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Why Your Teen High School Student Should Go Abroad

The Parents' Guide or How to Convince Your Parents

Why Your Teen High School Student Should Go Abroad

What’s the biggest advantage you can give your teens, while growing up? The answer might surprise you. It’s the gift of global experience. Now, there are many ways to provide this global experience — through travel, summer programs, language classes and programs, volunteer programs, high school study abroad, and exchange programs. Recently, taking a gap year has gained widely in acceptance and popularity by some of the top institutions in the country as a way to prepare high school graduates to get the most out of their critical college and university experience. The cost of these programs vary significantly, but all result in a huge return on investment from intellectual and emotional development to ultimate career prospects.

Why head abroad, whether through study abroad, volunteering, Language Learning, gap years, exchange, or perhaps even an internship? The benefits are numerous, and long-lasting. Take a look…

Global Knowledge

Your teen’s world will expand exponentially with international education. It is the beginning of a lifelong journey of global understanding and cultural knowledge. Learning to think in another language (and even dream in another language!) is a core educational experience for global success, as is the development of imagination and critical thinking skills that comes from international experience. Travel is the key to global knowledge — and forming connections, friendships, and networks is the key to utilizing that global knowledge on a daily basis.

"Give it a try. It will change your life in more ways than you can imagine!" said Amanda Weatherford, 18, when asked her advice for other teens considering participating in a youth exchange program. Weatherford spent an academic year as a Rotary Youth Exchange student in Thailand.

Teen service learning construction project
Volunteer service learning working on a construction project as a teen. Photo courtesy of GVI.

Self Awareness and Development

Your teen will become much more aware of him/herself, as well as grow in ways that prepare them well for adulthood. Benefits include communication skills, maturity, languages, autonomy, the ability to figure out new situations, independent thinking, networking skills and making friends, and transforming into a global citizen. And research and experiential learning shows that the younger we are, the quicker we learn. Every moment is valuable!

Traveling solo abroad
Teen travel, whether when making new friends abroad or in moments of reflection, prepares them for adulthood in every respect.
“Having studied abroad a few times during high school, I can testify that studying in a different country, living and observing a foreign culture, and learning a new language allows you to gain self-confidence and awareness. Whether you are considering spending a summer, semester, or year overseas, the study abroad experience provides ample opportunities for you to take risks, try new things (ranging from food to social situations), and leave your comfort zone. It is not always easy and can be downright frustrating, but ultimately the experience is very rewarding as it eases the transition from adolescence to adulthood, enabling you to develop communication and problem-solving skills and to mature both intellectually and emotionally.” — Connie Ip.

Career Skills

Learning a language, ways that other cultures work, and flexibility are all key components in today’s global workforce. Life skills learned while studying, volunteering, or interning abroad transfer well to the workplace. In addition, students can gain financial and business experience by crowd-sourcing or fundraising for their international experience, and grant-writing skills by applying for high school scholarships. Employers want to hire employees with a flexible way of thinking, international work experience, collaboration skills, language skills, and the ability to respond well in different situations. Angel Cabrera, President of George Mason University, notes, “It’s very expensive to study abroad. But it’s also very expensive NOT to study abroad.”

Teen high school  home stay
High school teens in Costa Rica on a wildlife conservation project. Photo courtesy of Global Leadership Adventures.

Having international experience and global competence will not only make students more employable, but will enhance everything about their learning and work environments now and in the future — from better grades to more interest in global events and cultures to motivation to work harder, learn more, and travel extensively.

In 2014, the White House took an intense interest in this approach, working together with travel bloggers, digital media influencers, the Institute on International Education, and many others to increase participation in study abroad as a “vital component of their education,” notes Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, US Department of State as part of a Youtube extract of a Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship.

Penny Pritzker, Former Secretary of Commerce, US Department of Commerce, said, “In this day and age, more and more employers want to hire people with a true world view.” To that end, she encourages students “to travel and to deepen their cultural fluency, so they can better compete and succeed in the 21st century.”

Intercultural Competence

Teen service in Bali
High school service and intercultural experiences in Bali involve the kind of exposure that helps breed lifelong tolerance and respect for all cultures and people. Photo courtesy of Global Leadership Adventures.

