Editor’s Note: Here is an open letter from Rita Golden Gelman, whose goal is to “make the Gap Year experience of living in another culture, preferably in the developing world, an accepted and popular practice in the U.S., not just a luxury for the elite.”

I think this is a laudable goal, and would be an enormous help in bringing world peace through increased cross-cultural understanding. This is a long post, but please read it if you—or someone you know—could contribute in even the smallest way towards making it happen. You can reach Rita at femalenomad@ritagoldengelman.com

From Rita Golden Gelman:

The GOAL hasn’t changed: it’s to make the Gap Year experience of living in another culture, preferably in the developing world, an accepted and popular practice in the U.S., not just a luxury for the elite. I’m defining Gap Year as the year between high school … and college or work or vocational school.

HOW to reach that goal: There are two obvious routes (see below) but they both require a major PR campaign … nationally, locally, in every school and community in the country if we are going to reach every segment of the population … the urban poor, the rural communities, middle-America, the South, the Appalachians, the Pacific Northwest and everywhere in between.

I see as the first order of business of Global Learning a huge campaign to get out the message that a Gap Year is a great experience, that it will create more mature and motivated students and employees, that it will change perspectives, enrich the participants, enlighten the country, and produce a positive and friendlier opinion of the U.S. throughout the world.

Part of the PR campaign will be to convince people that they will be able to fund the experience so that everyone who wants to participate in a Gap Year program can be a part of it. There are many routes to funding it. I’m in favor of shared funding:  kids’ efforts, community fund raising, philanthropic contributions (individuals, big business, foundations, Wall St. … they owe us!) … and government.  I see one of the jobs of GL as an umbrella organization that will offer guidance and contacts for the funding part of this.

I sincerely believe that inter-cultural interaction is the path to understanding and respect across cultures. Students who have had the opportunity to live in other cultures tell me that the experience changed their lives and perspectives. Peace Corps alumni often write that their years as PC volunteers were the best and most important years of their lives. But there are kids, parents, schools, counselors, and bosses who are frightened by the idea. They’re the ones we have to reach.

The PR has to reach:

  • The media:  newspapers, radio, TV, magazines, the internet (blogs, websites, Tweeters, Facebookers, etc.).
  • The people:  kids, parents, teachers, counselors, principals, college administrations, local government, and community leaders.
  • The infrastructure:  organizations that are already involved in student programs abroad, organizations that are involved in intercultural exchanges of whatever age, youth organizations, peace organizations, foundations, government agencies.

The PR campaign will involve huge numbers of people connecting with huge numbers of people. It will need funding down the line, but not yet.  For now we just have to fund the two meetings … one a brainstorming session with no more than thirty people. And the other, much bigger, with all our volunteers. We have $10,000 from the KASTIA foundation and we will need about $25,000 more, soon, to hire a full-time coordinator (I’m personally willing to do it for free, but totally incapable; some of you may be capable and willing, but I think if we want someone to work full-time, she should be paid), pay for venues for the meetings: first a small focus group brainstorming for a full day to discuss and design a plan, and then a larger (weekend-long) meeting to rally the volunteers. We will have to feed the people who are attending, perhaps pay transportation expenses for some of the delegates (particularly young people who are leaders in youth organizations and whose opinions and backing we want and need).

Two routes to our goal.
1.     Michelle Obama takes it on as her personal project and legacy. A Global Learning Corps that emphasizes learning, immersion, participation in host-community projects. If that happens, she will have her own team and we will step back, unless she calls on us.  It’s a long shot, but if that happens, our goal will have been reached and our role would be to serve as her troops if she needs them. I am hoping to get a letter to her next week. Admittedly, it’s a long shot.

2.     We meet and partner with like-minded organizations, with people who are already doing Gap Year programs, with groups who already have in place homes and community contacts around the world, with student and adult exchange programs, with volunteer organizations, with organizations that are natural allies in the campaign, with any groups who feel as we do and want to support our effort.

If our goals are the same, we do not have to compete. There is no reason that we can’t join together to work towards our common goal. Perhaps if everyone works together, it could be the job of Global Learning to provide an umbrella website that will educate, list options, and help with funding connections. The brainstorming meeting which will take place in May or June will have many representatives from the various groups. Hopefully we will come up with a way to work together. If everyone works toward the same goal, it could be fantastic.

I am not alone in this campaign. U.S. Servas, a sixty-year-old 501c3 non-sectarian organization that facilitates intercultural visits for its 15,561 (adult) members in 135 countries, has agreed to be the fiscal sponsor of what we are calling Global Learning. They share the vision that connecting across cultures is the path to world peace and have been working with me on the project. It’s a great organization and I expect others will want to partner with us as well.


1.     Website.  We need a lively, creative, out-of-the-box-visually, website that will lure and intrigue the kids, inspire the volunteers, convince the parents, and inform the other communities that we are serious.  Perhaps it can be a collaborative effort.

I don’t even know how it works. Can one person take charge and give out assignments to others? Can that be done in the design of a website? I’m willing to work on the text. It’s about the only thing I know I can do.

If you are an artist, a web designer, a techie, a visionary who wants to work on this, write to me and I will put all interested parties together, virtually. If you are not that person, maybe you know someone who is a believer and is willing to donate his or her skills. Maybe we could get some funding for this down the line.

2.  Personal contacts. We need the best minds at the top levels of like-minded organizations that might send delegates to that brainstorming session in DC in May or June, date and venue to be determined. If you have suggestions, we’d like to hear from you. The letter attached is for organizations. You are welcome to send it out.

We also would like personal contacts at philanthropic organizations, big and small, that might give us seed money (we don’t need much at this point) to get us started. We have $10,000. We will need about $25,000 more to fund the brainstorming session in May or June … and a second bigger meeting in September. That should also cover the $3,000 a month that our coordinator will be getting as well.

Once the meetings produce a plan, we’re going to need lots more help … but not yet.

At this point, that’s about it.
Any more thoughts from you are welcome. If there are tons of responses to this letter, we might need someone to sort and organize the ideas and recommendations. It has to happen almost immediately … so before you volunteer, please think about whether you have the time to do it quickly and efficiently.  May is coming up soon.

Thanks for your interest and enthusiasm.
I’ll keep you posted if anything develops.

Best, Rita


3 Comments so far

  1. Bradley Charbonneau on April 4, 2009 5:18 am

    “I sincerely believe that inter-cultural interaction is the path to understanding and respect across cultures.”

    I agree with this wholeheartedly, Rita. I am a web designer and this comes to mind: WordPress MU. Maybe we could talk.


  2. Derek Forsythe on April 15, 2009 1:07 pm

    There is a similar organization that has just started its first year. Headed by Abby Falik, Global Citizen Year offers a program for high school graduates interested in study abroad and helping alleviate world poverty.

  3. Buy this book…please!!!! « Life Under Lone Peak on April 17, 2010 3:43 pm

    […] crossed paths a few months later in New York City. Funnily enough, the author of that book wrote an open letter on the internet, which showed up in my inbox one day. She wanted to start a Gap Year Movement in […]

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