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Fall Bridge Year programs expecting delays due to coronavirus

<p>Bridge Year Participants in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 2017, one of five Bridge Year locations.</p>
<h6>Marissa Michaels / The Daily Princetonian</h6>

Bridge Year Participants in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 2017, one of five Bridge Year locations.

Marissa Michaels / The Daily Princetonian

Facing uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Novogratz Bridge Year Program sent an email to prospective applicants on April 28 informing them that the office plans to offer the program but expects a delayed start date.

The Novogratz Bridge Year Program is a nine-month, fully-funded service-oriented gap year program for a select group of incoming first-year students, eight of whom will be sent to each of the five countries involved in the program, including Bolivia, China, India, Indonesia, and Senegal.

The program typically holds orientation in late August. This year, it is unclear if that will happen.

The email stated that the program “intend[s] to offer Bridge Year to members of the incoming Class of 2024 — most likely, however, with a delayed start date to allow participants additional time to complete pre-departure tasks, like visa applications, health assessments, and vaccinations.” 

While the announcement did not provide any details, it promised to release more information for applicants in the near future in accordance with the development of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“We will continue to closely monitor the situation with COVID-19 in the weeks ahead and will inform applicants prior to interview of the program’s intended start date and any other possible program modifications,” the email explained, “so that they can make informed decisions about joining the program.”

Going forward, the program will work with campus partners, public health agencies and local host communities to determine the path ahead.

“The safety of our students, program partners, and host communities is our top priority,” wrote Deputy University Spokesperson Mike Hotchkiss in an email to The Daily Princetonian. 

Yvette Olivas Biddle, an admitted student from San Diego, Calif., applied to the program, putting China as her first choice.

“It just seems like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that someone would pay for me to have an experience like that,” she said.

Biddle, who was accepted to the University as a Single-Choice Early Action applicant in December, started her Bridge Year application before it was clear that COVID-19 might disrupt the program, but she says that she’s not worried about possible changes.

“Even if we're not allowed to travel abroad, I feel like they’d still provide a meaningful experience for the students that are selected for Bridge Year,” she said. 

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She does, however, worry about the effects on the Bridge Year experience if the program is delayed for too long.

“I think a month wouldn't be so bad, but I can foresee them having to push it back for more than a month,” she said. “And at that point, it probably starts to be kind of disappointing. Because if they're pushing it back, I assume you're also not on campus. So you'd just be at home during the time when a lot of your peers are starting college or already enacting their gap year plans.”

Biddle attended a webinar in which the Bridge Year office discussed contingency plans, but she felt as though the communication was too vague. 

“I feel like they could have been more clear about specifically mentioning whether or not they would provide programming for accepted students,” she said.

Biddle hopes that selected students would not be forced to start classes in the fall should Bridge Year be reconfigured. 

No matter the fate of the Bridge Year Program this upcoming fall, Hotchkiss believes that the applicants will continue their dedication to service.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect communities around the world, the mission of the Novogratz Bridge Year Program is more important than ever,” he wrote. “While we cannot predict at this time what the next year will look like around the world, we know that incoming students will join a community of Princetonians with a commitment to service learning, an interest in international programs, and a curiosity about the world.”

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