Clayton teen to take ‘Global Gap Year’

ndunn@newsobserver.comJune 20, 2014 

Kaitlin Harlow, 16, of Clayton will work and travel abroad before enrolling at UNC-Chapel Hill.


People have told Kaitlin Harlow that in South America, encountering a tarantula is inevitable. She hopes that’s not the case.

The Clayton teenager says she wants to stay focused on public service – not large spiders – while she’s living abroad for the next year.

Harlow, 16, who graduated earlier this year from St. Mary’s School, is one of seven incoming UNC-Chapel Hill students who will defer enrollment for one year to volunteer, work and travel abroad.

The Campus Y, a social-justice and entrepreneurship group at the university, founded the Global Gap Year program in 2011 with an anonymous gift of $1.5 million. The money covers travel and living expenses for program fellows.

What students study is largely up to them.

“It’s really limitless what you can do with your time,” Harlow said.

Before they leave, students lay out what they want to do abroad and receive feedback from Campus Y staff.

“They want you to do it on your own, which is pretty tough,” Harlow said. “But it’s an important part of the program.”

Harlow is headed to Central and South America, where she’ll work with nongovernmental organizations that seek to improve the quality of child care and education.

The gap year runs from September through June. Fellows typically enroll in regular classes at UNC-Chapel Hill when they return.

Richard Harrill, director of the Campus Y, said the program does not end after fellows come home. “We work with them when they come on campus and try to build on their global experience,” he said, adding that 18 students have gone through the program since its inception.

For the first three months of her gap year, Harlow will spend time in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras with a group called Carpe Diem Education. According to its website, the organization offers international academic programs for high school graduates focused on volunteerism, international travel and self-reliance.

Harlow will also spend three months helping with summer camps for YMCA Peru, near Lima.

“I’m really apprehensive about being financially independent and managing a budget,” Harlow said. “But at the same time, I am very excited.”

Her father, John, found out about the program before his daughter’s senior year at St. Mary’s and recommended she give it a try. Because Harlow skipped first and eighth grades, she is two years younger than most college freshmen. She said both she and her parents thought the fellowship was a good alternative to enrolling in college at 16.

“It seemed to make a lot of sense to me,” Harlow said.

In high school, she took part in the Saint Mary’s Student Ambassadors Program and Student Government Association. She was inducted into the National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society and also received the 2013 Student Library Council Service Award.

You can follow Harlow’s trip abroad on her website,, and through her blog,

Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104

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