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Youth International

About

Authentic, rugged, meaningful travel since 1997. Join a YI peer group on a multi-country adventure of a lifetime that combines international travel, cultural exchange, home stays, community service, and outdoor expeditions. Our mission is to open the doors for young adults to discover a broader perspective on the world while developing a deeper understanding of themselves.

Youth International offers 3-month semester programs in South America, Africa & the Near East, and Asia, beginning in September of every year. During the spring semester, we offer an intensive 3-week program in Nepal. Youth International is accredited by the Gap Year Association and affiliated with Western Colorado University, with optional college credit courses designed specifically to complement our programs. 529 funds accepted.

Take this unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the cultures of a new region of the world and push yourself to new limits!

Founded
1997
Headquarters

2319 Woodbury Lane
Evergreen, CO 80439
United States

New Program! Join us in Africa and the Near East

Explore Kenya, Egypt, and Jordan, all during one unforgettable semester! With our focus on cross-cultural exchange, we set you up with home stays and service projects in a variety of communities, both rural and urban. You also visit famous historical sites, like the Great Pyramids at Giza, the Temples at Luxor, and the Nabataean city of Petra, and unique landscapes including the African savanna, the Dead Sea, and the Sahara desert.

Reviews

Default avatar
Rosalie
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

How can I possibly describe in words the past three months? Transformative. Intense. Eye-opening, perspective-growing, life-changing, the best three months of my life? I guess that’s a start. The three-month program is hard to reflect on because there are so many layers to an experience like that and there are so many ways, both subtle and profound, in which I have changed and grown.

For starters, I met nine interesting, intelligent, and hilarious people. I have learned so much from them and I am so grateful to have met and befriended them. We all came from diverse and separate walks of life but will forever be connected by this crazy, life-changing, three-month adventure. Back in September, during orientation, I remember reflecting on how long it had been since I had met nine total strangers. I certainly had never met nine total strangers who I knew I would be stuck with 24/7 for the next three months. It is such a unique opportunity to be whoever and all that you want to be. It felt so good to just relax and be my truest self. I made nine best friends on this program who know me at my truest and best self. That is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.

There are so many unforgettable moments and experiences I will bring with me. Something I did with my friend when I came home was to share a visual, emotional, and experiential highlight from each country of the trip. Here’s what I came up with:

Nepal-
Visual highlight: the 360-degree panoramic view of the glowing, snow-capped Himalayan Mountains at Annapurna Base Camp.

Emotional highlight: finishing digging a 6-4-5ft deep hole that would become a septic tank for a rural village in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountain.

Experience highlight: Hiking for ten days in the Himalayan Mountains.

India-
Visual highlight: the brilliant sunsets in Dharamsala, India behind the mountains.

Emotional highlight: completing the ten-day Silent Buddhist Meditation Retreat at Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamsala.

Experience highlight: staking out under a flimsy tarp all night long during a Camel Safari while it (torrentially) rained in Jaisalmer for the first time in seven years.

Thailand-
VIsual highlight: the rainbow sunrise over the coconut trees and ocean.

Emotional highlight: sharing an end-of-the-trip reflection activity with the group.

Experience highlight: snorkeling in the ocean off the shores of the Southern Thai Islands.

Coming home from the trip, I have a very empowered sense of self. I feel so capable and independent. I am excited to continue and deepen my exploration of the world. This is a stark contrast to the excitement, yes, but also the anxiety and nervousness I felt anticipating the Asia program. On the one hand, this is thrilling because I know that adventure awaits me. However, it has been hard coming home too. I am no longer satisfied just being at home. I feel slightly restless and thirsty to keep experiencing new things.

My gap year has pulled me away from a lot of what I previously thought was important to me. I say this in the most positive light. I am beyond grateful for this as I feel a grander sense of clarity on my life path and my values than ever before. I sense in myself the power to craft the kind of life I have always hoped to live. It makes me truly happy. I am so grateful for my experience with Youth International. I have truly grown so far beyond what I thought was possible.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
Well! Buffalo milk, chicken heart, squid, fish eyes, cod roe, LOTS of funky snacks!
Default avatar
Cory
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

My time with youth international felt personal. The org leader Brad is truly dedicated to the work of helping gap year students along during their journey before college. I felt seen and heard through the program which is a shout to the leaders Luke and Mara. But with most things in life it is what you make it. There were days that weren't great but that was because of the way I treated it. If you have a mindset for growth and learning thats exactly what will happen. YI gives you all the opportunities to succeed you must push yourself in order to make actual progress.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Have an open mind at ALL times and try to interact with as many people as possible. The more you get to know these people that have such different lives from you, the more you'll learn and take home with you.
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Mia
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I cannot recommend this program enough! My experience with Youth International was stellar. I had a truly life-changing, eye-opening trip, and I met some of my best friends along the way. I felt comfortable and well-informed from the very beginning, thanks to the phone calls and email correspondence I had with Youth International before the trip. The trip itself is incredible. You can tell that Brad and his team really know what they’re doing because the itinerary is meticulously planned out and every day is an adventure. I was constantly being pushed out of my comfort zone, but I always felt safe. Experiential learning is the way to go. You’ll do things you’ve dreamed of—trekking in the Himalayas, seeing the Taj Mahal, a desert camel safari, and so much more. If you’re waiting for a sign to see if this program is the right one, here it is. You won’t regret it!

