In your parents’ time, high school was an age of jocks in leather jackets leaning on the hoods of their Firebirds waiting for freshmen to arrive so they could stuff them in trash cans. Popular cheerleaders dumped cafeteria mac and cheese into unsuspecting tubas, and each week’s pep rally was the highlight of the semester.
Today, high school has changed. Whether your school is public or private, high schools are an incubator of future scholars. Whether you’re preparing for college, a career, or something else entirely, there are more learning opportunities available to you than ever before. Perhaps the most precious and valuable among them is the chance to study abroad.
Here at Go Overseas, we believe it’s never too early to hit the road and see the world! So if you’re thinking about Pamplona before your diploma or Grenada before you graduate, let us help you plan your ultimate high school study abroad!
Photo credit: francisco_osorio
Why Study Abroad?
The first step in planning your study abroad, or any life endeavor, is to ask yourself, “why?” What do you want out of this experience? Why is it worth the effort? We’ve identified three common reasons why studying abroad in high school can be a great idea:
To Improve Your Language Skills
Anyone who has tried to order dumplings in Chinatown or wine in France will tell you: there is just no substitute for immersion. Many high schools offer one to several foreign language options for students. But if you have your own reasons for wanting to study a language that isn’t offered, you might be out of luck. What if you want to learn about your Japanese ancestry but your school doesn’t offer Japanese? What if you want to speak Swahili with your grandmother but it isn’t offered? Studying abroad may be the key to advancing your language education in the direction you want to take it.
And if you’ve already taken the highest level of a language that your school offers, studying abroad could be your chance to keep learning and growing in that language.
To Learn More About Your Subject
But you learn more than just languages in high school, and studying abroad can help you there, too. If you’re an art buff and spend hours drooling over Renaissance reprints, how about a tour of Florence or Rome to inspect the classics in person? If English literature is the Hound to your Baskervilles, just imagine perusing the libraries at Cambridge and Oxford yourself! The “immersion” we international education folk sing about is not just for language learning – you can immerse yourself in any subject you like with the right destination.
To Give Your Life Stats a Big Plus
I don’t need to tell you how formative an experience studying abroad can be to someone your age. Many people wait their whole lives and never venture overseas. The opportunity to see the world from the other side and have your way of thinking fundamentally moved before you’ve even entered college is something unique and remarkable.
And speaking of college, let’s be real: studying abroad will look great on your applications. As the pool of applicants continues to get more impressive and the “average” student seems to grow more remarkable each year, not only will having studied abroad set you apart from the crowd, but it will demonstrate commitment to the academic field you want to pursue. Universities always ask, “how will you contribute to our scholarly environment?” Having flown to the ends of the earth to study your subject will tell colleges that you’re a likely candidate to conduct research or publish writing while under their letterhead.
Planning Your Trip
The next step in planning your high school study abroad is to figure out how to go. Planning a trip around the world can be tough enough, let alone coordinating the logistics of a study tour. Below, we’ve examined the three most common means of studying abroad in high school, and the pros and cons of each.
Through Your School
Perhaps the most stress-free way to study abroad is to do so through your school. Many private schools have devoted study abroad departments whose purpose is simply to help students, well, study abroad. These departments will have counselors and advisors to help you pick the tour that’s right for you. Be sure to bring your transcript to the meeting, along with your plans and goals for college. All of these things will factor into picking the right program for you.
Some public schools may not have whole study abroad departments, but most will have literature on available programs, and certain teachers and classes will lead once-a-year trips abroad. My AP European History teacher, for example, led a trip to France and Italy every three years.
There are several obvious pluses to travelling with your school. The first is that you will likely receive credit for your studies. Coordinating your program hand-in-hand with your teachers will make sure your curriculum stays on track, and improves the odds that you’ll get credit with which you can enter college.
Going through your school also gives you advantage of going with a group that you’re likely comfortable with, whether that’s your friends and fellow students, or teachers you know and love serving as chaperones and guides.
Beware, though. Going with your school can rob you of an important aspect of travel: stepping outside your comfort zone. You grow as a person and a student when you are thrust into new situations and forced to adapt. Going through your school, with your friends, is the most comfortable way to go. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the best.
Pros: Focused curriculum, familiar travel companions
Cons: Less challenging, fewer chances to grow
Through Your Church or Religious Group
Another channel that gives many students an opportunity to go abroad is with their church groups. These trips tend to be less academically-focused and more service-based, but they still provide a fantastic opportunity to be completely immersed in a foreign culture.
There are many upsides to this method of studying abroad. First is that you’ll likely feel good about your cause. Travel should refresh and energize your soul, and traveling for service is a sure-fire way to boost your juice. Picking the right program is all about the “why,” and these are the kinds of programs that could really speak to your heart.
Going through a church group will also give you a chance to travel with people from all walks of life. Whether old or young, rich or poor, getting another’s perspective on the experience is invaluable, something you’ll be glad for later on, and an opportunity you just won’t have traveling through your school.
However, there are drawbacks. For better or worse, studying abroad is a chance to try new things. For many high schoolers, it will be a first chance to have a legal drink, or to go out dancing with new-found foreign friends. Going through a church may well limit these opportunities.
Also, many church groups don’t have a ton of money, and go to where they are able. This means that your ability to customize your program, or to choose from among several programs, will be severely limited, if not eliminated entirely. Make sure that if you join a church trip, it’s to a destination you’re genuinely intrigued by. Accommodations may also be very modest due to financial constraints.
Pros: Focused curriculum, familiar travel companions
Cons: Little customization, stricter rules
Through a Third Party Provider
Probably the most popular method to study abroad is through a third party provider, or independent company. Your gut response may be to ask, “why should I pay someone?” But let me tell you: these guys are professionals.
The upsides to studying through an independent provider come fast and furious: anywhere in the world you want to go, to study any subject under the sun, they have a program for it. If you want to study Japanese emigrant artwork in 19th century Hungary, there’s a program for that. If you want to study neo-Marxist economic overtures in modern Perth, Australia, there’s a program for that. If you want to study West African influences on the Milanese pastry industry – well, you get the point.
Further, these programs are led by pros – seasoned travel guides often from the region who know the subject, the area, and the language like the backs of their well-traveled hands. They’ll be able to tell you the real must-see sights and will make sure you never miss out.
Another big plus to going through a third party is that you’ll be grouped with other students your age whom you’ve never met – other excited young people eager to see the world and learn from it. And take it from me: a friendship formed abroad is a pretty special thing.
Third party programs do have their drawbacks, though. Homesickness is a big one. With no familiar friends or leaders, you can become very aware how far from home you are. This can be overcome, but it is a fact of life.
Another downside is that when you use an independent provider, you sign a contract that you agree to abide by their rules, no questions asked. That means that if you get in trouble while abroad, they can send you home if they choose. It also means that many of the rules are non-negotiable – they are sent down by the company, and the actual guides have little wiggle room to alter them, so be on your best behavior.
Pros: Immensely customizable programs, professional guides, new friends
Cons: Homesickness, non-negotiable rules
High school is one of life’s great jumping-off points, and we hope this GoOverseas guide will give you the tools to start planning your study abroad. Whether studying through your school, through your church group, or through an independent provider, studying abroad in high school gives you a unique opportunity to get a head-start: you can improve your language skills in any language on Earth, dive deeper into any academic discipline or research you want, and show colleges that not only are you serious about your studies - you’re driven enough to pursue them around the globe! Plenty of students study abroad in college, but going overseas in high school can really set you apart. Because after all, why wait for college, when you can get your extra credit now!