International Summer Programs for Teenagers
International summer travel programs for teenagers have been around since the early 1960s.
The first programs were organized by summer camps and private schools whose administrators realized that some of their students, particularly those between the ages of 14 and 17, were at a crossroads. They didn’t need a summer at camp, and they didn’t need a summer of classroom academics.
They needed something completely different – like an experience with a different culture that combined education, adventure, and fun.
International Travel for Teens in the 21st Century
In the early days, programs were simple: trips to countries like England, Ireland, Scotland and Scandinavian countries were the norm. Since the 1960s, however, international travel for teenagers has changed dramatically. Now it’s possible to find programs on almost every continent on earth, with virtually unlimited options.
Reputable organizations offer high quality programs of the following types:
Programs in Chinese, Japanese, French, Spanish, German, Russian and Arabic are all available. Teens can learn language in the best way possible: in-country from native speakers. Homestays with host families are common features of language immersion programs.
Service learning programs are available all over the world. Teens can teach children, volunteer with the elderly, or work on infrastructure projects like building health care clinics, schools, or community centers.
Teen tours are for students interested in sightseeing. Europe is the most common destination. Teens typically visit the capital cities of major Western European countries and take tours of popular tourist destinations.
Teenagers who seek advanced study in any area of academics can find interesting programs anywhere they can imagine. Economics, finance, applied sciences, liberal arts, fine arts – it’s possible to study the latest trends in virtually any field in the country where the most exciting work is being done.
Homestay programs used to be limited to European countries like France, Germany, and Spain. In recent years, however, options have become more common in Central America, South America, and Asia. Many people feel the family homestay experience is the best way to truly learn about and experience a different culture.
Adventure Travel means activities like trekking, mountain climbing, rock climbing, mountain biking, sailing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, and backpacking. While the U.S. is a premiere destination for all these adventure activities, it’s possible to find programs in Africa, Central and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
Why Travel? The Benefits of International Travel for Teens
International travel is life-changing. The benefits of meeting new and different people, seeing new places, and experiencing new and different cultures open a teenager’s eyes to the reality of the world. They understand themselves in context, see their place in the greater whole, and have the opportunity to feel firsthand what it means to be a global citizen. Those are the primary lessons parents expect students to learn when they travel overseas. There are, however, hidden developmental benefits to international travel programs that make them a good choice for teenagers:
When living and traveling in a small group, students learn to get along with people from different social and economic backgrounds. It’s not only the culture of the country they visit that changes them, but also the culture of their group and the connections they make with peers that has an impact.
Most international summer travel programs last longer than two weeks. For students who have never been away from home for that long, these types of programs give them the opportunity to find their strengths, weaknesses, limits, and capabilities, all without the safety net of their immediate family or regular peer group.
An increase in interpersonal maturity and differentiation often develop alongside or lead to an increase in personal responsibility. On international travel programs, students perform group jobs and keep track of personal belongings for longer than they typically have to while at home. The practical lessons learned on a travel program can be significant and long lasting.
Students on international travel programs often learn to perform real-world tasks the first time. They’re responsible for passports and other identification. They buy subway or train tickets, exchange money, and learn to read maps and navigate new cities. During community and family homestays, some students have their first experiences with regular household chores such as cooking, laundry, gardening, or even small-scale farm work.
Almost without fail, students who participate in international travel programs gain perspective on their home lives. From the most economically advantaged to the most economically disadvantaged international traveler, everyone can learn lessons from visiting a village in Africa where the school has no desks and only a dirt floor, from spending time in a farming community in Ecuador where everyone makes a trek to the well to get their drinking and cooking water every day, or trying to find a store in Spain that’s open between 12:00 and 3:00 pm.
Resources for International Travel Programs
The most comprehensive resource for parents, students and education professionals is the website hosted by Transitions Abroad, which provides a complete list of both for-profit and non-profit organizations specializing in international travel opportunities for teenagers.
For parents and students looking for something different this summer, an international travel program may be the perfect option. Travel can be a life-altering experience, and for some teens, a trip outside their comfort zone to somewhere new and exciting could be exactly what they need.
In the words of St. Augustine,
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Special Note: Financial Assistance
International summer programs are within reach for families without significant financial resources. Most student travel organizations offer scholarships for families who qualify, an there are a number of active scholarship foundations in the U.S. who regularly send high school students in need of assistance on international programs, such as REACH Prep, Summer Search and StreetSquash.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.