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Go into it with an open mind and no expectations, and get ready to learn a ton about yourself and the world around you.
Charlotte
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Youth international was the absolute best way for me to start my Gap Year between high school and college. Before I left America I had very little confidence in myself, I had terrible social anxiety, I was afraid of confrontation, and I could never envision myself ever traveling alone. Youth International changed all of that! I went on to travel solo for another 5 months after the end of the program. Youth international was one of the most influential experiences in my entire life. I’ve come away with new knowledge of the social, economic and political situations of the cultures I experienced and I have believe I have matured as a person in the process. I would recommend this to anyone who wants a chance to grow up and learn about the real world at the same time.

What was the most nerve-racking moment and how did you overcome it?
The most nerve-racking moment was definitely meeting my first host family in Kapan, Nepal. I’d never done a homestay or stayed at a strangers house, I had no idea how to exist in the situation I was in. I didn’t want to get out of the bus, I didn’t want to meet anyone, I would have rather crawled into a hole buried myself. But by the end of the week, that family ended up being one of my favorite families I met and I still keep in touch with them to this day. Since then, I’ve lived with over 20 different families and strangers over my travels, and I’ve come away with 20 new groups of friends. This homestay started it all.
Default avatar
Olivia
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

This program had a huge impact in my life. Coming from high school, being a frustrated teen dealing with decisions that will depict your future this program gave me a clear mind and transformed my life. I went from thinking rowing D1 was my path since the beginning, to knowing it’s okay to be unsure of the right path to take from this eye opening experience I received when completing this program.
The South America program was harder than I expected. I thought it was going to be just “fun traveling” which it was, although it was much more than that. I learned how to communicate with other cultures even when I didn’t speak their language. I learned that the saying, “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” Is one of the most accurate sayings. I say this because before I shadowed the lifestyles throughout this trip in South America I viewed them as a “hard way to live” but what I quickly noticed was that even though the work was hard everyone was happy and content and that is what matters and that is what changed my mind set. Seeing that people could be happy doing anything and it doesn’t matter what path you take as long as you’re happy.

My favorite memory was seeing how happy and thankful all the kids were at the school when we arrived.
My personal memory I look back on a lot was during the Manchu Picchu trek, when I was pushed to my limits physically. Previous to the trek my clumsy self fell off of a bus and messed up my shoulder resulting with me having to wear a sling and then hurting my knee having to wear a knee brace. Even though I was physically having trouble the amount of support I had from my group members and my leaders was outstanding, they picked me up when I was down (literally haha) and with their support I was able to complete the trip and the trek.
Tips: have a spending cap for yourself for each week or each country, it will help.
-read up on some basic Spanish to help you when you’re in a taxi or restaurants.

Post-program- I got the courage to go to Costa Rica for 8 weeks by myself, using the things I learned from traveling in Sourh America I became street smart and knew how to get around in a foreign place with little to no help.
Overall the program gave me an experience of a life time and even gave me friends for a life time.
Would very much recommend.

What would you improve about this program?
Give more information about the $spending the individuals will have to do so they can prepare better with a spending plan.

Programs

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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

John Griffith

John T. Griffith, Sep-Dec 2008. I spent 6 years in the Air Force. I am from the Boston suburbs, studied engineering at Northeastern University and worked at a handful of companies before changing my career to follow my passion. I am now a personal coach and yoga instructor and give people the tools to transform their lives.

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Youth International?

Because rather than stay in just one area of Asia, they travelled all over and the Youth International program spanned across different countries and many cities. I also wanted to go to the meditation retreat in India. I loved the element of home-stays and really being embedded in the culture, rather than simply staying in hostels.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

We did a lot of teaching English to children, which was really fun because we could play games with them. We also built walls and structures and gardened.

What made this volunteer abroad experience unique and special?

The thing that made it most special was the opportunity to stay in the homes of locals. I met some of the kindest and happiest people in the world. And they didn't speak a word of English! Yet somehow we were able to effectively communicate with gestures and grunts and smiles. I learned so much about what's truly important in life and the experience of being so deep in a culture is something you simply cannot get when travelling alone.

How has this experience impacted your future?

