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February 11, 2014 | 04:13 PM“It was a spur of the moment thing. I had to make a decision in a couple of days.”
He’d just graduated from Badger High School. His college plans fell through.
What was Jordan Dunn to do?
What Jordan did was to join a “gap year” program which sent him to South Africa and will soon take him to South America. It’s a decision he’ll never regret — an apparent negative turned into a real positive.
After graduating from Badger last spring, Jordan was all set to go to George Washington University in Washington D.C. He’d been an intern for Rep. Paul Ryan and the Washington scene appealed to him.
But, at the last minute, he learned the financial aid he expected would not be forthcoming. He started scouring the web for options. He’d had a “traveler’s mindset” since he was young, he said, and he’d heard about something called a “gap year” as a freshman.
“If you had asked me what a ‘gap year’ program was six months ago, I would have said that it was a temporary break between secondary and tertiary education.” he said in an email.
“However, as I’ve reached the half-way point of my journey, I have come to a conclusion that a ‘gap year’ is three things: a year of unconventional learning, a year of opportunity and a year of discovery.”
At first, his parents were skeptical. It was controversial with his friends. He wasn’t following the usual pattern.
Even Jordan admits there was trepidation.
“But once I sold my parents on it, I sold myself,” he said.
His search for an alternative to ordinary brought him Projects Abroad.
That program took him to South Africa, where he worked for an organization called Where Rainbows Meet in a township near Cape Town. Where Rainbows Meet offered a variety of programs like a community garden, a sewing center, a day care and skills training among typical office duties. Jordan focused primarily on small business development.
He was in charge of developing a micro-finance lending program through an American organization called Kiva.
About 40,000-60,000 people lived in the community; their average income was less than $1,200 year. About 70 percent were unemployed. Nearly half of the adults had drug and alcohol problems.
“The living conditions of this township were the harshest that I’ve ever seen,” Jordan said. “Many lived in shacks sometimes no larger than 50 square feet.”
Cape Town, he said, was highly westernized and safe. South Africa is an English-speaking country, so there was no language barrier, except when they talked in their native dialect — which they did when they were talking about nearby Westerners.
It wasn’t all work and no play.
Jordan’s father, Mike, joined him the last two weeks. They were at the home of Nelson Mandela a day before he died. While South Africans are suspicious of their government, they idolized Mandela, who died Dec. 5.
Jordan was able to bungee jump off the largest bungee bridge in the world, sky dive, hike Table Mountain, surf, shark cage dive, go on safaris, pet lions, ride elephants and play with baby cheetah cubs.
The experience left lasting impressions.
“It opened my eyes to things you hear about and don’t really believe. Shacks with dirt floors and no heating. It makes me feel guilty just about every day,” Jordan said. “We’ll go out to dinner and spend $20. Some people don’t make that in a week.”
Jordan said the program costs about $10,000. He’s using his own money plus money his parents lent him; he’s paying some of that back by working at his parents’ business, Dunn Lumber, which has been a fixture in Lake Geneva since 1894.
Last Monday, Jordan left on a more personal trip to Brazil where he’ll be visiting a Badger foreign exchange student his family hosted last year.
After that he’ll go to Cusco, Peru, for the second leg of his gap year program. After a brush-up in Spanish, he’ll be teaching English and coaching volleyball and spending time in rain forest conservation. He’ll finish up in April.
Then it’s back on a more traditional path. Next fall he’ll be going to business school at the University of Maryland, but his “gap year” will be with him forever.
“It was by far the best thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said.
And all this from a spur of the moment decision.