Meet the Fellows

The inaugural class of Global Gap Year Fellows departed on their gap years in 2011. Since then, nine cohorts have engaged in creative, self-designed years of service abroad and formed a vibrant GGYF family at UNC.

John Swinea


John Swinea graduated from East Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill, NC. While in high school, he was awarded Eagle Scout. He was also on the swim team, a cappella, and volunteered on his free time.

Read about John’s Gap Year!

Self-Reflection Before a Year of Transformation

Figuring Things Out

Learning My Role in Community


Sonia Rao


Sonia Rao, of Morrisville, NC, graduated from Green Hope High School. She is our Bridge Year Fellow for 2021-2022. She is majoring in Journalism. She is a Chuck Stone Scholar as well as a recipient of the M.S. Van Hecke award from UNC Hussman School of Media and Journalism. During the first two years at UNC-Chapel Hill, she has served as the City & State Editor of The Daily Tar Heel, interned for The Charlotte Observer, the Virginian Pilot and The Poynter Institute.

During her bridge year, Sonia is interested in going to Puerto Rico and Cape Town, South Africa.

Read about Sonia’s Bridge Year!


Solitude, Reflection

Ayanna Philips

Ayanna Philips, from Charlotte, NC, graduated from Merancas Middle College High School. During high school, she was involved in the National Honors Society, National Student Council, and Yearbook. She was awarded the Phillip O’ Berry Certification of Leadership, Merancas Scholar, and Merancas Outstanding Academic Excellence. Ayanna was also involved in Wake Forest University’s College LAUNCH For Leadership program.

During her gap year, she plans to visit Puerto Rico, Spain, and Italy.

Read about Ayanna’s Gap Year!

High School Graduation to A Gap Year, Different Right?

Ups and Downs

Experiences Worth Wild


Andrew McBride

Andrew McBride graduated from Cox Mill High School. He is from Concord, NC. During high school, Andrew was involved in DECA, BETA Club, and the Debate Club.


Read about Andrew’s Gap Year!

Uncertainty and Excitement in the Face of Departure


Emma Lovelace


Emma Lovelace is from Forest City, NC. She graduated from East Rutherford High School. During high school, Emma was involved in the Student Government Association, Younglife, National Honor Society, and she was a part of her yearbook staff. She also played varsity soccer. Emma was accepted into NC Governor’s School in 2020, won a ROPE Award,  a BAM Literature Scholarship, and earned the GEN(I)US Top Level SAT Recognition.

She is interested in going to Thailand, various European Countries, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C.

Read about Emma’s Gap Year!

All or Nothing!

Discovering Freedom Within and Around


Sitao Lin


Sitao Lin is a graduate of Mitchell High School from Spruce Pine, NC. During his time in high school, Sitao participated in theater, Key Club, Student Council, Future Business Leaders of America, and Future Health Professionals. At Mitchell, he was awarded a 4 Year Academic Award as well as National Honors Society. He is a Carolina Covenant Scholar.

During his gap year, Sitao is interested in going to different countries such as Thailand, Germany, and Spain where he will be working in Public Health Programs, food accessibility, and holistic medicine studies.

Read about Sitao’s Gap Year!

A Story Without A Protagonist

Unexpected but Just What I Needed

McCarty Hudson

Anna (McCarty) Hudson is a Research Triangle High School alumna from Raleigh, NC. Throughout high school, McCarty was involved in different organizations such as Student Council, Math Honors Society, executive board member of National Honors Society, president of National Art Honors Society, and the founding president of the Raptor Student-Athlete Council. She was also captain of the cross country, indoor and outdoor track team. In her free time, McCarty would also volunteer at Saving Grace and at Art Farm Camp as a camp counselor.

During her gap year, McCarty, is interested in going to Puerto Rico, Montana, Hawaii, Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Thailand.

Read about McCarty’s Gap Year!

Finding Peace

Dear Boo, My Horse Hero

Hidden Tattoos

Amber Grant


Amber Grant graduated from Union Pines High School in Cameron, NC. She is from Salem, Massachusetts. During high school, Amber participated in National Honor Society, Project Uplift, Future Health Professionals, and the LEO Club.

During her gap year, Amber is interested in going to Hawaii and Vermont.

