Despite his acceptance by UC Berkeley, Villanueva has elected to put college on hold while he spends a gap year with Global Citizen Year, a program that encourages recent high school graduates to take a year off between high school and college to gain some worldly experience by immersing them in a new culture. It’s similar to the Peace Corps – but for teenagers.
Villanueva leaves for his adventure later this month. He’ll spend eight months in Ecuador living with a host family and taking part in an apprenticeship while getting a new perspective on life. He’s never been to Ecuador, and he doesn’t know anyone there, but the thought of traveling nearly 4,000 miles from home is a more exciting prospect than a frightening one.
“I know it sounds a little crazy, but I can’t wait,” said Villanueva, 17. “College is definitely in my future, but to be honest, I was kind of dreading going to college. I didn’t want to spend another four years doing homework. I want to get out there and do something.”
While he’s unsure what his apprenticeship will involve, Villanueva would like the opportunity to teach English to children or volunteer at a local hospital. During his gap year, he’s most looking forward for the chance to get out of his comfort zone and improve his people skills. Despite his easy smile and cheerful demeanor, Villanueva admits he could work on his public-speaking skills and expand his leadership skills. He’s also looking forward to putting five years’ worth of Spanish classes to use while he’s in South America.
Aside from trips to the Philippines to visit family, Villanueva hasn’t been outside the country. He comes from a big family, which includes his mother, father and four siblings, so he’s requested to stay with a large host family so the transition isn’t overwhelming.
“I know I’m going to experience culture shock,” he said. “That’s unavoidable. I’m going to be completely out of my element. But I’ll be able to stay in touch with my family through Skype. I know it’s going to be tough, but I think this will be a great character-building opportunity.”
Villanueva learned of Global Citizen Year while “college shopping” last year. He read about a gap-year program offered through Harvard and decided to look for other programs throughout the country and settled on Global Citizen Year, which is offered through Stanford. But the program isn’t strictly for Ivy League types.
“The idea of taking a year off to travel, work and explore is really common in Europe,” Villanueva said. “But here in the United States, taking a year off isn’t an option that guidance counselors recommend or even suggest. You either go to work, school or the military. I like the idea of taking a year to learn about the world – getting an experience that’d I’d never find in a textbook.”
As one of the 90 participants selected for the 2012-13 program, Villanueva has been tapped to be a local ambassador for the program in East County. In preparation for his trip, he’s been canvasing the community, promoting Global Citizen Year and seeking donations. As his trip was funded almost entirely by the participants from the previous year, who pounded the pavement to garner donations for their successors, the donations Villanueva raises will fund the 2013-14 program.
To help boost awareness for the program, Villanueva is hosting a fundraiser at Willy’s Bagels and Blends, 390 West Country Club Drive in Brentwood, on Friday, Aug. 10, which also happens to be Ecuador’s Independence Day. A portion of the day’s proceeds benefit Global Citizen Year. The community is also invited to donate online on Villanueva’s personal page, www.globalcitizenyear.org/author/john-villanueva, where he’ll maintain a blog while he’s away.
For more information about Global Citizen Year, visit www.globalcitizenyear.org.