A First-Class Program

My wife and I had the good fortune to visit our daughter, Jojo, in Florianopolis during the New Year’s holiday. We realize not every parent was able to visit their child and hope sharing our experiences will go a little way to setting your minds at ease about the work and impact of the Global Citizen Year program.

I work in the nonprofit sector in China and have experience placing and supervising volunteers and interns in NGOs in China. I know from experience how difficult it is to put together a program like Global Citizen Year. The thought of putting together a program that spans four countries and places kids fresh out of high school into homestays and NGOs terrifies me. Yet this is what Global Citizen Year has managed to do and, from what we could see from our visit, they have succeeded in putting in place a first-class program.  After our trip to Florianopolis and talking with Jojo and her host families, my wife and I have a new level of respect for what Global Citizen Year has been able to accomplish.

Global Citizen Year’s mission is to prepare global leaders by providing our children with a bridge year experience.  It is too early to know whether Jojo will join the heady ranks of “global leaders” but her bridge year has definitely made her a more mature, empathetic and socially aware person who is not afraid to get her hands dirty.

At the Florianopolis airport, we were greeted by a different person than the one we left behind in San Francisco four months ago. Here was a young woman who spoke nearly fluent Portuguese with her host family, rode a bus everyday to work where she handled monkeys, penguins and capybaras and cleaned their cages at her animal rescue NGO, and led us around Florianopolis as if she was a local.  She had, in short, taken on a new identity, embraced a new culture and lifestyle, and adopted a new community and family as her home.

This is what we should hope for from our children: that they leave the confines of home and mature into intelligent, compassionate, cosmopolitan citizens of the world who are able to converse about global issues, empathize with cultures, peoples and ways of life that are different than what they have known, and scoop poop out of a monkey cage.

We were delighted to see that Jojo’s host families had embraced Jojo as part of their family. We spent New Year’s Eve with Jojo’s main host family who are middle-class and live in a modest house next to the largest lake (Lagoa da Conceição) in Florianopolis. Eliane, the host mom, was very warm and welcoming. She met us at the airport and took us to our hotel, invited us to their home for several meals, and accompanied us on a trip to one of Florianopolis’ many beaches. The host father, Michel who hails from France, also works at the animal rescue NGO, and helps Jojo with her Portuguese. In exchange, Jojo helps him with his English by reading through screenplays of Woody Allen movies.  Graciela, their 24 year old daughter, has taken Jojo under her wing and the two of them spend much of their free time together.

On our last day in Florianopolis, we hiked through a lush forest to a fishing village where we met Jojo’s first host family. She had lived with them during her first month while she took her Portuguese language classes. This family lived in more modest circumstances yet made us feel right at home and spoke highly of Jojo’s time with them.  It is a credit to the Global Citizen Year program that they do not sugarcoat the bridge year experience, and make the effort to introduce the students not only to a different culture but also to people from different socioeconomic levels so that they can experience first-hand the diversity and social problems of the community in which they live.