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Vol. LXII, No. 30
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
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International “Bridge Year” Program Will Start for PU Students in Fall 2009

Dilshanie Perera

“Global competence” said Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel in a 2006 report, “should be a part of every Princeton undergraduate’s education.” She defined such competence as “a combination of substantive knowledge about international matters, an empathy with and appreciation of other cultures, foreign language proficiency, and a practical ability to function in other cultures.”

A working group appointed by Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman has endorsed the creation of an international “bridge year” program that could help newly admitted undergraduates gain the kind of global competence mentioned by Ms. Malkiel. The program would allow students to pursue a tuition-free, pre-collegiate enrichment year focused on public service outside their home country.

Language training, cultural immersion, and service projects will be key components of the experience. The University would partner with organizations that have a successful record of operating international programs for young people. The objective would be to find service opportunities for students in the program that respond to the host community’s interests and needs without taking employment away from local residents.

Comprised of 14 faculty, student, and staff members, and headed by Professor Sandra Bermann, chair of the Department of Comparative Literature, the working group recommended launching a pilot program of 20 students in the fall of 2009.

The number of student participants is projected to increase annually, based on interest in the program, the goal being the participation of 100 students or 10 percent of the graduating class. Students would apply to the program following their admission to Princeton, and would begin their bridge year in the fall. All admitted students would have access to the program, regardless of financial capability. The University would cover most or all of the program costs.

In addition, Princeton University will create an office to manage the bridge year program’s planning and implementation.

Referring to the benefits of the bridge year, Ms. Bermann said, “students participating in this bold initiative will live in an unfamiliar cultural context abroad that should challenge assumptions, encourage innovative thinking, and foster maturity. It will provide a time of service, an opportunity for students to think about working with and for others, and a break from the academic pressure that marks today’s intensely competitive pre-college experience.”

In October of 2007, Ms. Tilghman and Provost Christopher Eisgruber presented the “Princeton in the World” university report, making suggestions regarding how the university can better equip its students in their understanding of and engagement with the world in a time of globalization.

By February of this year Ms. Tilghman had organized the working group to consider a bridge year program. The announcement suggested that the “Citizenship and the World” campaign will probably provide the funding for the program. It is part of the “Aspire: a Plan for Princeton” fundraising campaign, which has already raised a record $54.1 million.

Anticipating that the bridge year would enable students to “gain critical international experiences and perspectives and to bring those insights to campus to share with other students,” Ms. Tilghman said that she expects the time spent during the bridge year will allow “students to take fuller advantage of their subsequent four years at the University.”

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