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Make the Most of Your Break: Summer Abroad Programs

Gap Summer

When you get a real job and are restricted to two weeks of vacation a year, you'll realize that college summer holidays are the most precious time of your life. It's no time for lazing around watching Friends reruns and cleaning your neighbor's pool - the glorious summer months should be treated like gold dust! The weather is warm, the sun is shining, and the open road lies ahead, begging to be traveled along.

Travel forms the basis of the best summers, but there are tons of unique variations to summer programs: jobs abroad, internships in foreign cities, college courses overseas, or simply stuffing a rucksack and jumping into a car or plane to go somewhere totally new. Many students waste their summer vacation, throwing away the free time between semesters.

If you'd like to make the most of your summer break, you're in luck. There are tons of summer programs out there for college students - from lasting a few weeks to a few months, you can make summer 2014 your most exciting summer to date. This is the one-stop shop for everything you need to know to plan the summer of a lifetime.

Summertime is golden, so ask yourself - what sort of summer are you looking for?

I want to spend my summer gaining international work experience.

Internship Abroad

It's important to spend the three or so months you have off during the summer wisely, and if you've got your mind set on your career after college then gaining some work experience is essential. You can really zoom ahead of the competition by gaining a placement during your time in college and taking it abroad will make your resume sparkle even more brightly.

Where you go and what you do will be entirely based on what sort of experience you're looking for, but there are tops rated internships across the world, including in Beijing, Shanghai, Madrid and Santiago. The downside of moving to an exciting new city and working in your dream placement is that internships arranged through intern programs don't come cheaply. Most international internships expect you to pay them rather than the other way around and the best placements are often in the most expensive cities.

Suggested Programs: Get in2 China, Adelante Abroad in Madrid, CRCC Asia.

Orphanage volunteer

I want to spend my summer on a unique adventure.

If you're looking for something totally out there to really set this summer apart from the ones that have come before it, consider these unique opportunities.

  • If you're interested in marine environment then consider SFS's summer program on the gorgeously remote Turks and Caicos Islands.
  • Want to give back while traveling off the beaten track? REACH's volunteer program at orphanages in Haiti can offer a truly rewarding and original summer.
  • If you're looking to learn Mandarin, there can't be many better places than Sichuan provence. The Globalinks summer program also offers Tibetan studies and the chance to explore the high life in the Himalayas.
  • If you want the summer that will change a lifetime, SIT's Peace and Conflict studies in the Lake Victoria basin between Rwanda and Uganda will truly turn your world upside down and give you something to think about when you return to college in the fall.

Suggested Programs: GET Ecuador, Adelante Abroad in Scotland, Summer Build in Haiti.

Camp Counselor Abroad

I want to spend my summer at camp.

Ahh, those hazy days when you were young and your parents carted you off to summer camp. Blissfully sunny days spent playing games and making new friends - if only you could be young again. Well, here's news for you. All over Europe, from Spain to St Petersburg, you can go back to camp this summer as a counselor.

You could be teaching anything from English to acrobatics, but you're guaranteed to have tons of fun, meet awesome international friends and get paid enough to tour Europe after the camp ends. The good news just keeps on coming: you usually don't need a TEFL qualification as you will be an informal tutor rather than a teacher, and accommodation and food is all arranged for you by the camp. This is the perfect position if you enjoy working with kids, as the job will require a high degree of patience and may have long hours.

Suggested Programs: English Camp, ACLE in Italy.

Students Abroad

I want to spend my summer learning.

College may be out for the summer, but that doesn't mean the learning has to stop. Travel is an education in itself but you can easily combine your sojourns across the world with a summer school program abroad. Many of the world's top universities, including Cambridge in England and Peking in China, offer international summer schools. You'll usually have plenty of time between classes and on weekends to explore the surrounding area. Consider it an alternative way to study abroad.

As with the term-time study abroad programs, Europe is the most popular place to head for, but don't book without considering the excellent programs that the major cities in Asia can offer. Also, although the seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere, there are still opportunities to do 'summer' schools in the pleasantly warm winters of Australia.

Suggested Programs: API Study in Mexico, AIFS Study in London.

I want to spend my summer traveling far and wide.

If you just want to hit the road this summer, or are looking for ways to balance working and traveling, here are our top suggestions for the places you must go.

Backpacking Abroad
  • The adventurer's choice: Taiwan is small, compact and seldom traveled compared to the rest of eastern Asia. It's also a cyclist's dream with good roads in scenic areas and cheap bike hire. Taroko Gorge, one of the seven wonders of Asia, is a great place to hike and bike. Taiwan is also perfectly sized, so it's super easy to get around, and is home to some of the friendliest people in the world. Its hills and dramatic scenery will certainly get your heartbeat rising.
  • The road trip: Although Route 66 across America is known as the grandfather of all epic road trips, consider heading north to Canada. The Trans-Canada Highway cuts through the stunning natural scenery of the world's second largest country from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific and promises an epic adventure. You'll see plenty as you travel this 5000 mile journey though national parks such as Banff and Glacier and cities such as Vancouver and Montreal.
  • The party holiday: Pick any city in Europe and you are going to find lively nightlife, but if it's a summer party you're after then Croatia's Adriatic coast is the perfect host. Hook you and your mates up with a sailing boat and cruise Croatia's Dalmatian Islands, stopping off at cities like Split and Dubrovnik as well as the major islands such as Hvar. Prices are cheaper here than most of Europe and, as Croatia is hardly a secret, you'll find plenty of other travelers around to party with.
  • The cultural side: For history and culture, there's nowhere quite like the continent-straddling Istanbul. The city's famous fusion of East and West, divided by the magical Bosphorus, makes Istanbul one of the world's most exciting cities. Stroll past the Haghia Sophia and Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet with a freshly cooked kebab in hand or hop on board a ferry across the Bosphorus to sample Asia.

With all of these ideas, there's no doubt that your next summer vacation will be the trip of a lifetime. Whatever you decide to do, remember that your summer vacation is valuable time and you should make the most of it by doing something that is both enriching and exciting.

Photo Credits: IES Abroad, ISA Abroad, and One World 365.
Photo of Greg Lewry

Greg is a recent Literature graduate and freelance travel writer. Hailing from the UK, Greg used all of his university study breaks to escape the terrible British weather and find work abroad. From swim instruction in America to teaching English in Venice, Greg has a real passion for making the most out of traveling abroad and loves to hear and read about other people's overseas adventures. You can find his latest work on his blog at Google+.