Imagine the feeling you'd get when seeing a child’s grin spread across their face as you teach them the word “pizza” for the first time; their bubbling laughter when you explain what it is and how you eat it.

This sort of feeling leaves a lasting impression that will stay with you the rest of your trip, and will make you realize just how important it is to volunteer abroad and help others.

My experience volunteering in Amatitan, Nicaragua is an experience I will forever carry with me. I befriended a child and spent countless afternoons reading her books in English. I watched her smile as she pronounced new words she had never heard before. I helped build a house for a family, and collected and delivered educational supplies to a school in need.

If you’re considering a service learning trip abroad during high school, I can tell you from first hand experience that it’s an incredible way to impact someone else’s life, experience another culture, and see more of the world with your own eyes.

Photo credit: Possible Health.
What is service learning?

Whether it’s helping a family or school in need, volunteering at a local hospital, or responding to a recent natural disaster, service learning programs help participants develop and learn valuable skills through volunteership. Essentially, you will learn valuable skills by volunteering, rather than coming in as a skilled volunteer to simply help. There is more of an educational focus in this type of volunteering program, but it connects real life experience with information learned in school. Some projects you may do include:

Community Development

Helping a community in need is an incredibly rewarding experience. This may include building houses or schools, collecting supplies to build buildings, or volunteering at local shops to help stimulate the economy. You’ll be able to work with an entire community working together to help improve every day life; you’ll become a part of that community.

Volunteering at Schools

When you volunteer at a school, you might want to collect supplies like pencils, notebooks, and crayons beforehand to bring them to schools in need. You may teach a class or simply entertain the children. This is a very rewarding path because you will be able to see the result of your hard work.


You may volunteer in a country that struggles to maintain their land. This can include planting gardens, working on parks, or measuring the growth of a plot of land to gauge its development.

Working with Animals

If you’re an animal lover, then consider volunteering abroad at wildlife sanctuaries. It is an ideal way to help animals in need. These animals could be sick, rescue animals, or may be animals that need aid and training before getting released back into the wild. It's likely that you’ll be working very closely with the animals and will be able to observe and study their behavior.

Medicine & Healthcare

Shadowing doctors abroad is another popular type of service learning project -- especially since medical volunteer trips require highly skilled professionals, it's unlikely that you'll be able to assist with medical needs abroad as a high schooler unless you sign up for a service learning trip.

Volunteering abroad in high school takes a lot of planning, but it does not need to be stressful. Start researching volunteer trips abroad a year or so before you plan to go. Some volunteer programs require early applications, so make sure you know about any important deadlines.

Many volunteer trips can range from one week to several months. Picking a volunteer program with dates that correspond with your availability is also a critical step when planning your trip.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions either. Obtaining the contact information of the head of the program is always a good idea, and asking questions will show how interested you are.

When Should You Go?

Although volunteer trips happen year round, the most ideal time for high school students might be during the summertime or during a longer break, such as winter or spring break. Find a program that aligns with either summer vacation or one of your longer breaks, to ensure that you can dedicate your time and not miss any school.

Who Should You Go With?
  • Groups: Groups are a phenomenal way to meet like-minded travelers who have the same interests and desires as you. If a group leader is involved, you may not have to worry about planning flights, housing, or transportation. This way, you can focus on other aspects of the trip, like fundraising and making sure you’re fully prepared.
  • Individual: Though it may be a bit more difficult to go alone, it is still rewarding none-the-less. You can go at your own pace, travel wherever you’d like and for however long you want to. You will have greater responsibility traveling alone, but you will learn a lot about yourself and will have the ability to be flexible and create your own schedule.

It’s always a good idea to know at least a few basic phrases in the local language so you’re able to communicate. Depending on which program you choose, you may need to already have a basic or intermediate skill level of the country’s language. Others will, however, incorporate language classes to help you learn the language while you're there. When you find a program, make sure you fulfill all of the requirements necessary to ensure you’re fully prepared for your trip.

Knowing the language will help you understand their culture on a greater level. It’s also beneficial to know a few phrases in case you’re ever in a situation where no one speaks your native language.


Make sure you are up to date on all the necessary vaccines before you leave for your trip. Furthermore, if you’re going somewhere with a malaria risk, it might be a good idea to take malaria pills. Although you might experience negative side effects, they may help protect from the full symptoms of malaria.

Consider consulting a medical professional that specializes in travel vaccines and medicine before you leave.


The housing situation when you’re abroad can range anywhere from hotels to tents. Regardless of where you’re staying, be prepared to live as the locals do, especially if you’re in a third world country. This may include huts, tents, or a big common room on cots.

Find out if the location you’re staying in has running water. If they don’t, be prepared to take bucket showers and drink only bottled water.