Read about Amber’s Gap Year here:

Mid-Year Reflection

Jessie Foday

Jessie Foday, of Durham, graduated from Durham School of the Arts. She participated in Key Club and National Honor Society. She also served as the co-editor of her school’s newspaper, and co-editor of DSA’s Literary Magazine, “Portraits in Ink”. Apart from this, Jessie also participated in sports. She was a varsity athlete in women’s indoor and outdoor track and field, women’s cross country, and women’s soccer. She was awarded the Durham Public Schools Foundation Scholarship.

At UNC, she was been accepted into the Honors Carolina program, as well as Assured Enrollment in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media and the Environmental Health Sciences program at Gillings School of Global Public Health.

During her gap year, Jessie is interested in going to Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Argentine, Honduras as well as the AmeriCorps program in the US. 

Read about Jess’s Gap Year!

Dear Future Me

Violet Child-Lanning


Violet Child-Lanning, of Chapel Hill, graduated from Emerson Waldorf School. She participated in Student Ambassador and the Queer Straight Alliance club. She was also on the volleyball and basketball team.

During her gap year, Violet is interested in going to Malawi.

Read about Violet’s Gap Year!

Overcoming My Peter Pan Syndrome Through A Gap Year

Nancy Alvarez Lopez


Nancy Alvarez Lopez, of Louisburg, graduated from Franklin County Early College High School. She participated in National Honor Society and was a freshman mentor. Nancy was also captain of the Bunn High School soccer team. At Carolina, she is a recipient of the Women’s Leadership Council Scholarship, and she is a Carolina Covenant Scholar.

During her gap year, Nancy is interested in going to Hawaii, Spain, Europe, and South Korea.

Read about Nancy’s Gap Year!

Life Begins at the End of My Comfort Zone


Val Orozco

Val Orozco is from Colombia but recently graduated from Northwest Guilford High School in Greensboro, NC. At Northwest, she was involved in sports such as field hockey, lacrosse, and track. Other activities she was involved in included speech and debate, multiple service-learning organizations, and honors societies for academics, arts, and German.

Val is passionate about community engagement, environmental health, and immigrant and refugee rights. During her Gap Year, Val hopes to work on a farm to explore her environmental health interests and organizations that cater to her passion for immigrant’s rights. Val is currently considering working with Transplanting Traditions, a community garden in Carrboro, NC for the domestic component of her Gap Year and hopes to travel to Brazil and throughout South America in the spring/ summer. Val would like to study Global Studies and Political Science at UNC upon finishing her Gap Year and feels that GGYF will help […]

Tushar Varma

Tushar Varma completed his second year at UNC-Chapel Hill and intends to graduate in 2023 from the Hussman School of Journalism & Media with a degree in Advertising/Public Relations, and with minors in Anthropology and Studio Art. During the first half of his Carolina experience, Tushar was heavily engaged with the Carolina International Relations Association, a nonprofit organization with a focus on spreading educational opportunities regarding international politics and engagement to high-school and college students. Tushar has also been working closely with CUBE, a social entrepreneurship innovator housed in the Campus Y. In his free time, Tushar is usually painting or learning about a new creative platform.

Tushar is passionate about equality in youth education and wants to explore this while abroad. During his Bridge Year, Tushar plans on volunteering organizations that help him better understand the world outside of what he is comfortable with, rekindling interest in old hobbies, […]

Rose Houck

Rose Houck, of McLeansville, NC, recently graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. During her time as NCSSM, Rose was involved with various climate justice organizations, cross country, and campus service. Rose has conducted independent academic research projects under the guidance of multiple leading environmental science professionals at Duke University and has experience lobbying with state representatives to effectively block corrupt nonrenewable infrastructure legislation.

Rose is passionate about equality, environmental advocacy, and climate justice. During her Gap Year, Rose hopes to continue her environmental advocacy and climate justice work by working with communities that have been affected by climate change. Rose hopes to return to Carolina as an Environmental Science major and feels that this Gap Year experience with GGYF will provide her with some valuable experiences to build off of during her time at Carolina.

Read Rose’s Blogs here:

Pre-Departure: It’s All About Balance

Adventure is Out There…

McKenzie Roller

McKenzie Roller, from Avon, Connecticut, recently graduated from Miss Porter’s High School. McKenzie started a club called FaceUp that focuses on holding discussions on controversial issues while welcoming all perspectives into the conversation. She was also involved in AWARE (Association for White Enti-Racist Education) and Model UN. McKenzie was also a student-athlete, participating in cross country, basketball, and lacrosse.

