“The President and Mrs. Obama announced today that their daughter Malia will attend Harvard University in the fall of 2017 as a member of the Class of 2021,” the office of the first lady announced on Sunday. “Malia will take a gap year before beginning school.”
Suddenly, the Gap Year is Hot!
Those of us old enough to remember when there were No iphones and No Internet, will remember Peace Corps’ ATPs? No, an ATP wasn’t some sort of pain medication; it stood for Advance Training Programs and juniors in college applied early to the Peace Corps and spent the summer between their junior and senior high school year on a college campus somewhere in the States listening to boring lectures on their Country of Assignment before returning home for their senior year, and then off again the next summer to Peace Corps Training for real, often at the same campus as the summer before!
Also, briefly in the mid-sixties, some college students, at the invitation of the Peace Corps, did spend a Summer in a Peace Corps Country. We had half a dozen students from Harvard in Ethiopia when I was an APCD; they spent the Rainy Season working with PCVs on Summer Projects throughout the Empire.
That program was short lived. As was the one for Married Volunteers with Kid! And just a few days ago the agency dropped the Masters International so that they might concentrate on Peace Corps Prep and the Coverdell Fellows. Well, what’s next? How about….? Peace Corps Gap Year?
Anyone who has faced a class of freshmen knows that perhaps half of those young students would have been wise to wait a year before starting college. Some kids need time to grow up, experience life beyond their home town, and decide really what they want to study and do with their lives. They need to cut lose from home, live, travel, experience something fresh, exciting, or simply, another cultural and a way to live one’s life.
I suspect Malia’s reasoning for her Gap Year is that she just might not want to be on campus during the fall election season listening to Trump lambast her father while he also slams Hillary for being a woman, the establishment, or just a Clinton. (Maybe the Peace Corps should offer Malia a Gap Year in some African village where Fox News would never go?)
But seriously, why doesn’t the agency offer young people the opportunity of a Gap Year? Glenn Blumhorst at the NPCA has already begun Next Step Travel (travel.peacecorpsconnect.org) for high school students to do summer projects in the developing world.
And (thanksfully) more than one college is encouraging students to slow down and learn who they really are before jumping again into the routine of college classes.
Joe O’Shea, the author of Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs, who is President of the Board of the American Gap Association, as well as Director of Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement at Florida State University, points out the benefits that adventurous teenagers receive by living in a world not their own, just as all of us, who were mostly wet behind the ears, learned from our Peace Corps experience.
I realize the Peace Corps today has more applicants than they can place overseas. It is unlikely the agency will grow, given all the budget cutbacks, and a possible future if Trump is elected,
Also, I know the Peace Corps was created to offer assistance, not to recieve an education. But as we all know, we learned more than we gave.
Here’s a thought. Why doesn’t the Director call up Bill Gates and make him an offer he can’t refuse. Have the Gates Foundation fund a pilot program, working with the American Gap Association, and send a couple dozen Gap Year Kids into the Third World to work along side PCVs already in country.
If we can support Let Girls Learn….then lets help Gap Year students have a year of service in the Peace Corps. Malia Obama could be the first Gap Year PCV. Now that’s a start.