2 seniors to travel abroad for gap years


By Austin Block

At least two students will take gap years next year.

The Brownstein Fellowship, a financial award given each year to one senior to support a gap year involving service and travel, was given to Gavin Cook ’10. Cook was notified he would receive the award a few weeks ago after being picked by the Brownstein Fellowship Selection Committee. Amy Schmidt ’10 will spend nine months in Israel with the Year Course program.

Cook, who spent his junior year in Beijing with the School Year Abroad program, plans to spend three months volunteering and learning Hindi in India, and five or six months in China. He said he will spend his first two to three months in China volunteering at a center for disabled children in Shanghai, then spend two or three months teaching English to underprivileged students in Wujiang, a rural area outside Shanghai. In between the two trips, he will take a six week break in Los Angeles.

“I spent my junior year in China with School Year Abroad and I wanted to do more volunteer work than I could because it was junior year abroad. It wasn’t at all like a gap year,” Cook said. “I had to take the SATs in China and I had to do essays and homework and things, so while I got a pretty immersive cultural experience, I didn’t have time to do volunteer work and really just dive really deep into service, and that’s what I’ll do with the gap year.”

Cook submitted a three-part application for the Selection Committee, which included an essay, a budget and what the Harvard-Westlake website calls a “program and itinerary.”

“I wanted to go to India because I’ve always found it fascinating, and I thought ‘Why not?’” Cook said. “I have the opportunity to go to India, so I thought I would just go ahead and take it and there are lots of opportunities for service in India, so it just worked out. I love China and if I had a year to do whatever I wanted I thought I would go back to China and volunteer.”

Schmidt will spend three months in Jerusalem, three months in the Negev desert and three months in a small town in Israel. She will take a specialty culinary program, take classes, see family and friends who live in Israel and do community service.

“I didn’t want to go straight to college and mostly my whole principle was that when I went to Israel when I was 16, I really fell in love with it and I decided that I wanted to go there and spend an extended period of time there and get to know the people, learn Hebrew better, see my friends, see my family,” Schmidt said. “Then when the idea of a gap year program came up and my mom and I were looking at a couple of different programs, and we found this one at the Gap Year Fair and we were really interested in the whole concept of them setting you up and just living there, going to classes, doing community service, and then the options of doing specialty tracks and stuff and so we just decided that we would do this one. I’m very happy about this.”

This summer, Cook will work to save additional money for the gap year.

“I have an internship at a law firm downtown — a paid internship — so that will be exciting, and I’m also teaching a Chinese class to some family friends and I will be doing Chinese tutoring as well,” Cook said.

Cook, who is fluent in Chinese, said he is excited to learn Hindi. He has already begun studying Hindi on the Internet.

Cook said he wants to do volunteer work because he feels a sense of responsibility and because it makes him happy.

“I feel the need to help others because it would make me feel happy,” Cook said. “It’s one of the very few things that I think a person can do that will really make them feel truly happy, and I feel also that I have been very fortunate to have gone to Harvard-Westlake, and I’ll be going to Princeton, and I feel like, ‘Why not give back?’ Giving back is awesome, and I also just feel the urge to really give back.”

Cook will go to India with the Himalayan Gap Year program and to China with the Project Abroad program. He will stay with a host family in Wujiang.