During her Gap Year, Mckenzie hopes to understand the world from perspectives outside of her own, improve her Spanish language skills, and work with organizations that cater to her interests in education, social justice, racial equality, and women and girl’s empowerment.

Read McKenzie’s Blogs here:

Pre-Departure: Popping the Bubble

Returning Back to Where It All Began

Kyra Koons

Kyra Koons, of Raleigh, NC, recently graduated from Enloe High School where she was very involved in her school’s soccer and tennis teams. She was also involved in the Spanish club, mock trial, and visual art. Kyra is very passionate about sports, visual art, and language learning.

Kyra wants to take a gap year to “explore ideas and service opportunities that [she] might otherwise not have had exposure to.” With this, she also intends to become fluent in Spanish by the end of her Gap Year and work with organizations that cater to her passions in Spanish, sports, and visual art. Kyra hopes to use her Spanish language and literacy skills in the world of business at Carolina and beyond. If given the opportunity to go abroad, Kyra would love to go to Spain or Italy. Kyra is excited about this opportunity to “transition from a narrow ‘field-of-view’ into a broader […]

Karsen Kennedy

Karsen Kennedy, of Fuquay-Varina, NC, recently graduated from Harnett Central High School. At Harnett Central, Karsen was a concertmaster for her school’s orchestra as a violinist and was involved with the Young Political Activist Club and Joyful Sound. Karsen has been independently studying Korean and Thai and is interested in continuing to learn ASL and Spanish.

Her desire to take a Gap Year “spurs from her longing to see people.” During her Gap Year, Karsen hopes to continue to enrich her language education and work with organizations that cater to her passions for animal advocacy, environmental justice, and music. Overall, Karsen is excited to form connections within a new environment and learn from working with new service-oriented organizations.

Read Karsen’s Blogs here:

Pre-Departure: Here’s to…

Looking Back

Justis Malker

Justis Malker recently completed his second year at UNC-Chapel Hill where he is studying History, Statistics, and African American studies. During his time at UNC thus far, Justis has been involved with UNC Cypher (a freestyle rap group), Student Hip Hop Organization (SHHO), Black Student Movement (BSM), and the Campus Y’s Cube 5.0 Cohort.

Justis’ passions lie in culture, art, sports, politics, and the interplay between these four areas of interest. He is particularly interested in and passionate about social justice and education inequalities. During his bridge year, Justice is working towards planting seeds both at his placement(s) and at UNC and expanding his personal horizons while experiencing and learning from different cultures. Justis is currently exploring service placement options with 826LA, Die Jim Crow, Prison Library Project, and Homeboy Industries for his bridge year with the ‘20-’21 cohort.

Halden Levin

Halden Levin, of Pinehurst, NC, recently graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. Halden was involved in many different activities in high school, serving as cross country co-captain, a Chinese dancer, Neuroscience Teaching Assistant, and Bridge II Sports Volunteer Speech. She was also heavily involved as Debate Co-President and NCSSM Poets Society Co-Founder. She continues to stay active in supporting her older brother as a Bridge II Sports athlete and working as a Market Street Press Employee and Bergelson Lab research assistant.

Halden is passionate about Chinese language and culture, examining disability from psychological, neurological, and anthropological perspectives, as well as poetry and public speaking. She hopes to use her gap year to enrich these passions and interests of hers to pursue a career in pediatric neurology with a focus on children with neurodevelopmental disorders internationally.


Read Halden’s Blogs here:

Pre-Departure: Just Sitting

January into February: Floating, Flying

One Thousand Paper Cranes: […]

Jaya Dayal

Jaya Dayal recently graduated from Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, Florida. In high school, Jaya was involved in Water for the World (a club focused on ending inaccessibility to clean water) and volunteered with the Boys and Girls Club. She was also involved in the debate team, research, student government. Jaya is passionate about environmental advocacy, equality, and clean water accessibility.

