10 Unnecessary Fears About Going Abroad in High School

by Lindsey Hanson

We’ve all watched the scary movies featuring students’ terrifying adventures in foreign hostels. As we watch, the movie cuts to a commercial break, we see a trailer for the new T.V. drama featuring terrorists waiting to capture Americans the moment they exit a plane and step foot on non-American soil. Flipping channels, we see a heroic American dad rescuing his daughter from being kidnapped while exploring Europe with her best friend.

Students on a beach in Costa Rica

Lindsey and her high school students in Costa Rica enjoying some pura vida!

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Hanson

Let’s face it, as American students, we are taught to be terrified of traveling the world. But, are these fears realistic? Or are they holding us back from experiences much more beneficial than what we’ve been led to believe?

Although we are well aware of the warnings, we are also realizing that having experiences abroad make us more marketable for getting into college and landing our dream jobs. High school programs abroad are also well known for building personal confidence and character, developing the skills to adapt to a new situations, creating relationships with diverse people, and opening our eyes to the world we are an important part of.

The list below addresses 10 of the most commons fears about studying abroad in high school, and why you shouldn’t let fear get in the way of life-changing opportunities.

1. It’s unsafe.

As a high school student, this is the number one concern for everyone who cares about you. The truth is, in most countries you would be considered even more safe than you are in the U.S. Few countries have as much street crime and violent crime than the U.S. does, and many students report that they have never felt safer than when they were studying abroad.

To ensure that you are safe, take time to get to know laws and customs before going abroad in high school. Many of the safety tips you should know are much like what you learn in the United States. If you refrain from risky behavior and make choices using your best judgement, you could be safer than ever during your international program.

View of Toledo, Spain

Toledo Spain, high school trip - No students were harmed in the making of this photo

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Hanson

2. I won’t be taken care of if I’m sick.

Let’s be honest, we all want our moms when we’re sick. Good international program providers do everything they can to provide the next best thing, and they are diligent about having measures in place to keep you safe and healthy. Your program provider will be sure that you have appropriate health insurance, direct you to trusted doctors in-country, have a strong system in place for emergencies, and provide you with support throughout the process. Your host family, chaperones, or local program representatives will be there as well to make sure you feel well cared for. Also, they will keep your parents aware of the situation and contact them immediately in case of any serious problems.

3. I don’t have enough money.

A huge obstacle that gets in the way of going abroad as a high school students is the intimidating cost. As a teenager, it's becoming harder and harder to compete for part-time jobs, nonetheless, fit a job in with your busy schedule between sports practices, hours of homework, and other mounting activities and responsibilities. However, if you feel passionate about going abroad in high school, don’t rule it out because you can’t afford it! There are a wide variety of programs offered at many different costs, and many scholarship opportunities too. The perfect program for you does exist, so just take time to research until you find the program that fits your needs as well as makes the most financial sense for you and don’t forget to consider all the options to fund your trip beyond a part-time job.

As more high school students are encouraged to go abroad, coupled with the increasing importance to become global citizens, more funding has become available for those interested in going abroad in high school.

More and more you can find scholarships that are need-based, and many others will ask you to describe why the experience will be a valuable one for you and award you funds based off of your mission. If you tire of filling out applications for scholarships, get creative! Check out the many online fundraising options or come up with your own. Many students find that the experience of fundraising is a huge growth opportunity in itself and that more people support their desire to go abroad than they would’ve expected.

4. It’ll just be a glorified vacation.

So, this is more likely to be one of your parents fears rather than yours. You want to have fun with your friends and meet new people along the way, but the reason you are interested in going abroad in high school is probably much deeper than the vacation you could have taken over spring break to Florida. Like a vacation, it will be filled with sightseeing and fun, however, unlike a vacation, you will be faced with unique challenges and eye opening discoveries that emerge when you are completely out of your comfort zone.

As you are immersed in a new environment of a different country, you will learn how to be brave and independent out of necessity.

You will overcome misconceptions you have about the world and begin to appreciate different cultures and open your mind to new perspectives. You will be surrounded by new languages, history, governments, religions, and become a sponge taking in the information as you live and breath it.

High school students in Spain

Lindsey with her high school students during their trip to Spain

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Hanson

5. I’ll be away too long; I’m too busy.

High school is a very busy time in your life, but with careful planning and prioritizing you can make going abroad work with any schedule. International experiences come in all shapes and forms. For example, you can go on an educational trip that lasts seven to ten days, a volunteer experience for two months, or study abroad for a year. A big thing to consider is how the international experience will add value to your life and future over the other busy activities in your life. You will most likely find it’s worth prioritizing!

