UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Grace Mannix, a junior studying recreation, park and tourism management in Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College, spent her summer vacation gathering cold-weather gear and giving herself a crash course in the Russian language. This fall, instead of returning to Penn State’s University Park campus, Mannix boarded a transatlantic flight to Russia, where she’ll spend this fall semester studying abroad in the country’s cultural capital, St. Petersburg.
For the 21-year-old globetrotter, it won’t be her first time living and learning abroad. Three years ago Mannix deferred her acceptance to Penn State for a gap — or bridge — year in a small town in Senegal, an agricultural-based country on Africa’s west coast.
“My Amazon shopping cart was something else that summer. I was stocking up on mosquito netting and water purification tablets and taking daily doses of malaria medicine. It wasn’t a typical post-high school experience, but I felt this pull, like I do now, to experience something different from what I knew and be part of something greater,” Mannix said. “Going to college has always been my goal, but so is understanding different cultures and people, and luckily I didn’t have to choose. Penn State has encouraged me to pursue every one of my dreams — from service to study abroad.”
After high school, Mannix spent eight months as a fellow with Global Citizen Year, a nonprofit organization that connects recent graduates with service learning opportunities in Brazil, Ecuador, India and Senegal. As part of the immersive cultural experience, she lived with a host family, became part of a local Senegalese community, contributed as an apprentice at a local tailor’s shop and joined a cohort of peers interested in exploring the world.
While common overseas, bridge years — an experiential break between high school and college — are gaining popularity in the United States. While some people dedicate their year to travel, saving for college, volunteering or exploring career interests, Mannix looked for an established program for the training opportunities it offered in language, global issues, international development and social entrepreneurship. After a rigorous selection process, she was chosen to be a Global Citizen Year fellow and became the first — and so far, only — Penn Stater to participate in the program.
“I’d always been really interested in African culture and before I went off to college, I wanted to have a hands-on learning experience where I could connect with people in a new place and alleviate stereotypes,” Mannix said. “While traveling, my goal is to take what I learn and immediately put it into practice. As our world is getting smaller and tensions are rising, my hope is to meld my interests and experiences to make connections that I believe will benefit communities.”