In the fourth instalment of this series created for Project Travel, we investigate studying abroad during high school. Few students take this opportunity, but study abroad adventures at a younger age can be extremely rewarding. We spoke to teachers from educational travel company ACIS, who have either led high school trips of their own, or are planning to do so soon, to find out why.
Learning abroad is something most people associate with college-age students. And they’re right to do so – statistics from the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel show that less than one per cent of American high school students take part in foreign exchange programmes. But, if you do have the chance to travel abroad during high school, the advantages of discovering new skills, people and places are obvious.
Studying abroad doesn’t just look great on your college application; the benefits are numerous. It’s an unrivalled way to experience different cultures, forge new friendships and – perhaps most importantly – get a taste of independence.
“For some [students], it is their first experience away from home and out of the country,” says Pamela Reynolds, a New York-based Spanish teacher who will soon be leading her tenth trip abroad.
“Not only are they learning about the country and cities we are visiting, but they are also learning how to use their language skills, how to convert currency, airport procedures, transit systems, etc. They are learning how to be on their own and when they return, there is a spring in their step – a sense of achievement and a new found confidence. It is wonderful to witness!”
This opportunity to travel aboard also allows you to experience things that you may only ever have read about or seen online. For example, learning a new language and practicing your skills in a real-world environment, with real locals, rather than simply sitting at a computer.
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Starting early is a big help, Pamela advises. “Beginning to travel at an early age diminishes the fear about traveling,” she tells us. “There is a transformation that occurs when [you] first travel abroad.”
Meghan Senjanin, who will be leading her first trip abroad this Easter, agrees. “Going as a high schooler with adults is a great introduction to travel. Little risk, big payoff. Everything is taken care of.”
Meghan’s first study abroad group will be made up of young literature students. On arrival in England, the plan is for them to take a trip from London to Canterbury – the same ‘pilgrimage’ that forms the basis of The Canterbury Tales, which they have been reading in class.
“I have been to all but one of the places we are going, so I will be seeing things again,” she says. “However, I am looking forward to all the ‘wow’ moments with the kids. Seeing them see all these wonderful places will be so amazing. I almost feel like I will be seeing it with fresh eyes.”
This isn’t to say studying abroad in high school won’t be without its challenges. Being immersed in a new culture and speaking a new language can be daunting, especially when away from family and friends, but overcoming these obstacles is what is makes the experience so rewarding.
“I think there will be a lot of wide-eyed, hungry moments where [the students] want to do everything and we run out of time,” Meghan adds. “I also think that one of the challenges will be finding a happy medium between giving them freedom to explore and keeping them close and safe.”
Organising your trip
In addition to educational travel companies such as ACIS taking care of all of the logistical parts of a trip (like hotel bookings, transport, and so on), they offer customizable itineraries that focus on both education and fun. This allows teachers to concentrate their efforts on the students and the things they want to experience.
“When I lead a group of high-school students, I need to have confidence that should there be a hiccup on my trip, I have a great team behind me to help out so that my time and energy is focused on the students,” says Pamela.
If students have a memorable and stress-free first trip, full of fun cultural experiences, they’ll be more likely to get hooked on travel and start spreading the word among their friends. Then who knows? Maybe studying abroad during high school will become the next big thing.
This article is part of a continuing series covering study abroad programs with Project Travel, a company that helps students of all ages tap into the funding potential of their communities. Rough Guides is proud to support the students working to fund their study abroad programs with Project Travel. Visit projecttravel.com/go/rough-guides for more information. Did you study abroad in high school? Or wish that you had? Share your own experiences here >
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