Teen Puts New York University Acceptance on Hold to Volunteer in Ecuador

Name: Jonathan Su
Hometown: San Marino, CA
Education: New York University, Class of 2018

Check out other Gamechangers on The Young Leader.

Interests and Passions:
Rarely goes to sleep before 4 AM
Ardent advocate for equality regardless of race, background, beliefs, or orientation
Loves music, art and popular culture

Transformational Experiences: China, Children of Africa™, Children of the Maya™, Heart and Soul of Africa

Making an Impact: 2014 Global Citizen Year Fellowship in Ecuador

“Later in my life, the opportunities to do this type of humanitarian work could be very rare- that’s why I want to soak up as much as possible now.”

Jonathan Su

What a difference a year makes

18 year-old Jonathan Timothy Su was a shy, reserved and “follow the crowd” type of student as a freshman in high school. He got excellent grades and had many friends, but he was certainly not one to jump out of his comfort zone.

The following year, after a life-changing summer spent on GLA’s “Children of China” Program, you’d have never described Jonathan that way. He carried himself with more confidence, independence and maturity, and his parents noticed an immediate change in him.

“I was so much more appreciative of my life, and I had much deeper understanding of the world and my role in it all. I couldn’t wait to continue my personal development through travel, and the rest is history!

Over the course of the next three years, Jonathan spent significant time in Ghana, Tanzania and Guatemala with GLA- focusing on programs with the greatest involvement in the service of at-risk youth and education outreach.

“My summers with GLA really uncovered a passion for students, teaching youth and working in at-risk youth education. I really saw the impact I could have in the world, and it has evolved into my main focus. Travel and immersion in new cultures has given me the knowledge of how much I can accomplish, how many things I can do to help others. The possibilities are endless. It’s almost like I didn’t know what I wanted in life beforehand.”

Now, however, Jonathan’s goals are crystal clear.

Over the course of the next year, he’ll be participating in a Global Citizen Year Fellowship, which involves him taking a year off in-between high school and college. He’ll be spending the year in Ecuador, where he’ll be immersed in yet another culture, master the Spanish language, and be responsible for a long-term community outreach project.

“I’m focusing on education for my project, and although the specifics won’t be worked out until I arrive in Ecuador and see the true needs of my placement community, I’m so excited for this opportunity. I was awarded a full scholarship as a Fellow, and I want to get as much out of this experience as possible.”

Jonathan relied on his experiences with GLA to make the decision to take a Fellowship year and not go directly to college.

“At my high school, taking a gap year is looked upon as kind of a weird thing. Almost everyone goes directly to a four-year university, and as our Class Promethean (Valedictorian) and Service Commissioner for Student Council, I think everyone expected the same from me. As a freshman, I never would have been able to make this bold, different choice. But I’ve grown up, and I know how important it is to stay true to yourself and your passions. I couldn’t be more excited about my choice.”

Jonathan has also made the decision to attend New York University, which granted him a deferral, when he returns from his fellowship in Ecuador.

“NYU has a diverse student population and is located in one of the most diverse cities. They also have campuses all over the world. Knowing that I’m going there is like a dream. I want to study international relations and education. Working on an education initiative in a developing country is so important to me, and I hope that my time in Ecuador will bring me an even clearer vision of what I want to pursue at NYU.”

For now, though, Jonathan is throwing himself into his fellowship.

“The last 13 years of my 18-year life have been spent in school. I think now’s a good time to check in with myself, to do what I want to do and see the world.”

“I’m still going to have a productive year…Just not productive in the typical “western” understanding of productive.”

To follow along with Jonathan’s adventures in Ecuador, check out his blog.