Are you considering studying abroad while you're still in high school? There are lots of things to consider: the destination, the length of the program, the accommodation options... But, it might be good to step back for a few moments and consider whether it's really necessary to study abroad while you're still so young.
As someone who studied in Japan at 15 and then in the Czech Republic while I was in college, I have seen the study abroad experience from a number of angles. For all the 'pros' around studying abroad during high school, there are also a few 'cons' to consider.
Pro: You Get International Experience at an Early Age
Your first time traveling internationally is always a challenge, whether you're 15 or 35. So why not master this skill early in life, when you're more adaptable, open to new experiences, and a bit more resilient? While you're never too old to try something new, if you start traveling young the experiences and knowledge you gain will help shape you in your adulthood.
Con: You May Struggle More with Homesickness
Anyone of any age can feel homesick and miss their friends and family. But this is likely to hit you harder when you're young and still reliant on your parents or caregivers (however much you like to claim independence!). Don't underestimate how much homesickness can ruin an otherwise perfectly good trip, so seriously ask yourself whether you think you'll be able to cope with it before signing up for a semester abroad.
Pro: You Can Make the Most of Opportunities that Arise
Successful people in many careers will tell you that a key to their success is making the most of opportunities that came their way throughout their life -- including early in life!
You can't just sit back and wait for good things to happen to you if you want to have a fulfilling life. If studying abroad is important to you, seize any opportunity that you can find to do so. You never know what kinds of door it will open.
Con: High School Abroad can Take Funds Away from Your Future
You may want to consider the financial cost that your desire to study abroad in high school will have on your parents. College isn't cheap, and some parents start saving for their kids' education as soon as they're born.
If you're dead-set on studying abroad, your parents may have to pay for it out of your college fund or other savings that were intended for something else. Everyone's financial situation is different, and parents often protect their kids from the realities of money. But, it's worth taking a mature role in this discussion and finding out whether studying abroad would be too much of a strain on your parents.
Pro: Someone Else is Footing the Bill
Maybe the above con about finances isn't a concern for you -- or you're willing to sacrifice opportunities in the future to be able to study abroad now. The great part about studying abroad in high school is that you're not responsible for the full financial cost.
If you wait until you're older to study or travel abroad, you may need to pay for it yourself or add it to your student loans. If you do so when you're in high school, your parents may be more likely to pay for the experience as part of your high school education (and because a high school student is less likely to be able to find the money to study abroad any other way).
Con: You Might Find it Hard to Cope Without Your Familiar Support Network
Studying abroad in high school isn't like traveling independently, or even studying abroad in college: there will usually be some kind of support network to guide you through. Despite however much support you get while studying abroad, if things go wrong, you don't know how you will cope without your usual support network around you.
As a high school student it's understandable if issues like losing your wallet, getting lost, falling ill, or having an accident freak you out and disrupt your trip more than they would an adult because you don't have the same level of experience with being independent. If you feel you would struggle with such setbacks and that they'd ruin your trip, you may want to hold off on studying abroad until you're older.
Pro: You'll Boost Your College Apps and/or Resume
Many colleges and potential employers like to see a sense of initiative and an ability to think independently in their applicants. They also like to see life experience beyond good grades. Studying abroad helps develop these things, and may set you apart from other applicants who have never left their home state, let alone studied in a foreign country.
Plus, you may discover a passion for something unexpected while studying abroad, such as speaking Japanese or cooking French food. These passions could become a career if you let them.
Pro: Your Experience Will Shape Your Worldview
While considering whether to study abroad during high school requires asking yourself some hard questions, overall, you will gain so much from the experience. Younger minds are impressionable, and if you fill them with interesting, challenging, and surprising experiences, you'll see the results for years to come.
Long after the excitement (or fear) of the experience has worn off, the lessons you learned will live on in the way you see and interact with the world.
Pro/Con: If You're Not Ready, You've Got Time
While life is short and it's important to make the most of opportunities if you really don't feel ready to travel abroad in high school, don't stress. There are usually study abroad opportunities available during college. If not, there's nothing stopping you from traveling abroad independently when you're a bit older or getting an internship or work experience abroad. It's not like you'll miss the travel-abroad boat if you don't do so in high school.
Sometimes studying abroad is lonely, scary, and hard -- especially if you try it in high school, which is earlier than most people have the opportunity to do so. But more often it is fun, exciting, and memorable. You don't know until you try it for yourself!