By SOPHIA HUO & ERIN KIM
“As college applications approached, I realized that I needed a break from the twelve years of taking tests and classes I have never really been passionate about,” said Fernanda Tornell (Sr.). Unlike many UHS students, who plan to attend college right after high school, Tornell has decided to take a bridge year to explore different parts of the world before she continues with her education.
A bridge year is slightly different from a gap year in that its primary purpose is to allow students to learn outside of the classroom. While students may take a gap year to travel and work, students who take a bridge year typically travel as part of their educational pathway. Tornell will travel with Global Citizen Year (GCY), an organization whose “focus is to open up high school graduates’ minds to a new culture, ideas and to better prepare future leaders.”
One of Tornell’s friends had traveled to Senegal through GCY, which piqued Tornell’s interest in the program. After talking to her friend, she researched and learned more about GCY to make her final decision to apply to the program.
“It wasn’t hard to make the decision at all; the hard part was waiting for my acceptance into the program. Even though the organization gives out need-based financial aid, I still had to get a job in order to afford this program.” Tornell’s parents were extremely supportive of her, which she is very thankful for. “So I decided to take a bridge year to do something for myself and to find out who I am in a world completely different from the one I have been used to my whole life” she said.
After her acceptance into the program, she took a survey to rank the country she wanted to visit the most, including Brazil, Senegal, India and Ecuador. “I made sure to express my obsession with Brazil so that I would get placed there!” she exclaimed.
To prepare for her trip, Tornell is in the middle of getting her Brazil VISA and learning basic Portuguese. In August, she will travel to Stanford University and during her month-long stay there, she will be learning more about the country and the language, as well as other precautionary information and preparations needed for a successful bridge year. She will also meet the other GCY students.
While many of her other friends will be heading off to college in September, Tornell will travel to Brazil and live there for the next eight months. She has a few goals in mind to accomplish during her time there: “I am hoping to be fluent in Portuguese, and to fully immerse myself and understand the Brazilian culture.” In addition, she is excited to try the food and attend Brazil’s famous Carnival Festival.
Before her departure, GCY will have placed her in an apprenticeship based on her interests and her personality, which may include working with farm animals to teaching English. Once in Brazil, she will be staying with a host family to get the fullest cultural experience. In addition, Tornell will explore the country as she pleases: “Something that convinced me to choose GCY is that I will not be monitored by staff 24/7, which gives us the freedom to shape our own stay to our liking. This means that I can get a job, join local volunteering projects or even a local sports team.”
In Brazil, she will also apply to college to continue her college education when she returns. She noted, “Actually, part of why I am taking a bridge year is because I have no idea what I want to study. I do love working with animals and am passionate about animal rights so maybe something in that field.”
Now, Tornell is enjoying each and every moment she has with her family and friends before she embarks on her adventure. “I have a huge mix of emotions which I don’t even understand and some are definitely nervous and anxious. Mostly because I have never been away from home for such a long time and will be traveling to another continent and staying in a stranger’s home. However, these are also factors that excite me,” she concludes.
This year will definitely be an extraordinary time for Tornell, and it is an opportunity many students will not have. She advises other adventurous students to consider taking a bridge year as well: “Find what is right for you. Be bold and don’t be scared of defining your own future. Not following the conventional path after graduating and finding your own may be the best decision of your life!”