By Pablo Muirhead, Ph.D. — High school graduates may be better served by taking a year off after graduation for an intense immersion experience in a country of their choosing instead of diving straight into college.
Too often students rush from high school to college and don’t seriously contemplate taking some time to grow in other directions. My response to students who would thrive in such an experience but feel compelled to race off to college with their peers is questioning what they would really lose if they started college a year later. In fact, students that go abroad for year often end up acquiring a second language and culture, and more importantly, calling a new place home.
American Field Service (AFS), perhaps the most well-respected and distinguished study abroad program, has been an integral part of bridging youth from the Milwaukee area with youth from all over the globe. It was born as a result of WWI and WWII. The idea spawned from a group of volunteer ambulance drivers that were tired of the carnage and atrocity of war. They thought that the only way to avoid future conflict was to get youth from all over the world to live in and experience other countries. Over sixty years later AFS continues advancing its mission with the help of a strong cadre of volunteers and dedicated teachers.
The Greater Milwaukee Area has always played an important role in AFS-USA and vice versa. Every year for the past 60+ years, Milwaukee area schools, students, teachers and families have opened up their hearts to students from all around the world helping them integrate into their respective communities. Likewise, we have sent scores of students from Milwaukee to countries near and far, to get a firsthand experience of what life is really like in those countries only previously encountered in textbooks and on Google Earth.
This year 47 students from 26 countries, six of which have not been placed in Milwaukee in the last 20 years (Albania, Honduras, Kuwait, Panama, Pakistan, Senegal), are living in our community with host families and attending our schools. Likewise, dozens of our students are getting ready to apply to go abroad next year to have this life-changing experience.
Perhaps this concept of a gap year sounds tempting. Consider it. Share the idea with students and their families.
In fact, students could even go during high school. There are various scholarships available and a tremendous infrastructure of vetted volunteers around the world that help make this program the success that it is. Perhaps your family might even want to open their hearts to a student. It’s a win-win for all parties involved.
Pablo Muirhead, Ph.D. is the Coordinator of Teacher Education at Milwaukee Area Technical College. He is the Chair of the Shorewood AFS Board and an AFS returnee (Indonesia ’89-90).He has taught Spanish at the middle school, high school and college levels.