You might have heard that there are lots of great college programs for studying abroad, and are looking forward to exploring your options in the future.
But, you don’t have to wait until college. There are many study abroad options available to students in high school, too.
As a teenager, I was always fascinated with Japanese culture, so when a study abroad opportunity arose through my high school, I jumped at the chance to live with a host family and attend high school in Osaka for two weeks. At fifteen, I'd never traveled without my parents, but on this trip, I had the support of teachers from home and my fellow students. It was such a great experience that, once I'd finished college eight years later, I went and taught English in Japan for a year and a half.
Whether you know you love traveling or just want to test the waters, here are ten reasons why you should consider studying abroad in high school.
#1. You'll Find Out if You Enjoy Being Far From Home
It’s a reality of life that you’ll (probably) leave home one day and move away from your parents. While some students opt to attend college near their hometown, others prefer to go much further afield, perhaps to another state or the opposite side of the country.
Studying abroad in high school can be a way to figure out whether you thrive in an unfamiliar environment. If you choose a shorter program (such as summer vacation) rather than a long-term one (like the whole year!) you have the safety of knowing that you’ll get to go home soon if you are homesick.
#2. You'll Learn That You're Capable of Looking After Yourself
For most people, going away to college is the first test of whether you have what it takes to look after yourself. Sure, the majority of people end up swimming eventually, but there might be a bit of sinking first.
Do you want to be that kid in the college dorm who doesn’t know how to fry an egg or change his bed sheets? Probably not. To help you figure out how capable you are of taking care of yourself, studying abroad in high school is a good option. You’ll figure out just what you’re capable of, and learn valuable self-care skills while having fun. Studying abroad is also a well-structured way to learn these life lessons -- as opposed to traveling, where you might be out on your own without the support of program organizers, teachers, and classmates to help you succeed.
#3. You'll Become More than just a Tourist
Perhaps you’ve traveled a bit with your parents and enjoy going on vacation. Well, if you study abroad in high school you’ll learn what it’s like to travel beyond being a tourist.
Going to classes, learning a new language or dialect of English, and fitting in with everyday life in a foreign place is far different from being a tourist. And it’s just as exciting, if not more so, because you learn about a place much more deeply than if you’re just touring the must-see sights.
#4. You'll Narrow Down Your College Major
There are so many exciting things you could major in at college, and it can be hard to narrow down your options. One way of doing so is to study abroad and see what you enjoy.
Perhaps you excel at Spanish, or are really fascinated by different styles of architecture; maybe you love how math and science break through language barriers, or learn about new environmental conservation practices abroad. Your future major -- and career path -- may reveal itself in unexpected ways while studying abroad during high school.
#5. You Can Learn a New Language
Knowing a second language is a great skill, and can be useful in so many ways that you can’t even imagine right now. It’s best to learn languages while you’re still young and your mind is flexible, and immersion through studying abroad is a great way to improve language skills -- or to pick up new ones.
Whether you choose to study abroad and learn a common international language like Spanish, French, or Arabic, or something a little more niche like Polish, Thai, or Maori, learning a new language through a high school study abroad experience will open up new worlds.
If learning a language isn't a huge priority for you (even though it has major benefits), you can also study abroad in an English-speaking language like England, Australia, or New Zealand.
#6. You'll Travel Abroad with a Safety Net
Traveling abroad can be scary -- even for full-grown adults. Nobody would blame you, as a high school student, for feeling a bit nervous about the idea of studying abroad.
But, a major advantage of doing so at this stage in your life is that you’ll have a safety net. Nobody is just going to throw you, a young person, into a new country and expect you to survive on your own. Programs normally place you with a host family, so you’ll have a homely set-up to come home to at the end of the day. There are other checks and balances in place to ensure you are taken care of and prepared for any challenges that may arise, including emergencies.
#7. You'll Make New Friends Around the World
Who doesn’t want to make cool new friends? And there’s perhaps nothing cooler than having friends in foreign places. Friendships that you form in your younger years have the tendency to be deep and strong. If you study abroad in high school, chances are you’ll make friends for life.
#8. You'll Better Appreciate Life at Home
It’s normal to feel that the place you grew up is not all that exciting (even if it would be to an outsider!) Studying abroad can help you appreciate everything you have at home.
That’s not to say that living abroad is worse -- not at all! But perhaps you had never appreciated the national parks near your hometown until you studied abroad in a massive city. Perhaps you didn’t appreciate your mother’s home cooking until you lived with a family too busy to cook at home… you get the picture!
#9. You'll Experience a Different Culture & New Ways of Life
You’ve no doubt heard that travel broadens your mind. But studying abroad while you’re still young, in high school, exposes you to much more than just surface differences. You’ll see how young people in other countries live and study, you’ll learn about their interests and priorities, and you’ll realize that, while life throughout the world certainly is different, there are also many similarities that unite people.
There’s nothing like experiencing this for yourself. You'll learn that while the world is really big, it's also surprisingly small.
#10. You'll Add Impressive Experience to Your Resume
Maybe you haven’t given your resume much thought yet, but you’ll increasingly be asked about it as you grow up and go to college, and then move into the workforce. Rather than be impressed by which school you went to or your individual subject grades, many colleges and would-be employers are impressed by experiences that set you apart and show that you have initiative.
It doesn’t matter whether you study abroad in Japan or Ireland, being able to demonstrate that you are flexible, open-minded, adventurous, and creative is a major plus. Studying abroad in high school shows that you have these desirable qualities.
Traveling abroad has the potential to open your mind and present new opportunities. There's no good reason why you have to wait until adulthood to reap these rewards! Studying abroad in high school might just change your life, so what are you waiting for?
This post was originally published in January 2013, and was updated in May 2018.