As most students in ’s Class of 2012 are getting ready to meet their freshmen year roommates and packing up for the dorms, Lydia Collins is getting multiple immunizations and packing up for seven months in Ecuador.
Collins is preparing to embark on a “gap year” with the organization Global Citizen Year, which sends 100 recent high school grads to Brazil, Ecuador and Senegal every year.
“I realized halfway through my senior year that I was ready to go to college, but I wanted to do something else before I went,” Collins told Patch. “I wanted to go out and see the world, I wanted to be fluent in Spanish—I wanted the perspective before I went to college.”
Collins applied to several programs but ultimately chose Global Citizen Year because of the support network it would provide with the program’s other participants and because of the opportunity to improve her Spanish, she said. Participants preparing for the experience during a ten-day program on Stanford University’s campus, then spend one month together in Quito, Ecuador, before moving to separate stays with host families.
Collins, who is nearly fluent in Spanish, has taken classes in the language every year since sixth grade, when she spent a year living in Grenada, Spain, with her family while her father was on sabbatical. That experience gave her a taste for the adventure and challenge of foreign travel, Collins says.
“It made me much more independent and made me more comfortable with being in uncomfortable situations,” she said. “It made me realize that it’s possible to get over that language barrier, and it taught me that there are millions of people in the world, not just in Evanston.”
Although she knows she’ll be placed with a host family in Ecuador, Collins doesn’t know anything else about what she’ll be doing in the country. Global Citizen Year places its fellows in local health clinics and microfinance centers, or puts them to work teaching English. Fellows find out what their assignment is once they arrive.
While Collins would love if her assignment had some relevance to architecture—something she’s considering as a profession one day—she’s also preparing herself to be thrown into any situation.
“I’m not really going for the architecture,” Collins says. “I’m going to be put out of my comfort zone so I can figure out how to make it through.”
Collins leaves on Aug. 29, and won’t return until April. She’s not planning to come home to Evanston at all during her trip, although she says family members might visit. As far as she knows, there are only a couple of other high school students from Evanston Township High School doing a similar program.
“I feel very uneasy stepping off the well worn path,” Collins says.
At the same time, she’s confident that the experience will be worth the challenge. Hearing about the six months her mother spent with the Peace Corps in Mauritania helped Collins make her own decision to spend the year abroad.
“A common thing people say is that you’ll never regret doing it,” she says. “It might be really hard, but you’ll never regret doing it.”
Before she leaves for Ecuador, Collins is also working toward a fundraising goal of $2,500, to help support financial aid for other fellows with Global Citizen Year (GCY).
“GCY has made the commitment to offer financial aid to 80% of the Fellows in my class who are in a different economic situation than I am,” Collins wrote in a letter to friends and family. “I am grateful that I can have this experience and I am committed to doing my part to help someone else have it, too.”
Earlier this summer, Collins held a garage sale at her home to help raise money for Global Citizen Year. She’s also working at Camp Echo in Fremont, MI, a summer camp affiliated with the , and teaching tennis at Evanston Township High School.
As her classmates stock up for dorm life, register for classes and meet their roommates, Collins says she doesn’t regret her decision to do something different.
“I knew that I would do better in school if I had a break, because I would appreciate the education more,” she says. “Though I am nervous about what I signed myself up for, I know I will never regret the decision.”