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Lee Mook used the Global Gap Year Fellowship to explore his interests in several fields. In Nicaragua, he built and repaired solar ovens. In Costa Rica, he started a community-based English language program, and in China he attended a Chinese university and taught students English and Spanish.

While abroad, Lee used what little free time he had to read as much as he could. Over time, he became convinced of the value of business as a driver of global change and as a result he hopes to graduate from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business.

More than anything, however, what Lee takes away from his fellowship year is a deeper understanding of the value of language and the impact it can have both on individuals and communities. Having seen first-hand the value of his Spanish and Chinese language skills, Lee has decided to try and make language more accessible back in his native Chapel Hill community. His first project is the Carolina Language Initiative (CLI), a program he founded to make language more accessible locally. The aim of CLI is to bring students, faculty, staff and community members together on a weekly basis for conversation and fun activities in the target language. His aim is for students to build connections with people outside the confines of UNC and to foster a sense of community through language.

In partnership with UNC’s department of Asian Studies and made possible by a DoD grant, Lee has also started designing an intensive language-based summer camp for local high school students. Named Star-talk, the aim of the program is to provide 45 scholars 5 weeks of language study initially only offered in Chinese, but eventually also in Arabic or Hindi with the potential to add a third language later on.

Lee considers his experiences abroad an inspiration for the many opportunities he plans to pursue at Carolina, including his language initiatives. As a result of his gap year, he knows how he can provide a meaningful impact. After a year abroad interacting with both peers and superiors in different languages, he knows how to persist, build relationships, and achieve his goals.