Having a hard time deciding on a meaningful way to spend your precious three months outside of the four walls of a classroom? Parents, does your teen have the insatiable urge to go somewhere but isn’t sure about any specifics? Well, whether your teen already knows their ultimate purpose in life and how their summer plans should play into it – or you’re not even sure which continent you want to see yet – here are some useful tips to keep in mind while seeking a summer program that’s every bit as unique as you are.
The world is changing.
Information is available on-demand and communicating with someone on the other side of the planet can be a mundane occurrence. The more we face this, the more we learn that there is no substitution for actually going out into the world and experiencing it. Today, teenage students have access to opportunities to face, learn about, and even change their world more than ever. Between competitive college prospects, pushy grandparents, and the plans of close friends – picking a summer program that’s right for you or your teen can be a daunting experience.
The first thing to realize is that this is ultimately your decision and that you’re looking for a program that fits you and your teen as much as you fit it. We can’t tell you what program is best for you but we can provide you with some suggestions and considerations for picking a program. Take a deep breath and remember that you’re seeking an experience for yourself/your child and even though leaving home can be scary, you’re doing this because you know that people grow from it… Feel better now? Then let’s jump right into it.
Why are you actively seeking to leave/send your teen from home for the summer?
Wouldn’t it just be easier to stay home where you have friends, family, and maybe a familiar couch? If you’ve found yourself on this page and read this far then it’s safe to assume that you obviously don’t think this way – you realize that stepping out of one’s comfort zone helps you grow as an individual and that in addition to providing a notch in the belt, international travel helps you see things, meet people, and experience ways of living you couldn’t even imagine from that familiar couch. The next step is to ask yourself what appeals to you most about leaving home. Is it a specific destination? Is it an activity you can only do in one part of the world? Maybe it’s a culture that you have to see for yourself that’s sent you down this road. You and your teen are unique – you shouldn’t have to compromise when seeking a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
How does international travel line up with your interests/the interests of your teen?
High schoolers don’t have to know what they want to do with their life in order to participate in a summer travel program, in fact the experiences we gain abroad can often shape us in unexpected ways and change us for the rest of our lives. Think about what your interests are at home and how you want to expand on them. If science class is your teen’s forte then consider an environmentally oriented program (i.e. collecting data and tagging sea turtles in the Virgin Islands or eradicating invasive species in the Galapagos) but if you consider yourself more of a social butterfly, then look into more human based projects (cultural immersion through teaching English to Tibetan refugees in India or sharing compassion in baby homes in China). It’s easy and even inevitable that we to learn through our experiences abroad; it’s up to us to decide what we want to learn and how we want to learn about it.
What’s the best way to see the world as a high school student?
Maybe the typical summer camp experience wasn’t for you or maybe you’ve heard horror stories about “teen tour” programs – don’t let this discourage your teen’s dreams of travel! Look for the signs and look for organizations that can promise “hands-on community interaction” and “experiential education.” Hopefully you expect the horizon broadening experience to involve more than a view from a tour bus, make sure you entrust the summer with an organization that considers itself a part of the place you’re visiting. Our philosophy is that people grow and have the most fun when everyone involved is striving for positive change in themselves as well as the world around them. We believe that service learning is the best approach to giving back to the world and the communities that we gain so much from.
How ready am i to embark or send my teen on an international summer program?
By all accounts the number of teenagers participating in summer programs abroad has increased dramatically over the past decade. Even though high schoolers today have more exposure and accessibility to the rest of the world than any other previous generation, they want to go out and experience other cultures for themselves. Some programs may call for more experienced travelers while others make great introductions to international travel by remaining relatively close to home. Ask yourself how committed you are to making this adventure happen but also consider what’s being asked of you and your teen and what mindset you plan on approaching it with. Travel can be taxing and service inevitably takes its toll but as our philosophy states: “This encourages close friendships to form while fostering unique, hands-on experiences. Students have a greater feeling of accomplishment from having completed things themselves, and their self-reliance and confidence soar as a result. Volunteering, living, and learning as part of a small team provides a perfect environment to develop these soft skills as well as leadership, compassion, and communication.”
Pack your bag and go…
It might not feel like it but once you’ve made up your mind on a destination, project, or program, you’ve overcome one of the largest obstacles in making it become a reality. Maybe you’ve imagined yourself zip lining through the jungle in Costa Rica, maybe you’ve seen your teen at the peak of a volcano in Ecuador, perhaps you’ve heard the voices of the Tibetan children chanting in India, tasted the famous spice of Thai food, smelt the salty air from the ocean as you sail in the Virgin Islands, or felt what it’s like to bring a smile to an orphan’s face in China. Once you’ve decided who you want to be this summer, make it happen! Enroll, apply, fundraise, do whatever it takes to just pack your bag and go!