Intercultural competence is perhaps the culmination of all the above benefits described in terms of why your teen should go abroad. The characteristics and benefits include communication, cultural awareness, acceptance of difference, ethnorelativity (seeing values and behaviors as cultural, instead of universal), and the ability to truly be a global citizen. This also includes awareness of difference, the importance of different cultural values, and adaptability to change. Your teen will be able to not only live anywhere, but thrive anywhere — able to handle problems large and small with a degree of self-confidence that can only be gained through experience.

Tibet with Where There be Dragons
Teens on Mt. Kalish, Tibet. Photo by Where There Be Dragons.
“I have witnessed transformations in them, and subsequently in myself, inspired by the inner journey, which is the essence of every pilgrimage. I am now deeply convinced of the value of a personally defined pilgrimage, undertaken in the tumultuous context of adolescence.

What better time for a pilgrimage than when everything is being questioned, relationships are shifting, and one’s place in the world is so difficult to define? It’s my firm conviction that providing adolescents with the chance to simply look inward is the greatest tool we can offer them. Given the opportunity of an emotionally safe and supportive environment, they will generally seek challenge, strive to develop meaningful relationships with others, explore the purpose of their daily lives, test their own belief systems, and realize the impact they have on the world around them.” — Jaimie J. Woodall

First-hand Experience

As Emily Monaco, a travel writer who studied abroad in high school has noted:

"I think that the study abroad experience was one of the most defining of my life. Going at such a young age was a big part of it. At 14, I didn't know how to do much of anything for myself, and in France I was expected to be a lot more independent than I was used to in the States. It also opened my eyes to a different culture which, I realize now, isn't all that different from my culture, considering the places that I could have gone. But I remember going there thinking I would watch only French movies and listen only to French music, and I realized once I got there that not every country was a little microcosm independent of all other countries, which was how my experience in the US had been, for the most part, up to that point.

The biggest skill I developed from being in France is undoubtedly speaking French. But I also learned how to cultivate a sense of "universal understanding" that has helped me learn other foreign languages with less frustration.”
Teen reading in the woods

Perhaps Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speech Writing, sums it up best, “Education abroad, their contacts abroad, their knowledge of foreign languages and cultures…that’s going to be an asset they’re going to carry with them their entire lives.”

For More Information

There are so very many ways a teen high school student (or even recent graduate) can go abroad meaningfully.

We have a directory of a variety of excellent programs and independent educational travel options, ranging in price and duration. Many teens may need some guidance and supervision on their first trip abroad, especially if they have not traveled with their family or have not traveled alone, so we cover many organized program options as well as independent travel options. Follow the links below for pages with extensive resources and articles providing options for teen high school students.

Teen / High School Exchange Programs Abroad
From exchange programs involving homestays to yearlong study at a high school abroad, there are a huge variety of private and excellent government programs from which to choose involving supervision.

Language Programs Abroad
One of the least expensive ways for a teen to spend time overseas is to learn a language through total immersion, often inclusive of a homestay and other supervised activities.

Travel Programs: Summer Camps and Study Abroad
Usually summer camps involving language learning, adventure, and cultural immersion abroad for memorable experiences. For mature teens, independent travel is an option, especially in safer and more familiar places. The editor-in-chief traveled independently all around Europe starting at age 16 with no incidents and was far richer for the experience.

Volunteer Service Abroad
Many feel that the best and most enduring ways for a teen to learn about people and cultures, what they can do abroad and at home to help others, is to participate in a well-run volunteer program.

Gap Year and Pre-College Programs Abroad
For teens who wish to be inspired and/or well prepared for their college years, taking off a gap semester or year in order to study, volunteer, or travel is often a great option. A gap year or semester is now becoming encouraged by more and more top institutions of higher learning in the country due to the resulting maturity of students having such invaluable intercultural experience.

Gregory Hubbs, Editor-in-Chief

Related Topics
Teen High School Study Abroad and Travel
Ten Reasons Why High School Teens Should Volunteer Abroad

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