Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Davis teen prepares for bridge year in Ecuador

A congratulatory banner hangs on the fence in Valerie Hurst's back yard in Davis as she talks with excitement about her upcoming stay in Ecuador through the Global Citizen Year program. She will live with a host family and spend about 20 hours a week working in her internship, one she hopes will focus on environmental science. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

When Valerie Hurst was applying to colleges last fall, she wasn’t finding the process particularly inspiring.

“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do,” she recalled recently.

And the thought of picking a place where she would spend the next four years — not to mention a whole lot of money — without really knowing where she wanted to be or what she wanted to be doing, didn’t seem ideal to her.

“I didn’t want to head off to college, spend all that money, without having a clear direction in mind,” she said.

But like so many of her classmates at Davis High at the time, Hurst dutifully completed those applications and sat back to see where her future might lie.

Then in March, her mom, Linda, found Global Citizen Year.

The bridge-year program sends American students who have just finished high school to countries in Latin America and Africa for a year of service learning and leadership training. Fellows, as the participants are called, live with a host family while apprenticing with a local organization and learning the language and customs of that country.

The program’s purpose is to provide a year of immersion in the real world, outside the classroom, so future leaders will acquire the purpose and passion needed to make an impact on the world.

It was right up Hurst’s alley, as she’d always wanted to travel abroad and learn new languages.

She found herself at the tail-end of the application process in March, but managed to get her papers in on time and learned soon enough that she had been selected to spend the coming school year in Ecuador.

By the time she returns next April, she likely will have mastered a new language, learned much about life and culture in a Third World country, and spent thousands of hours in an internship of her choosing. Fellows have apprenticed with everything from nongovernmental organizations to environmental groups, travel agencies to schools and more.

“Then I’ll go to college with a better sense of purpose and direction,” Hurst said.

She departs at the end of August, first for a week of training at Stanford University with her fellow travelers, then to Ecuador, where she’ll spend more than a month in training and orientation before settling with her host family. She is one of 35 teens who will be spending the year in Ecuador through Global Citizen Year. Others will be traveling to Senegal or Brazil.

Brazil actually had been Hurst’s first choice, but she says she’s perfectly happy to spend the year in Ecuador. In either case, language would be her biggest challenge — she studied Chinese at Davis High — but she’s been using the Rosetta Stone language software to make some headway.

“I think it will be about halfway through the year before the language barrier is broken down,” she said this week.

She thinks that halfway mark will also be about the time she’ll start missing home.

Her parents, Linda and John Hurst, “have been completely supportive,” Hurst said, but they’ll have an adjustment to make, too, with their only child away for a year.

Meanwhile, she’ll be making a temporary life with a new family, living by their rules and following their customs.

She’ll spend about 20 hours a week working in her internship — one she hopes will focus on environmental science — and the rest of her time exploring the people and places of Ecuador. She’s particularly excited to see the Galapagos Islands.

Along the way she’ll pick up skills she never would have in college, she said.

“You’re changed when you come back,” Hurst said. “You know you need to make an impact, (but) understanding is key, so I can go back and really make a difference. I won’t truly understand until I see it.”

During her last weeks in Davis, she’s busy fundraising, not for herself but for future fellows in need of scholarships. The program is expensive — $29,000 for the year — but the vast majority of the participants, including Hurst, receive scholarships. Now she’s paying it forward by raising funds for future students.

Community members can donate by visiting her fundraising page, Hurst also plans a fundraiser at Pinkberry Yogurt in Davis Commons on Wednesday, July 24. Throughout the day, 20 percent of proceeds will go to Global Citizen Year, Hurst said.

In the meantime, when she’s not fundraising or learning Spanish, Hurst is busy with paperwork, immunizations and packing, and she’ll also get a head start on those college applications she’ll be filling out all over again — something she’s actually looking forward to this time around.

“I can write about something that’s actually worthwhile,” she said.

During her time in Ecuador, Hurst will be keeping a blog and posting photos and videos, and once she returns in the spring, she’ll do a presentation at Davis High.

Follow along on her journey at

Learn more about the program itself at

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy

Anne Ternus-Bellamy


Discussion | 1 comment

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  • Rich RifkinJuly 11, 2013 - 1:34 pm

    This program is a great idea. My congratulations to Miss Hurst for taking it up. I am sure, if she enters college as a 19 year old, she will be better prepared and far more mature than most others entering with her. I think (because boys tend to be more immature at 18 than girls) this sort of a program--or perhaps military service--would also be a great idea for a lot of boys who simply need to grow up and mature a bit before they start their university education.

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