Hitting the gap, UNC in stride

Amy Dingler came to Carolina from another Fayetteville, the one in Georgia. But instead of heading due north to arrive in Chapel Hill, as one would expect, Dingler’s route took her in a different direction — through India, Hungary and Madagascar, with a detour through Europe.

As one of UNC’s first Global Gap Year Fellows, Dingler deferred her admission to the University to take a gap year—generally a year between high school and college—to pursue international volunteer service and cultural exploration.

“I hadn’t considered the idea [of a gap year] before the Global Gap Year Fellowship opportunity was presented to me, and it really made me want to come to UNC even more because it demonstrated to me that the University wanted to invest in me,” Dingler said. “Having the freedom to create my own experience and delve into issues and areas that I was especially interested in made the work that we put into it more significant and rewarding. It was the best decision of my life so far.”

Created with a $1.5 million commitment to the University from an anonymous donor, the Global Gap Year Fellows Program was designed and is administered by the Campus Y, a department in the Division of Student Affairs that has served as Carolina’s incubator for social justice since 1860.

Richard Harrill, Campus Y director, said the fellowships are not specifically need-driven but intended to make gap-year opportunities available to a broader range of students. “We aim to support students who perhaps hadn’t thought of a gap year, or who, if they had, wouldn’t have had the resources to take one,” he said. “This [inaugural] group of applicants was very diverse and included students who are often underrepresented in traditional study abroad programs.”

Global Gap Fellowships

Intended to reinforce the University’s burgeoning global education and entrepreneurial climate, the Global Gap Year Fellowships usually span nine months and provide a $7,500 stipend for travel, living expenses, program and other associated fees.

Along with Dingler, a double major in Asian studies and business as well as a Carolina Covenant Scholar, four other scholars were selected for the 2011-2012 academic year. Their travels took them to China, India, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, Hungary, France, Australia, Peru and the Galapagos.

Dingler set some goals for her gap year experience:

  • Volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, India;
  • Grow spiritually;
  • Use her time of service, reflection, travel and work to decide what she wanted to study at UNC;
  • Expand her mindset to accept and love the world as it is: in its brokenness and wholeness; and
  • Refocus her academic life.
And she met them by volunteering with Missionaries of Charity and Dadawas Initiative in India, working with Caritas Menthas in Italy and the Foundation for Democratic Youth in Hungary, as well as with Reef Doctor in Madagascar. She also found time to explore the life and culture of Venice, learn to scuba dive and study Hindi.

Read more from the Carolina Connections story by Hope Baptiste and see photos of Dingler scuba diving and mountain climbing.

Published August 30, 2013.