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Local teen heads to Ecuador for Global Citizens Year

By Brian Hews

Emily Hwang

Cerritos teen Emily Hwang is getting ready for a year of service in Ecuador.

Emily Hwang is getting ready to embark on a new journey after her recent graduation from Gretchen Whitney High School in Cerritos.
Unlike many of her other fellow grads from the Class of 2012, Emily is NOT preparing to leave for Stanford, Harvard, USC or Cal Berkeley.
Instead, the native of Cerritos is packing her bags and heading to a remote area in Ecuador to volunteer in a program called “Global Citizens Year.”
On August 19, Hwang and ninety-one other high school graduates from around the United States will come to Stanford University, not to begin their freshman year of college, but to start their training as fellows at a groundbreaking “bridge year” program called Global Citizen Year.
Hwang and the other graduates will join together to begin training before seven months of development work in Senegal, Ecuador, or Brazil in August.
Based out of San Francisco, Global Citizen Year is spearheading a movement to immerse young adults in developing countries around the globe after they graduate high school. The program is dedicated to building a generation of global citizens. “Over time, we envision a world in which a ‘bridge year’ becomes a normal and expected step for student from all backgrounds,” said Molly Sterns, Manager of Outreach and Admissions.

A recent Institute of International Education (IIE) poll suggests that Americans are increasingly isolated from the developing world. Less than one percent of Americans will ever meet any of the world’s 2.6 billion who live in extreme poverty. There is an urgent need to prepare a new generation of Americans for effective leadership in our globalized world.
Few Americans possess the language skills, cross-cultural understanding, or empathy needed to create innovative, collaborative and sustainable solutions to overcome these challenges.

Global Citizen Year aims to create in the next generation; global competence, engaged leadership, and college readiness. The bridge year program is the very opposite of ‘taking a year off’: Fellows will travel to developing countries in September to live with a host family and apprentice in a local organization, thereby developing an ethic of service, fluency in another language, and a global perspective.

Upon return, Hwang and the other students “will be better prepared to effectively explain the complexities of international development through a profound first-hand experience.”

“I do this thing where I label myself- Extrovert, ENFP, Sagittarius, Advocate, Actress, and Girl. Every trait or behavior that I have ever manifested, every emotion that I have ever experienced has been thoroughly analyzed and neatly placed into one of the myriad categories that I use to define myself. And if it doesn’t fit, it isn’t valid.” Hwang told Los Cerritos Community Newspaper in an interview last week.

“There are times when I actually fool myself into thinking that I have it—that is, myself and my place in the world—all figured out. But of course, I don’t. No matter how many hours I spend taking personality tests, no matter how often I brainstorm all of my possible life courses, no matter how sure I am of the person I am today, everything could shift in an instant, which terrifies me,” Hwang said.

Hwang said she is taking this “gap year” to “explore the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“I’m taking a year to be uncomfortable, to step boldly into the flames of confusion, to challenge and surpass what I know to be my limits. Most of all, I’m taking a year to start from scratch- to put myself in an entirely new context and become secure in the person I am, without the labels,” she said.

“Of course, I will also be exploring my passions, learning a language, forming relationships, and allowing the world to expand my humanity. But at the root of it all, I am taking a year to let myself be, and I am VERY excited,” she said.

Hwang will be updating the readers of Los Cerritos Community Newspaper Group, including the La Mirada Lamplighter with regular updates and will keep a “video diary.”