By Kevin Pham –
After going through the motions of finishing high school and applying to college, I felt as if something was missing from my formal education. I questioned the worth of higher learning, afraid that college would bear a striking resemblance to the last four years of tedious memorization and extracurricular overload. While searching for alternatives to college, I stumbled upon Global Citizen Year.
This year reinvigorated my love for learning. It allowed me to explore my interests outside of the classroom, to wrap my tongue around a new language, and to develop a global perspective before stepping foot on a college campus. During this period of experiential learning, I lived with a family in the Ecuadorian Amazon and interned at a rural health clinic. This experience taught me how to adapt to my environment.
For example, my biological family values privacy deeply in comparison to my host family. When I showered or slept in the U.S., I would often lock my door. In Ecuador, we took bucket showers out in the front yard and kept the front door open all day to let in the breeze. I adapted by finding my quiet space without imposing restrictions on my host family. Whenever I needed alone time, I would wander down to the river behind our house and swim.
I often felt lonely living in a small village of 50, but I learned to cope with isolation though journaling. The first few months were some of the most difficult, especially with the initial language barrier. Once I started journaling, my perspectives and subsequent actions changed. Instead of focusing on the negatives, I wrote down three small things that I was grateful for daily. It could be as small as having fried plantains for breakfast or as big as visiting my host grandfather. This mindfulness exercise opened my eyes to the amazing opportunity that I had the privilege to experience. In addition, I also used journaling to set small goals. For instance, I challenged myself to watch television with my host dad each night. When the family named their new dog after me, I knew that my presence would be with the Yumbo family for years to come.
With a year of immersive learning under my belt, I entered college feeling refreshed and ready to learn. Having studied Spanish in Ecuador, I was looking for another language that would push me out of my comfort zone. The novelty of Arabic initially drew me in, but I was hooked by the language’s beautiful alphabet, difficult pronunciation, and rich history. After spending my junior year at the University of Jordan, I decided to take a leave of absence and continue taking Arabic classes in Amman. Afterwards, I will finish my senior year and pursue a career working with refugees and resettlement policies.
Global Citizen Year was a catalyst in igniting my hunger for education. Consequently, I started college with questions instead of doubt, and a newfound desire to study foreign languages.
About Kevin Pham:
Kevin is 2014 alumnus of Global Citizen Year. During his time in the program, he lived with a Kichwa family in Napo—a province in the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest. He also interned at a local health clinic.
“Language learning is important to me because it allows me to connect on a deeper level with people who I might not have been given the privilege to interact with otherwise,” Kevin says.
Language learning, especially under Global Citizen Year, has opened so many unexpected doors for Kevin. He has been given the opportunity to bike cross-country (Bike and Build), study Arabic in Jordan (Vassar’s Cornelisen Scholarship), and volunteer at a school for refugees in Greece (Vassar’s Burnam Scholarship).
About Global Citizen Year
Global Citizen Year is an award-winning, non-profit social enterprise on a mission to make it normal to choose a bridge year. These experiences after high school build self-awareness, global skills, and grit – the foundations for success in college and beyond.
Global Citizen Year is for bold high school grads who are hungry to make a real impact, and to make college count. Each year the organization selects a class of talented high school seniors as Fellows, providing opportunities for them to live and work in Brazil, Ecuador, India, or Senegal for a gap year abroad before college.
Rosetta Stone partners with Global Citizen Year by providing their Fellows access to Rosetta Stone languages for the destination country. Follow our student voice blog series to hear from more Global Citizen Year alumni and current fellows.