Bridge Year Program will offer new sites, expand capacity

Princeton University's Bridge Year Program will offer new locations in China and Senegal and expand the number of incoming freshmen who may participate in the tuition-free service program abroad. The changes will take effect in the 2012-13 academic year.

Bridge Year will continue to have four international sites, starting new programs in China and Senegal and retaining existing programs in India and Peru. During its first three years, Bridge Year sites were located in Ghana, India, Peru and Serbia.

Starting next academic year, Bridge Year also will have the capacity to accommodate up to seven students, rather than five, at each site.

"I firmly believe in the value of Bridge Year and am very pleased that the program has begun to grow," said John Luria, director of the Bridge Year Program.

"As we reflected on our first three years, we considered how we could build on the success of Bridge Year while continuing to meet students' interests and offer experiences that will enrich their undergraduate careers," Luria continued. "We felt that we could best achieve our program goals by offering four program options in China, India, Peru and Senegal. We also felt the time was right to expand capacity and give more students the opportunity to participate in Bridge Year."

Launched in 2009, Bridge Year allows undergraduates to defer the start of their freshman year and engage in nine months of University-sponsored community service in another country. A total of 60 students — 20 each year — have participated since its inception.

Luria said the programs in China and Senegal will support Bridge Year's mission to provide incoming students with a greater international perspective, a commitment to public service and a time for personal growth.

"I have seen students benefit enormously from this experience, gaining language skills, intercultural awareness and a better understanding of what it means to work with and for others," Luria said. "Bridge Year participants also bring a unique perspective and experience to campus life, which further strengthens our University community."

In China, students will engage in community service assignments primarily based in the city of Kunming in the Yunnan province. Projects may include volunteering with health, education, environmental and youth development organizations. Students also will study Mandarin.

In Senegal, students will participate in service projects in the capital city of Dakar. Projects may include volunteering with organizations that focus on environmental conservation, health care, education, refugee support or rural development. Students also will study the Wolof language.

Where There Be Dragons, which provides service learning and study abroad options in 17 countries, has been selected as the program partner for the China and Senegal sites. The organization already serves as a partner for Bridge Year in India. ProWorld Service Corps is the program partner for Bridge Year in Peru. Princeton's partners have exceptional records for running safe and successful programs, and the programs are carefully supported by on-site professional staff as well as the resources of U.S. and international health and security organizations.

For the 2012-13 year, Bridge Year programs in India and Peru will continue as in previous years. Students in India will be based in the city of Varanasi, engage in service projects focused on human trafficking, literacy, eco-farming and vocational training for young people with special needs, as well as learn Hindi. In Peru, students will live in the Andean town of Urubamba, work on small-scale development projects related to rural health care, education and women's empowerment, as well as receive lessons in Spanish and the indigenous language Quechua.

Past Bridge Year participants said their time abroad was a seminal experience that continues to influence them.

"It showed me how much I can learn and accomplish in a short period of nine months, as well as how real change and progress actually occur," said sophomore Joseph Barrett, who spent his year in India.

Freshman Brett Diehl said he became a "more academically mature student" through Bridge Year.

"Although I am not 100 percent sure what I want to study, my year in Peru developed several personal passions, such as Latin American history, Spanish and international development, that I hope to explore academically during my four years on campus," he said.

Leah Bushin, who also traveled to Peru, said the Bridge Year Program was one of the reasons she attended Princeton.

"It was a reflection of the immense opportunities that Princeton offers its students and the learning and personal growth that it values," said Bushin, a sophomore. "Before even stepping foot on to Princeton's campus as a student, I could have this unique extraordinary experience. It was an opportunity I could not pass up."