What do you think of when someone mentions spending time in Africa? Is it a large mountain like Mount Kilimanjaro or Table Mountain? Sand dunes in Morocco? A safari in a national park? Or perhaps a bustling market in a busy city center? No matter what you might be thinking, Africa is a vast continent, and it has it all.
Africa is home to so many different countries that it can be difficult to choose what you want to do. You have endless opportunities, and you haven’t even started university yet!
You can choose from studying a new languages and culture, volunteering with nonprofits, or going on adventures in some of the most beautiful natural areas of the world. You'll have the time of your life while also standing out from the crowd when you get home. Go, spend part of high school abroad in Africa, and prepare to fall in love with this beautiful and diverse continent.
Africa is best for students who: have a huge sense of adventure, want to do something off the beaten path, or want to do a service-learning trip.
Volunteer and Service Learning
Volunteering and service learning are popular program types among high school students who want to spend time in Africa. They're an opportunity to explore a new culture and location while simultaneously giving back. Because you will be doing both, some programs have classes in the morning and volunteering in the afternoon (or vice versa). These opportunities can range from a couple weeks to longer term, and typically, you'll be assisting with, rather than leading, a volunteer project.
Given how many different languages are spoken on the continent, Africa is a fantastic location to learn or improve on another language. Language immersion programs offer students the chance to step up their academic game and gain an edge on their monolingual peers. Some popular options include Arabic, French, and Swahili. Depending on your school’s language requirements, you might be able to fulfill that while overseas or knock out some college credits in advance… what a win-win!
For students who want to experience Africa at its best but who are limited on time, short-term cultural immersion programs and teen travel programs can fulfill that wanderlust. These are usually more fast-paced, so you might be visiting an NGO one day and then checking out a stampede while on safari the next! Regardless, these teen travel programs have a strong emphasis on academics and learning about the countries they visit through travel. Fun as they may be, they are definitely not a vacation.
Planning Your Trip
Africa's a huge continent, and each region is different. Some countries (like the DRC) aren't the safest, while others are stable and easy to travel around.
For high schoolers, some popular destinations on the continent include Morocco, in the north, which is well known for its markets and historical architecture. They also speak French, English, and Arabic, which makes for a great language learning destination.
All the way to the south is South Africa, which is rich in history and social issues. It's also full of beautiful natural landscapes to go hiking or scuba diving.
For students who want a more off-the-beaten path adventure volunteering or traveling with a teen travel program, French-speaking Senegal and English-speaking Ghana on the West Coast are two safe and vibrant destinations to consider.
For environmental enthusiasts, take a look at Kenya, Tanzania, and Botswana for a classic safari adventure, or off the coast to Madagascar for a truly unique look at some of the best biodiversity in the world. Take your pick and start your adventure!
Student Visa Requirements
Visa requirements will vary from country to country. Generally, students who are planning to stay for a shorter amount of time (a couple of weeks) will be able to enter the country on a tourist visa. Be sure to check the visa requirements of every country you're visiting in advance as some, like Kenya and Tanzania, will require you to pay a fee (usually about $50) in cash on arrival.
If traveling to South Africa, you won't be allowed to enter without proof of a yellow fever vaccination. Talk to your family physician or travel specialist to get vaccinated and / or proof of vaccination to carry with you.
Of course, if you're going through a program provider, they will be able to assist you with your visa needs.
Students staying for longer visits have the option of staying with a host family. This is a great experience to really immerse into the culture. Teen travel programs will usually be places in hotels or dormitories if they are in big cities.
Keep in mind that if you are going to rural areas, you might be in a hut, tent, or cottage. This can be very exciting but also very different than home for many people. Make sure to keep an open mind in order to have the best experience possible!
For the most part, the cost of living throughout Africa is relatively inexpensive compared to the United States or Europe. Getting there can be the most expensive part, as well as the tuition or program costs.
Typically, costs will be higher in urban areas than rural ones, and imported goods (like sunscreen, imported food, tampons, etc.) tend to be pricier than back home.
Housing and in-country transportation is usually covered in the program fees but expect to budget $20 - $50 per day for personal purchases and souvenirs during your high school abroad trip.
Most people think “very hot” when they think of Africa, but that's a pretty big misconception. While it can be sunny and hot in many parts, temperatures can also drop down below freezing at higher elevations or during winter seasons in the south and north. Make sure to double-check the weather before you leave, but no matter where you go, it's advisable to bring:
- Bug spray and sunscreen
- A headlamp (in case of power outages)
- A good rain jacket
- One nice outfit (Africans take great pride in looking good, don't plan on spending your entire time in REI gear!)
- A cheap pair of flip-flops
- Gifts for your host family if you have one
Also, DON'T bring "small toys and candy to hand out to the children". Begging and handouts by tourists is a huge issue in developing parts of Africa, and it's best to donate to an organization than to encourage such behavior.
Health and Safety
Again, requirements for necessary vaccinations will vary from country to country. Yellow fever and malaria are common throughout the entire continent of Africa, so you will likely need a couple of standard vaccinations, as well as a trip to your primary care doctor well in advance to get those (and possibly others). You can also check the CDC for your country (or countries) requirements.
Outside of South Africa, do not drink tap water. You will want to make sure you are using bottled water for drinking as well as brushing your teeth. Try not to drink water while you are showering as well. You should also make sure to not eat foods with skin. For example, biting into an apple, in case it was washed with tap water (on the other hand, a banana would be fine). You should also sleep under a net and wear bug repellent to prevent mosquito-born illnesses.
Despite some of Africa's reputation, it's much safer than most people assume. Safety always varies from country to country all around the world. Your program will help you know where you can and cannot go and when (ie: do not travel alone at night). You should always use your best judgment and stay with at least one other person no matter where you are traveling in the world.
Buses and roads in general can be dangerous because they are so busy. Try to take cabs instead of motorcycles (even if this means it is a bit more expensive, your safety is the most important!) Foreigners are also targets for pickpocketing so keep your valuables close to you in a zip up purse or travelers pouch.