Want to get a head start on exploring the world? Many students wait until college (if at all!) to travel and study abroad. However, there's no reason you should wait.
Europe offers students an opportunity to be surrounded by many different languages and cultures. You can hop on a train and be in a different country in an hour! Europe is also very safe, so parents and students alike will feel comfortable and reassured while you're out there discovering the globe.
Europe is best for students who: are taking high level or AP language classes, want to learn a European language, or who haven’t traveled overseas yet and want to start off somewhere easier.
Considering how popular and how large Europe is, there are many program types available for high school students. Before deciding, take in to account how long you want to be overseas, what you want to get out of the experience. Do you want to become conversational in Spanish? Learn to cook Italian food? Make new friends at a volunteer organization? See as many places in a short amount of time? Your goals will determine what type of program you look for.
Exchange programs are great for students who want to be fully immersed in a new culture for a semester or a full year. The UK is a popular option for full semester or year long exchanges, as students are able to do their coursework in English.
While this may not be possible for everyone, options to go over the summer or over school breaks are also wonderful opportunities. Summer programs and teen travel programs are the best option for students who feel like they don’t want to or can’t miss anything at home. They are great for student-athletes or high-schoolers who hold jobs, such as babysitting or working a local internship, during the academic year. Choose one of these if you want to get some academic credit for college by enrolling in a summer course, or to see and learn as much about Europe as possible on a travel program.
Volunteering/service learning programs are alternatives to just studying overseas. These are more likely to be offered over summers and to be more immersive. Though not quite as common in Europe as other parts of the globe, there are still projects -- like English conversation or restoring an old castle -- for volunteers here.
Along the same vein, language immersion programs are wonderful opportunities to really hone your language skills in a short amount of time, and probably one of the most common reasons students head to Europe. Learn Spanish in Spain, French in France, Italian in Italy! Learning from native speakers and being immersed in the local culture is the best way to become fluent (or close to it!)
Planning Your Trip
Some of the most popular countries in Europe are France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. This is because it is easy to learn a new language in those places (or delve further if you’ve already started learning). Others popular, English-speaking destinations are England and Ireland.
Student visa requirements
Anything longer than that, and you'll have to apply for a student visa before leaving your home country. Start the application process at least a couple of months in advance to allow yourself plenty of time for any delays. The exact process may vary from country to country, but if you're going through a program provider they'll help point you in the right direction.
Again, due to the large number of program options in Europe, there is a high variety of housing options. These can include, but are not limited to, homestays, hotels, hostels, and dormitories. Homestays are more popular for students who want to learn another language or will be overseas for longer periods of time. They are great options for parents, too, who want their kids to be looked after by another adult!
If you're on a teen travel program, you're more likely to stay in a hotel with the other students. For summer courses at a local university, you'll likely live in one of the college dorms on campus.
While Europe is on the more expensive side for continents to study abroad in, it is not impossible. Scholarships and financial aid help make it more affordable, and summer programs or teen travel programs tend to be on the cheaper side since they are shorter in length.
As for the amount of money you'll need while you're there, typically your costs for housing, in-country travel, and excursions are usually covered in the program fee. That takes away a huge chunk of what most travelers need to budget for their trip, so you'll likely just need a little spending money (for the gelato and postcards, obviously) while there.
Again, some countries, like England and Ireland, are more expensive than others, like Spain and the Czech Republic, but estimate to have about $20 - 30 per day. You may not spend it all, but it's always better to be on the safe side.
Keep in mind where in Europe you are traveling to, and when. If you will be there for a semester or for a year, be prepared for seasons to change, even if you're in the Southern areas of some countries. If you'll be gone just a short time, make sure you pack lightly so its easier to travel. Also, we recommend using a backpack or duffle bag, not a suitcase, since they're easier to drag around old cobblestone streets and up stairs in elevator-less hotels (which are common in Europe).
Some necessities to not forget:
- Passport and extra photocopies (save one digitally!)
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Your camera
- A light sweater (if you're visiting churches at all)
- If you are staying with a host family, don't forget to bring a gift for them from home!
Health & Safety
Vaccinations are usually not necessary when traveling to Europe. However you should still make sure to visit your doctor at home before you leave to get a check up, as well as any other information he/she might suggest before leaving.
Overall, Europe is a safe place to travel, even as a teen. As a rule, you should always use your best judgment while at home and when overseas.
The most common annoyance is pickpocketing. It's fairly common throughout Europe, so make sure to keep your valuables in a safe place when you leave them and while they are on you (i.e.: zip purses, front pockets, travelers pouches), and try to avoid hanging your purse / backpack on the back of your chair while you're in a cafe. Keep it in your lap instead.