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In high school, Bella Hernandez had always been successful. She was the president of several clubs and student groups, taught mini-sessions, and got good grades. When it came to preparing for college, however, something was missing. She didn’t feel ready to make the most out of college and generally did not feel ready to continue her studies. Understanding this about herself, Bella took a gap year through the Global Gap Year Fellowship and travelled to India, Iceland, and Germany, where she taught English and science, worked in a mental hospital, and volunteered at an orphanage.

The gap year gave Bella a global perspective of college education. Her experiences abroad have encouraged her to move away from her initial plan of studying philosophy towards something with more practical applications. While abroad, Bella came to see medical research as the best way to make a truly global impact. She plans to become a medical researcher, using a Chemistry degree to get her into the labs full-time.

In the countries she visited during her gap year, Bella analyzed different organizations, determining which were and were not achieving their community goals. These observations led Bella to believe in the value of a long-term, focused commitment.

Back at UNC, Bella has been accepted into the Campus Y’s Bonner Leaders program. Funded with federal work-study allocations, Bonner leaders make a four-year commitment to a local organization focused on community service and social justice. What excites her the most about being a Bonner leader at UNC is not just the program’s commitment to service but the way in which it goes about working in the communities: through strong, sustained and equal partnerships.

Bella credits her experiences abroad in helping her focus, establish strong priorities, and recognize the principles of ethical service.