Jaya hopes to gain experience in advocacy and activism by gaining new perspectives and cultural understandings from working with service-oriented organizations. On her Gap Year, Jaya hopes to work with organizations that address access to clean water, the intersection of gender and climate change [women’s empowerment as it related to climate change], and sexual assault prevention advocacy. She is also interested in learning Hindi and connecting to her family’s cultural roots.

Read Jaya’s Blogs here:

Pre-Departure: A Moment to Breathe

Ander Naugle

Ander Naugle recently graduated from Flagler Palm Coast High School in Flagler Beach, Florida where he was involved with the school’s football team, track and field, and the International Baccalaureate Program. He was also involved in several clubs such as Key Club, Mu Alpha Theta, Spanish Honors Society, Model United Nations, and Project Blossom (a volunteering program at the local elementary school).

Ander is passionate about medicine and public health and hopes to use his gap year to gain experience in the medical field both domestically and abroad if given the chance. Ander’s three main goals for his gap year are to become fluent in Spanish, understand his family’s Venezuelan culture better, and to work in the medical field. He is looking into completing his EMT training and shadowing hospitals or clinics during his Gap Year. If given the opportunity to go abroad, Ander is hoping to go to South […]

Abby Rogers

Abby Rogers, of Raleigh, NC, graduated from Middle Creek High School where she was involved in a variety of activities including Key Club, Jane Goodall Institute’s National Roots & Shoots Youth Leadership Council, Quiz Bowl, and the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER Committee.

Abby is passionate about growth and justice. On her Gap Year, she hopes to push herself to see different places and meet new people before starting her college education. Abby is also passionate about women’s and girl’s rights and education and plans to work with female empowerment NGOs and women’s shelters domestically and abroad if given the chance. She also loves the outdoors and plans to go on a long-term backpacking Outward Bound experience during her Gap Year as well.

Taylor Molina

Taylor Molina of Edgewater, New Jersey graduated from Leonia High School, where she was president of the National Honors Society, was a Student Representative on the Leonia Board of Education, and was a member of the Rho Kappa Social Studies Honor Society. Taylor received the Becky Kleinman Award athletic award character. Taylor received the Morehead-Cain Scholarship to attend UNC and has been admitted to UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and will be a participant in Honors Carolina.

During her gap year, Taylor travelled to Chaltura, Ecuador through Global Citizen Year. Taylor volunteered at an Unidad Educativa, a small, public school. Taylor co-taught English with an English teacher from Ecuador who had been working in the school. She worked with students in second to seventh grades and those in their last year of high school. Taylor was in the classroom grading, co-teaching, answering questions, and making worksheets. She worked and lived in […]

Simone McFarlane

Simone McFarlane of Concord, NC graduated from Concord High School. There, she was active in Spanish National Honor Society, Amnesty International, and Service Club.

During her gap year, Simone spent three months in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico where she partnered with Centro para Los Adolescentes de San Miguel de Allende (CASA). At CASA she worked with their community health clinic and ELEGIR program to develop campaigns related to sexual health and eliminating gender violence in local communities. Afterwards, she spent the next three months in Barranquilla, Colombia at a school with a large Afro-Colombian community. As an English teacher, she led classes, assisted other classes, and developed curriculum centered on Afro-Colombian history.

She plans to major in Global Studies and Public Policy at UNC.

Read Simone’s blog posts here:

Pre-Departure: Such A Chidi

Childlike Wonder in Mexico

The Power of Perception

Unpacking Mexico

My First Carnaval

Sarah Duncan

Sarah Duncan of Raleigh graduated from Smithfield-Selma High School, where she was Vice Chair of the National Honors Society and the Raleigh Youth Council. She served as the Captain of both the JV/Varsity track team and the Varsity cross country team.

During her gap year, Sarah spent three months in Seoul, South Korea working with Justice for North Korea to raise awareness of North Korean refugees as well as the North Korean human rights crisis. She helped organize street campaigns, made posters/flyers, and wrote articles based on people in North Korea. Afterwards, she travelled to Barranquilla, Colombia where she taught English at a school in a largely Afro-Colombian and indigenous community. She volunteered with her fellow cohort-member, Simone, there.

Sarah plans to study at UNC’s School of Media and Journalism.

