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Princeton is urging service abroad

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Chris Newmarker
Associated Press / March 18, 2008

TRENTON, N.J. - Welcome to Princeton University! Your first assignment is to take the year off.

This Ivy League university is starting a new program to encourage students - as many as 10 percent of their incoming freshmen classes - to take off a year between high school and college in order to perform social service work around the world.

"We think this kind of service experience abroad will give them a very different perspective on their Princeton education," said Princeton provost Christopher Eisgruber.

The program, which university officials hope to have in place by the 2009-10 school year, would eventually involve as many as 100 students, or a 10th of each incoming class.

Students going abroad wouldn't pay tuition, and might receive financial aid to help pay for fees, living expenses, and travel. Students would not receive academic credit.

Eisgruber said the university wants to achieve two things at one time: Allow the high-achieving students who get admitted by the university to take a breather before college, and give them a chance to serve others while learning about the world.

Some students who've taken time off before starting college think more students could benefit from doing the same.

Sophomore Eliza MacFarlane spent the 2005-06 school year - what would have been her freshman year - helping autistic children in a rural Irish community, an experience she said made her better prepared for college and life.

"I think if everyone here spent a year focusing on someone else's needs, I think Princeton would be transformed," said MacFarlane, 21.

Ari Heistein, 20, who is from Teaneck, spent the 2006-07 in Israel.

He taught English south of Tel Aviv, and then moved to a kibbutz and helped with a youth program for Ethiopian Jews in a nearby town.

"I felt I needed some time off from working so hard to get into college. I thought it was good for me, and I was giving back. It was a really good situation," Heistein said.

The university is trying to hammer out details about what kind of programs students might partner with while working abroad, and how much the initiative will cost.

Sandra Bermann, a comparative literature professor who's chairing a university working group on the program, said living and working abroad would also carry over into how students interpret books and poetry in the classroom.

"When you're reading a text of poetry, it helps when you understand the cultural assumptions there," Bermann said.

The program is possibly the first of its kind in the United States, said Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the New York-based Institute of International Education, which promotes closer relations between educational institutions in the states and abroad.

"The rest of the world will get to see our future leaders doing really significant and socially important things," Goodman said.

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