6. I won’t be able to stay in touch with family and friends.

Modern technology makes it so much easier and affordable to stay in touch while you are abroad. As a highschool student you most likely already have a smartphone and are tech savvy. Explaining everything to your parents might be the challenge, however, you will find its actually quite simple to stay in touch while you are abroad, and that your parents are more tech savvy when given motivation to hear from you.

You can use your current smartphone while you are abroad to pick up Wifi signals, and with the appropriate apps, you can text, video chat, post pictures to social media, email, and even talk on the phone for free. A few of the most popular apps to stay in touch include Skype, WhatsApp, Facetime, and Facebook. However, be sure to have your phone set to the correct settings so that you will not be charged for expensive data roaming.

If you will be studying abroad for a longer period of time, there are several options. You can get an international phone plan, unlock your current phone and purchase an international SIM card to use, or purchase an international prepaid phone. Many international programs will have a 24-hour emergency service, where your family in the U.S. can call to get a hold of you if needed. Your chaperone or director also will have an emergency phone to use for you to call home when necessary.

Plaza in Spain

Lindsey’s students soaking up some sun in Spain

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Hanson

7. I’ll get homesick.

Homesickness is something almost everyone has experienced at some point during their time abroad. The good news is, most students go through it and still end up with an amazing experience, and so can you. Most importantly you will not be alone. While you are abroad you will have support from fellow students in your program, who very likely will be going through the same feelings, your host family who will embrace you as family, your directors, chaperones, and teachers who will provide you with care and guidance and a variety of resources provided to you to help you feel better.

Before leaving for your international adventure, understand the stages of homesickness and prepare ways to cope with it ahead of time that cater specifically to you. Always remember, it won’t last forever, and it will make you a braver more confident person as you experience the stages and you overcome them. Plus, it will make you that much more prepared to go to college having already overcome homesickness before.

8. I don’t know the language.

That’s OK! You won’t be given any oral exams from your Spanish teacher analyzing your grammar. You are there to try a new language in the “real world” and you aren’t expected to speak perfectly. You’d be surprised to see how helpful people abroad are, even when they don’t understand you completely, and amazingly how much we can communicate without words through facial expressions and body language. The best part is, being immersed in a language is the most effective way to learn it. You are going to learn so much more in a much shorter time frame than you ever would in a classroom...as long as you give it a try!

9. I don’t have any friends going.

Whether it be a week long Spanish language immersion trip to Costa Rica or a year long study abroad program in Italy, not having a friend by your side can be very scary. Far too often students will choose not to go on an abroad experience solely on the fact that they don’t know anybody else going. Sadly, they miss out on a huge opportunity for making new friends. Going abroad during high school is believed to be THE BEST time to make new friends, not only from the U.S. but from around the world.

Students find themselves creating life-long friendships much quicker during their experiences abroad than they would at home.

Perhaps it’s because of the adrenaline pumping through you from being in a completely new and exciting environment, the fact that you get to start over and define yourself as a global citizen, the confidence and sense of adventure that harnesses from trying things out of your comfort zone, or the desire to create a “family” away from home. Although this might seem like the biggest fear you have, experienced students urge you to trust them, you will be pleasantly surprised as new friendships grow.

On the beach in Costa Rica

Enjoying the beach in Costa Rica

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Hanson

10. Is it worth it?

Does studying abroad REALLY make that big of a difference? Is it actually worth the costs and overcoming these fears? Universities, future employers, and experienced students and parents would say ABSOLUTELY. Universities look for qualities in prospective students which can be obtained through meaningful study abroad experiences, such as cultural understanding, demonstrated independence, desire to be challenged, foreign language practice, and a strong interest in becoming a world citizen. Employers increasingly look for employees who can work cross-culturally and have experience speaking another language.

Alumni students and parents agree that studying abroad opens doors for students to be more successful academically and professionally as well as build lasting relationships and personal character. I have never heard a high school student say, “I regret going abroad.” Most commonly their first thought after going abroad is, “That was totally worth it!” Now all you have to do is persuade your parents to let you go abroad.

There is no question that students who have experiences abroad are already well on their way to becoming global citizens and leaders for our future.