As a current high school student, you’ve probably been studying a foreign language for the past few years (maybe even since middle school). If you live in the United States, chances are it’s probably Spanish, or maybe French. You’ve spent hours memorizing vocabulary and drilling verb conjugations into your mind, but you may feel like your knowledge of the language hasn’t really improved much. If you’re eager to really delve into language study and become fluent in a second language, studying abroad in a foreign country is the best way to do this!
Studying abroad as a high school student may seem daunting, but it’s actually an amazing opportunity. You’ll escape the confining halls of your American high school, and spend a semester or year traveling, meeting people from around the world, eating amazing food, and gaining tons of independence. You’ll enter college with a much broader perspective on the world and a better sense of your interests and what you want to accomplish in life. If you choose to study a foreign language while abroad, you’ll also be super prepared to take higher level literature and history classes in your chosen language the minute you enter college. (What’s more, you may test out of easy-peezy 100 or 200 level courses, resulting in free credits to apply to your major/minor. Wahoo!)
If you’re just starting to consider the possibility of studying a language abroad as a high school student, this guide can help you make it happen! Take the time to really consider what you want to get out of the experience and research all of your options. Then, choose a location and program that’s perfect for you. Soon, you’ll be totally fluent in a new language and all of your friends at home will be super jealous of your life abroad.
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When choosing your destination for study abroad, there are tons of things to consider. First and foremost, of course, is what language you’re hoping to learn! If you’d like to continue your studies in Spanish or French, plan accordingly. If, however, you’re ready to delve into a completely new language, anywhere around the globe is a possibility. Before choosing a destination, also make sure to consider the experience you’re hoping to have. Do you want to rough it in the countryside or live a more civilized, if touristy, life in the city? Besides language, what else is a priority - eating great food, visiting museums, or maybe even surfing off the coast of Thailand? Once you hone in on these priorities, it’ll be a lot easier to decide on the perfect study abroad destination for you. Here are our top picks, which all offer excellent opportunities to study language as well as tons of fun and unique opportunities for international students.
The best thing about deciding to study Spanish abroad is that there are tons of different incredible countries and cities to choose from. Or is this the worst thing? With so many choices it may seem overwhelming, but rest assured that it’s pretty hard to go wrong. South America is filled with opportunities for international students to study Spanish. Each country offers a different unique culture that you’ll love to explore.
Our top choice is Argentina because you’ll find the perfect mix of refinement, passion, adventure, and fun. Argentines are known for speaking Spanish quickly and with a beautiful accent - this means that if you already have a solid foundation in Spanish under your belt, this is the perfect place to practice conversing and perfect your skills. Obviously, if your heart is set on flying overseas and experiencing Europe, Spain is the way to go - their Spanish is slightly different from what you’ll find in South America, but your experience is still guaranteed to be fantastic.
Italy is a great destination for students interested in language studies because you get to experience Italian and Latin - it’s like two for the price of one! Italian may not be as widely spoken in America as Spanish or French, but learning the basics of the language will set you up perfectly for a lifetime of traveling to this incredible country.
As a classical language buff, I also highly recommended a foray into the marvelous world of Latin, if only because it’s an incredible way to learn about the awesome history and culture of Italy. If you choose to study abroad in Italy, the country will truly be your classroom. You’ll learn epic Latin sayings (veni, vidi, vici, anyone?) as you peruse the glorious, two thousand-year-old ruins in the Roman Forum. Travel to Venice and you’ll have the chance to practice your (probably much more practical) Italian skills ordering pizza margherita and gelato al cioccolato.
Honestly, do we even need to convince you? Who wouldn’t want to spend a year studying French in France? Station yourself halfway between the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, a stone’s throw away from a traditional French market and about twenty neighborhood bakeries (all of which, somehow, seem to offer the best baguette in Paris), and you’re bound to have an awesome time and return a year later totally fluent in French.
Also, remember that your options aren’t limited to Paris. Although this is the most popular destination for students studying abroad in France (with good reason, it’s pretty much one of the best cities in the world) there’s also a lot to be said for a smaller city or town, where you’ll have the opportunity to really become a part of the community. A few great options are Marseilles, Lyon, and Grenoble. If you’re interested in learning French but would like a more exotic locale than Europe. consider Senegal or Morocco.
For students hoping to learn about Asian culture, participating in a Japanese immersion program is the way to go. Your classes will be taught completely in Japanese, but don’t worry - the instructors will start off slow, so it’ll be easy to catch on. The best part about your courses? They’ll offer the perfect combination of language study and an exploration of the rich Japanese culture. You may spend a morning learning all of the names of the exotic fish used in sushi (and how to pronounce them) or participating in a traditional tea ceremony - all chit chat must be done in Japanese, of course!
Studying abroad in Japan as a high school student is also a great decision because you’ll have the support of a program to help you navigate the subway and arrange trips to all of the important sites across the country. These same challenges might deter you from taking a solo trip to Japan later in life, so take advantage of this opportunity while you can!
There are a few different kinds of language immersion programs that you can choose from. While all, obviously, will focus on language studies, the format of the courses may differ. Other things to consider when choosing a type of program are the size and the living situation.
One common type of program you may decide to participate in is an independently run immersion program for American students. Offered in countries all over the world, these programs offer a close-knit community and very focused courses. The size of the program will probably be small - around 20 students - and all of your fellow students will be from America. You guys will study the language together, as well as take culture and history courses, as you explore the country and see the sights. Although a portion of the trip may include a homestay with a local family, you may also stay together as a group in a hostel or dormitory. This is a great option if you want to travel during your program and see all of the important sites. It may also be easier socially, because you’ll have tons of built-in friends the moment you arrive.
Another option is to participate in an exchange program with a local high school in your chosen country. You’ll enroll directly in the school, and take classes with local kids. This is a great choice because you’ll learn a ton about everyday life in the country and really immerse yourself in the community. Your language skills will also skyrocket, because you’ll constantly be conversing with new friends in the local language. With this type of program, you’ll most certainly live with a host family for the duration of your stay. This is a great opportunity to really get to know a family - if you’re lucky, they may even have kids your own age.
Convinced that studying abroad is the perfect opportunity for you? Then it’s time to start planning! Although your experience will certainly be worth it, keep in mind that preparing to study abroad takes a lot of work. Once you’ve convinced your parents to let you go, recruit their help to choose a program, figure out the finances, and book airline tickets.
An important thing to consider when planning your trip is duration. Do you want to study abroad for a semester or year, or participate in an intensive two week or month long course during the summer? To decide, think about what you’re really trying to get out of the experience and how long you’re willing to be away from home.
Once you’ve chosen a program, check in with your high school and make sure they approve. This is a crucial step because you want to make sure that you’ll get credit for the classes you take abroad so you can still graduate in time. Your high school will probably want to see a detailed syllabus for the classes you’re planning to take so they can make sure that you’ll be getting an equivalent education.
Finally, don’t forget to think about the costs of the program. Costs will vary completely depending on duration and location. Most summer programs will cost somewhere between $2,000 to $5,000, while a program during the year can cost about $10,000 per semester. Remember that all of your living costs are included. Lots of programs offer scholarships, so make sure to do some research into the possibilities. For instance, AFS and Aspire by API both offer scholarships to students participating in their wide range of high school study abroad programs.