The number of US college students studying abroad has doubled over the last decade rising to almost 300,000 students each year.
But you don’t have to wait until college to get global! More and more high school students are taking advantage of international exchange and study abroad opportunities as well. In Seattle alone, almost every public high school either has their own school sponsored study abroad or allows other programs to present opportunities to their classes.
Wading through these opportunities can be a challenge, so I put together this guide to get you started.
First let’s tackles some FAQs:
What kinds of high school study abroad programs are there?
There are almost as many programs as there are travelers. They range from broad based cultural immersion experiences to very specifically tailored thematic excursions. You can study culinary arts in Paris, tango dancing in Buenos Aires or anime in Tokyo. Programs can last for a few weeks, a summer, a semester, or even a whole year.
What is the difference between an exchange program and a study abroad program?
The two are not exactly mutually exclusive and there are many combination programs. As the name implies with exchange programs, there is the possibility to receive students from other countries in addition to sending a student to another country.
But the key word there is possibility. If for whatever reason you are unable to host a student, you can still participate in an exchange program and vice versa. There are lots of organizations seeking Seattle based hosts, if sending a student abroad is not an option.
So how do you find a program that is right for you?
Sometimes it helps to identify what kind of program will make the most sense for you and your family, financially, ideologically, and logistically. Most programs fit into one of three categories, school based, faith based and third party providers.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
School-based programs are run and operated directly through a high school which means the trip schedule will most likely work with the school schedule and there will be no credit loss—in fact students might receive extra credit in some cases.
Another important advantage is that these trips are led by the school faculty, so both parents and students will ideally know the chaperones or have ample opportunity to get to know them before the trip.
Also this model might include travel as a part of a longer class, so students will have a lot more time to really prepare for the experience they will be engaging in and have a built in support community for their re-entry process.
The disadvantages are that there may be a smaller variety of countries. If you are taking French and your school goes to Spain, you are not going to get the language immersion opportunity you had hoped for.
Moreover group dynamics might be a challenge. Students who already know each other tend to interact accordingly, meaning cliques from back home can stay in tact during the trip. This can be a challenge on any program, but with school programs it is especially important to have trip leaders who are ready to address and establish inclusive group dynamics before it becomes an issue.
Many faith-based organizations host multi-generational travel experiences, which can be a great option for families who want to travel together. These trips also offer certain comforts, like a flexible itinerary that allows for families to stray from the group.
If you belong to a religion with strict dietary guidelines, sometimes it is easier to travel in a group where everyone else has those same guidelines.
A disadvantage again is the loss of selection. Usually faith based organizations are only able to do trips once or twice a year. Because these trips are often include a variety of people, the activities are not always as geared toward high-school-age participants.
Third party providers are organizations that run independently of schools and/or faith based organizations. These programs can be local, regional or even national. Because study abroad is their mainstay they will often be able to provide a variety of travel and programmatic theme options.
Many school and faith based programs will rely on teachers or religious leaders to serve as chaperones, which can be great, but with third party providers you are more likely to have program facilitators who are well traveled and well versed in the culture of the area in which you will be traveling. A good guide can make or break a trip.
With local third party providers you might have the opportunity to meet with your group before you travel, which is almost always an advantage. With some of the national providers however, you might be meeting your group in the airport on your way overseas. This can be very stressful.
Conversely it can be a huge advantage to have an adventure with people you have never met before. It simply depends on what kind of experience you are ready and interested in having.
Here are a few programs to consider:
Seattle Based Exchanges and Study Abroad Programs: