Overseas Study: The Breather Year

"I was lying in a hospital bed recovering from appendicitis when it occurred to me I didn't have the foggiest notion what college was all about," recalls Robert Watkins, a graduate of St. George's prep school in Newport, R.I. "I wasn't ready." Some 4,000 miles away in Lugano, southernmost city in Switzerland, Mrs. Mary Crist Fleming, 54, was pondering a related idea. "Every bit of extra maturity and training a high school graduate can get before entering college is going to help," she said. "They need a breather, a chance to get excited again about learning."

These two attitudes mesh so...