When Abigail Falik graduated from high school, she dreamed of joining the Peace Corps but got the standard response: “Go to college first.”
Frustrated but determined, Falik cobbled together a trip to Nicaragua, where she lived with a family in a rural community and learned to make tortillas by hand. She worked in the fields, taught English at a local school and helped build a library. The experience, she says, was so profound that ever since she has been committed to answering the question: “How can we create opportunities for more Americans to have similarly transformative experiences working beyond our borders?”
Today, Falik, 34, runs Global Citizen Year, a 5-year-old nonprofit that seeks to give high school graduates an eye-opening “bridge year” by immersing them in developing countries in the world. Each May, her program picks and trains a diverse group of new grads to live with families in Africa or Latin America, where they work on projects in education, technology, health and the like. At the end of the year, participants go through a re-entry program to transition back to the U.S. and — in the majority of cases — college.
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Students or “fellows” must pay tuition for Global Citizen Year’s bridge year, which runs about $30,000 but is typically offset by scholarship aid from foundations and individual donors. About 300 students have graduated from the program since 2010, with one-third receiving full scholarships. Falik, who has raised over $6 million in donations, hopes in coming years to serve 1,000 fellows a year.
Falik says she draws inspiration from Wendy Kopp of Teach for America, the nonprofit that enlists high-achieving college graduates and professionals to teach in low-income communities. “I am constantly amazed that today teaching in an under-resourced urban school in America is the single most competitive job for Ivy League graduates,” she says. “What Wendy has done to change the pathway out of college, I aspire to do in re-imagining the pathway into college.”
Falik wants to to team up with colleges such as Stanford, Princeton and Yale so that students who do the Global Citizen Year program will get academic credit. She hopes that “some day, a global ‘bridge year’ is a common expectation and opportunity.”
Why do you deserve to be on our Young Women to Watch list?
“I have nurtured a dream for nearly 15 years….and have found the grit, and perseverance to bring it to life. Ultimately, we aim to change the face of American leadership — and countless lives along the way.”
This story was updated to include more current numbers.