Read Sarah’s blog posts here:

Pre-Departure: Start Somewhere and See the World

On the Road to Seoul

A Digital Girl Discovering a ~Not […]

Sadie Jane Allen

Sadie Jane Allen of Saluda graduated from Polk County High School, where she was a member of the Saluda Teen Advisory Group and Marketing Committee. Sadie received the Margaret L. Forbes Distinguished Scholar Award, the Saluda Women Award, the Aos Club Scholarship and the Newton Academy Forster/Stevens Award. Sadie is a Tar Heel Merit Scholar and has been admitted into Honors Carolina.

During her gap year, Sadie volunteered in Weinan, China and Split, Croatia. In Weinan, Sadie taught English primarily to elementary aged children and loved incorporating fun games into her lessons. When she was not teaching, Sadie enjoyed exploring Weinan and Xi’an, trying different dishes, and even learning Chinese-style flower painting from friends. Afterwards, she helped local Croatian nonprofits with marketing and creative technologies. She worked with Green Sail, a nonprofit focused on improving sustainability in the nautical industry, and Bestie Split, a local no-kill animal shelter. […]

Nya Patton

Nya Patton of Durham graduated from City of Medicine Academy, where she was involved in HOSA: Future Health Professionals, Made in Durham and the National Honors Society. Nya has received the Johnston Scholarship to attend UNC and has been accepted into Honors Carolina.

During her gap year, Nya’s first placement was in Brazil with Iracambi. Iracambi is an organization responsible for reforestation work within the Atlantic Rainforest in Brazil. Her daily tasks included taking care of, weeding, and watering thousands of trees. On her last week of service in Brazil, she and her team went out and planted most of those trees within a handful of farmers properties to allow them to experiment with agroforestry and create purpose for their excess land. For her next placement, Nya worked with an organization called Jigsaw. Jigsaw provided mental health services to children and families within the North Belfast area in Northern […]

Matthew Lu

Matthew Lu of Edmonton, Alberta, graduated from Old Scona Academic High School, where he was captain of his high school’s Reach for the Top (an academic quiz competition) team, and was a member of the badminton and track teams. He received the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award and First Class Honors.

During his gap year, Matthew’s first placement was with an organization in Shenzhen, China called SZLNKX. SZLNKX serves the elderly by helping them get into events and recruiting retired professionals to volunteer their skills with impoverished rural villages. Matthew mainly worked in the secretarial office helping organize and supervise events. Matthew then volunteered with Jiangmen Foreign Language School in Xinhui, China where he was a teaching assistant to a foreign language teacher. He was tasked with assisting the head teachers through translations. Matthew’s final placement was in Cape Town, South Africa where he worked with the Red Cross […]

Karen Xu

Karen Xu of Cary just completed her sophomore year at UNC, where she is pursuing a dual degree in Health Policy & Management and Global Studies. Karen is a 2017 graduate of Raleigh Charter High School, where she was a National Merit Scholarship Finalist and a member of the Spanish Honor Society. At UNC, Karen is active in the UNC Wordsmiths, UNC Cypher and the Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team.

During her bridge year, Karen furthered her interest in public health through volunteering at the Office of Binational Border Health (OBBH) within the California Department of Public Health. During this experience, she worked on infectious disease surveillance projects to help promote public health in the US-Mexico border region. As part of the Global Zero TB Initiative, she helped work on a join project between the OBBH and Advances Access & Delivery (AA&D), a global health non-profit, to combat tuberculosis in […]

Jennifer Kang

Jennifer Kang of Charlotte graduated from Providence High School where she was president of Model United Nation team, served in class council, volunteered as a technology tutor, and received the Junior Marshall Award. At UNC, Jennifer plans to double major in Computer Science (B.S) and Spanish Linguistic.

During her gap year, she travelled to Imbabura region, Ecuador through Global Citizen Year(GCY). There she stayed with a traditional Kichwa family in Cotacachi volunteering at Kichwa Radio Ilumán and Magazine Wiñay Kawsay. She wrote independent articles about other fellows’ experience and conducted a research(comprised of interviews and poll) about people’s perception of abortion and Ecuador’s abortion law and history. She created Shuk Llaktamanta Mashikuna podcast with another fellow exploring Kichwa culture and tradition by interviewing professionals and members of the community. The podcasts were aired in Radio Ilumán early months of 2020.

Read Jennifer’s blog posts here:

Pre-Departure: The Beginning 

Part of me […]