I hope to learn, both about myself and our world. Coming straight out of high school I was not ready to take full advantage of everything that college has to offer because I was so burnt out and did not know myself enough. I think that by experiencing new cultures and people you learn more about yourself in contrast. You gain fuller perspectives and learn what other people believe, and in turn what you do and don’t agree with. After traveling abroad and seeing alternative ways to live I think I will have a better understand of what I want in life, and know what to say yes/no to in college. Additionally I hope to come into school prepared to work hard after seeing how lucky I am to have the opportunity to go to school by working with others who dream about that opportunity.

Relationships are also a part of my trip that I look forward to. I hope to make connections with the people I stay with that will last a lifetime. I would love to be able to visit my new friends again after my trip and continue the lifestyle of travel. I also hope that I can actually make a difference in the lives of the refugees that I work with and help give them the tools they need.

Finally I hope this trip puts me out of my comfort zone. I think that is the time that you grow as a person the most. I often struggle with expectations for myself and whatever I am doing. This trip will challenge me to be in the moment and deal with changes to my plans. I think the unexpected experiences are the best gifts to life and I hope to go on a lot of last minute adventures.

What research or preparation have you done?

I began preparing for this trip in May right after I decided to go to NC State. I first started saving money and I created a gofundme account. After that the major things that had to be taken care of were getting travel documents, making sure my health care was taken care of, finding a phone plan, and gathering supplies. Every step of the way I had to do research from booking a plane flight, to buying a sleeping bag, to selecting travel insurance just because these were things I had never done before and did not have a travel agent. I also talked to many GAP year veterans to get a more personal take on the countries and organizations I was considering. Most of my GAP year work has seemed invisible because it has been going back and forth between people, making plans, and learning a lot of background information.

What worries or concerns do you have about the gap year?

Well I guess there is the obvious safety concern. My parents were not on board with my plans right away because they were worried about my safety abroad and I got many comments like “so and so would never let their kids do that” or “stay safe” as I told people about my year. But I think if anything I will find that the world is more open and safe than I originally thought, if you are smart. I also have not finished putting all of my plans together for the trip like smaller details such as places to visit and stay, so I hope that I am not distracted from whatever I am currently doing due to finalizing plans. But honestly I think everything will work out and I am not too worried about these concerns.

Include anything I didn’t ask, but which you feel is important to know.

It has been amazing how willing people have been to help me out during this whole process. So many more people than I expected have traveled and want to help others to do the same. Shout out to John Hite! He played a huge role in helping me to decide to take a GAP year, connected me to so many people, and made sure I had help every step of the way.

My advice. Don’t overhype college and get stressed out about it like I did! College is not for everyone right away and community college is a great thing. You will end up where you belong.

Illustration courtesy http://stephendpalmer.com/