Why Your Teen High School Student
Should Go Abroad
The Parents' Guide or How to Convince Your Parents
By Dr. Jessie Voigts
Wandering Educator Contributing Editor for TransitionsAbroad.com
Resources updated 11/1/2019
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
or perhaps even an internship?
The benefits are numerous, and long-lasting. Take a look…
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.
|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!
|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
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.”
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,”
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
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.”
|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
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.
“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
As Emily Monaco, a travel
writer who studied abroad in high school has noted:
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
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
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.
/ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jessie Voigts is the publisher of Wandering
Educators, a travel library for people curious
about the world. She’s published
six books about travel and intercultural learning,
with more on the way. You can usually find her family
by water—anywhere in the world.