I decided to leave my career as an engineer and start a business following my passion. I am now a personal coach and also teach yoga and meditation. After seeing people who were so happy, and yet had no money or possessions, I realized that money really doesn't make you happy and it's more important to help people and make an impact in the world.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Hayley Saramaki

Job Title
Team Leader & Communications Manager
Soon after graduating from University, Hayley took off to Asia, where she lived and taught in the Vietnamese capital of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for two years.

After returning home to Canada, she dabbled in the film, media, and television industries before starting to work as part of Youth International’s core leadership team remotely and on the ground with the teams.

What is your favorite travel memory?

Aside from the incredible memories that I have created while working with Youth International (I really can’t decide on a specific one!), my favourite overall travel memory was when I did four days of trekking in rural Myanmar. I was exposed to some of the true mental and physical challenges that arise while trekking in remote areas and also got more acquainted with participating with homestays in tiny mountain villages.

In these small villages, I gained a real sense of daily cultural practices by the Burmese tribes and an understanding of their openness and kindness to strangers. Children didn’t chase after me to beg for money and candy, which was quite opposite to what I had grown used to while living in densely-populated and tourist-trodden big cities in Southeast Asia. The village children skipped after me to braid flowers into my hair and decorate my face with their native beauty products, simply due to their interest in experiencing a cross-cultural interaction.

It was through this profoundly authentic experience that I realized how I would love to facilitate and guide younger travellers through similar circumstances, and open up discussions about various styles of living conditions, global wealth gaps, and how the concepts of expectations and ideal happiness differ between various social groups.

When I think back on my independent backpacking experiences, this is the one that stands out that lead me in the direction of leading with Youth International, which I am endlessly thankful for.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

I can confidently say that I have experienced profound growth both personally and professionally. The model of the program truly aims at fostering personal introspection and challenging yourself.

On the ground, I truly learned that I am stronger than I think I am. I began to see ways that I could apply this newfound confidence not only to working with my YI team but also to my very own life outside of my work with Youth International. I feel that I not only helped my students grow but by being right there with them through very intimate and challenging experiences, I was able to grow with them.

I also saw a lot of improvement in my team management and personal coaching skills between my first experiences in the field and those following. I noticed exponentially more growth from my first group of my students to my second, which in many areas I can say was due to my growing experience.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

The best story I have heard was from one of the students that I had encouraged to pursue some overseas work following the end of Youth International's program. They told me about how they learned so much from their time traveling with our group and how they had brand new confidence when it came to interacting with people from very different cultures as well as jumping right into brand new work environments.

They were so proud of how much they had accomplished and were incredibly thankful for my guidance and support, which was so rewarding to hear.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

I would absolutely choose the Asia program. It has so much adventure, cultural connection, and deep thinking embedded within it and a lot of room for personal interests of the students to lead the focuses of the daily activities. That being said, knowing how much planning and incredible experiences are woven into the Asia program, I have no doubt that any of their other current programs are nothing short of awesome.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

While given expert coaching from the company directors, the team leaders have the ability to alter some plans and operations of the program on the ground that allows for individualized and dynamic responses from the students. This really brings the program to life, especially when the students jump at opportunities to truly make it their own. Most specifically while in Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama and countless other Tibetans living in exile, we were able to piece together being part of a one in a lifetime experience: we were able to figure out how to get passes to attend a live teaching by this incredible world leader and philosopher.

The director gave us his full support to adapt to the growing interests of the students and the opportunities presented to us in person. The look on my students’ faces when they were able to first see him in person was incredibly rewarding.

I understand that some more rigid programs likely would not have this luxury and ability to truly make experiences tailored to their groups while following itineraries and protocols. I was especially proud to see all of the hard work and planning are done by the Youth International management staff harmonizing with what the students were experiencing. I could really see how the students used the itinerary and guidelines created by Brad as a jumping-off point for their own curiosity and global education.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

I think that the biggest factor is genuine human connections. A company that goes above and beyond to respect and care about their staff and clients not only attracts good team members but retains them.

Youth International has an awesome history of having great team leaders, many who come back to lead several other trips. Brad and Alex are both exceptional leaders who truly do care about the wellbeing of their leaders, as much as the students along for the journey. The entire experience feels more like working as a family and less like working for a travel and tourism corporation.

US visitors, meet us in person!

  1. Tuesday 25 February
    Palo Alto, CA Gap Year Fair
    Gunn High School
    Fair:
    6:00 PM - 8:30 PM
    Presentation:
    6:00 PM - 6:45 PM
  2. Wednesday 26 February
    San Anselmo, CA Gap Year Fair
    Sir Francis Drake High School
    Fair:
    6:00 PM - 8:30 PM
    Presentation:
    6:00 PM - 6:45 PM
  3. Thursday 27 February
    Berkeley, CA Gap Year Fair
    Maybeck High School
    Fair:
    6:00 PM - 8:30 PM
    Presentation:
    6:00 PM - 6:45 PM

Professional Associations

Gap Year Association Logo
USA Gap Year Fairs Logo