Research if the water is drinkable in your area. If it isn’t, it may be a good idea to invest in iodine tablets or a filtration system to ensure that you have drinkable water wherever you go. Boiling water is also a great way to kill any bacteria that may be in the water.

You may also want to bring Vitamin C and hand sanitizer to help prevent illness. Again, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor for a check up before you go.


The program you choose may require participation in fundraising events in order to raise money to donate or buy supplies. Otherwise, fundraising (or picking up a part time job) is a good way to raise money to help fund your travels.

There are a ton of different ways to raise money for a trip, and can be a lot of fun, especially if your friends are involved. Talk to your high school advisers to see if you can host a fundraising event after school.

Here are a few ideas for fundraising:

    Sell car stickers: For a few dollars, you can sell car stickers with the name of the country you’re volunteering in. For example, someone sold stickers that said NICA on it before my trip to Nicaragua. I loved the idea so much, that I bought them for my whole family!
  • Ask family members: Ask your family members for money for your birthday or the holidays that you can use towards your trip.
  • Host a car wash: During the warm months, this can be a fun and easy way to raise money.
  • Make T-shirts: Imagine seeing your peers wearing a T-shirt that you created! Making these T-shirts can also be a good way to bond with your volunteer mates.
  • Host events: If your friends are in a band, host a concert and sell tickets to their performance. This is an exciting way to bring everyone together for a good cause. You can also host an after-school bake sale.
Contributed by Monica Gray

High School Service Learning Programs Abroad

Displaying 1 - 15 of 218 programs
Global Leadership Adventures (GLA)
Summer and Spring Break Volunteer Programs in Costa Rica
Costa Rica
9.83 •66 reviews

Five unique ecosystems, one adventure. Come join us in Costa Rica to...

Travel For Teens
Travel For Teens: Thailand
9.67 •24 reviews

Thailand is known as the land of a thousand smiles, and on any of our...

Global Works
Costa Rica Summer Service Adventures
Costa Rica
9.69 •26 reviews

Are you a high school student looking for volunteer opportunities in...

Global Leadership Adventures (GLA)
Summer and Spring Break Volunteer Programs in the Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic
9.91 •33 reviews

Come join us in the Dominican republic to dive deep into environmental...

Travel For Teens
Travel For Teens: Italy
9.8 •20 reviews

Italy has long been considered the country of every traveler's dreams...

Projects Abroad
Projects Abroad Teen Volunteer Abroad Program in Cambodia
9.71 •7 reviews

Spend 2, 3 or 4 weeks in the summer in Cambodia as a high school...

Global Leadership Adventures (GLA)
Summer Volunteer Programs in Ghana
9.9 •31 reviews

Come discover the Volta Region of Ghana, an area well known for its...

Travel For Teens
Travel For Teens: Costa Rica
Costa Rica
9.94 •18 reviews

Join us on one of our Costa Rica programs this summer and experience...

113 reviews
Rustic Pathways
Summer High School Programs in Costa Rica with Rustic Pathways
Costa Rica
9.66 •113 reviews

Since opening Costa Rica operations in 2003, Rustic has expanded to...

Rustic Pathways
Summer High School Programs in Fiji with Rustic Pathways
9.55 •93 reviews

Our community partnerships in Fiji date to 1993. These deep roots mean...

Rustic Pathways
Summer High School Programs in Australia with Rustic Pathways
9.74 •42 reviews

The magical Land Down Under occupies a special place in our history as...

Rustic Pathways
Summer High School Programs in Dominican Republic with Rustic Pathways
Dominican Republic
9.53 •64 reviews

Since Rustic Pathways started its first Dominican Republic programs in...

Rustic Pathways
Summer High School Programs in Tanzania with Rustic Pathways
9.82 •28 reviews

Since 2006, Rustic has introduced students to the people and cultures...

Rustic Pathways
Summer High School Programs in Cambodia with Rustic Pathways
9.64 •28 reviews

Cambodia is a country with a painful past and a hopeful future. Rustic...

Rustic Pathways
Summer High School Programs in Peru with Rustic Pathways
9.78 •27 reviews

Students who join us in Peru have the opportunity to scale glaciated...

What People Are Saying

Global Leadership Adventures is hands down AMAZING.....My experience in Ghana was absolutely incredible and I can honestly say it has changed my life forever. Ever since I was a little girl I have...

The most incredible boy NIYO that i learned so many things from.

These past few months have been such an amazing memorable and truly unforgettable experience in Seville. I couldn’t have asked for a better time here, from my amazing host family who made me feel so...

Annaluna and I during our trip to cadiz!

I travelled from Perth, Western Australia to Brisbane to take part on the You a roo' and Australia Zoo program. It was such an amazing experience not only to work at australia zoo which is a dream of...

Meeting Dj the Rhino

Related High School Abroad Articles