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The global opportunity of a lifetime

Red Wing High School graduate Elise Leise will take a bridge year before heading off to college. She will instead travel to Senegal, Africa for the Global Citizen Year program. Photos courtesy Elise Leise1 / 3
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Meet Elise Leise, a graduate of the Red Wing High School class of 2017. She is a young woman with many talents, great drive and full of enthusiasm for her future. I first met Leise when she was a high school sophomore and member of the robotics team. "I love math and science and didn't know how a robot worked, but I eventually learned and loved it," Leise said. She ended up leading the design subgroup team in her junior year and captained the team in her senior year. Last December, Leise was searching online for practice SAT tests but something popped up on screen.

"It said Global Citizen Year, and it was just a fluke that I saw it," Leise said.

It is an opportunity for high school graduates to take a bridge year before they head off to college.

"It sounded like something I would like to do," she said. "The deadline for applying was that night at midnight, so I spent a couple of hours writing essays and filled out the application on the spur of the moment." "I was accepted at Middlebury College in Vermont and had the financials and everything set to go to college this fall," she added. "Then I was notified that I qualified to the Global Citizen experience. Apparently, the college likes the program and said they would hold my spot until next year."

When asked how her parents, Jim and Michelle Leise, reacted to Leise's surprise announcement of her desire to change direction, she said, "Global Citizen Year is an educational program and I had a choice of going to Honduras, India, Senegal or Brazil. I distinctly remember my mom not saying no. We sat talking for a long time and discussed why I wanted to take a gap year and about the merits and aspects of the program itself."

"When my dad found out, and after careful research he was totally on board with the idea." Leise's father teaches Earth Science and Advanced Placement Physics at Red Wing High School. "I loved AP physics enough to continue with an independent AP physics II study with him for my senior year."

Senegal, Africa

Leise will be going to Senegal, Africa. The object of the global program is to take students, give them intensive cultural training, immersing them in a foreign language then sending them to live with a host family, becoming part of that family.

"I'm leaving next week for five days of pre-departure training in California and meeting the 20 other students going to Senegal," she said. "I'm excited that during my Global Citizen year I'll be pushed to step outside my comfort zone. In Red Wing I would say I'm comfortable 99 percent of the time. In Senegal, I'm sure that percentage will be pushed down to .099 and I'm looking forward to it," Leise said. "I'm also excited to learn French, and to connect with people from a different culture and maybe discover more about myself."

As a parent, I wonder if I would be as supportive with her being gone for a year into an unfamiliar environment. Leise has already been through a battery of vaccinations to keep her healthy.

"There aren't many places left on my body that has not had a band aid on it over the last few months," she said. Leise has also been given a filter to purify her drinking water and she will be taking antimalarial pills.

Cultural immersion

The five days of training in California will be followed in Dakar, Senegal with a monthlong orientation and immersion into the language and customs. She will be introduced to her host family and get a taste of local life during that time.

Leise, who is left handed, said, "In Senegal, they eat with their right hand from a communal bowl." That is a tradition or custom that dates back hundreds of years. She is used to doing everything with her left hand; she said she hopes she doesn't slip up and forget.

Leise also said she thinks she may be going to a small rural town. "I will be spending eight months with my host family," Leise said. Host families are also screened and have an orientation and training to go through. Every eight weeks or so, the 20 members of the Senegal cohort will get together in Dakar to share their experiences and to support each other. When they return, they will begin with reentry training abroad. Then stay for a week in California in transition before returning home. According to a piece on the Global Citizen website, there are educators concerned that our kids are being undereducated. One young woman said, "Before I spend $60,000 on college I want to know the value of the education I'm receiving."

The thinking behind the Global concept is that students in their last couple of years in high school are worn out with decisions they must make for their future. They feel it is better to let them broaden their horizons learning in the diversity that that exists in the world around them.

Environmental sustainability

When Leise was asked why she wanted to do this she said, "I discovered when joining the Environmental Learning Center and as I grew up, I have a passion for environmental sustainability. I want to delve deeper into this while in Senegal. I was a junior ELC instructor and backpacked 50 miles across the Olympic National Park in Washington with my junior group as a final farewell." She plans to apprentice in environmental conservation in Senegal and said, "I am a Midwestern girl who is passionate about the outdoors and chemistry and engineering. I am confident in my choice of a bridge year because it is a validation, not a renunciation of my values." President Eisenhower had a vision that if people connected with each other, the world would be a better place. That is how the Sister City program began after WWII. This concept is similar, but aimed at the young.

Leise said, "I will tell you this; I am continuing my education, not abandoning it."

Thank you, Elise Leise for having the courage and curiosity to step out of your comfort zone into the great unknown. And good luck.

Leise is blogging about her experience at www.globalcitizenyear.org/author/elise-leise.

Learn more about the program at www.globalcitizenyear.org.

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