12 Ways to Make the Most of Teen Travel Programs Abroad

by Danielle DeSimone

You’ve decided to go abroad on a teen travel program, congratulations! You’re about to start a lifelong love affair with travel, and going abroad at a young age means that you’ll carry these experiences with you in all of your future adventures - whether that be in college or whatever else you decide to do. This is a “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of opportunity, so here are just a few tips on how to really make the most out of your time abroad while in high school.

1. Pick a program that fits your interests.

It may seem obvious, but when choosing your international program, whether it be a volunteer, study abroad, adventure travel, or language-immersion program, be sure to choose something that really interests you. The challenges of traveling abroad will be far easier to overcome if you are truly enthusiastic about the type of program you’re doing.

Are you a big fan of marine biology? Consider volunteering with a conservation team in Costa Rica protecting sea turtles. Do you love Model U.N.? A summer studying in Spain, gaining a global perspective of the world, might be just the adventure for you. Wherever you decide to go, carry your passions with you (and be sure to use GoAbroad to search for high school programs abroad).

2. Preparation is key.

Once you’ve chosen where you’d like to travel, study, or volunteer abroad, do a little research before boarding the plane! Reading up on your chosen country’s history beforehand not only teaches you the meaning behind the ancient palaces you visit, but also gives you unique insight into the culture of your new home. It is important to know why all stores are closed on Sunday or why you should always eat with your right hand and not the left, so that you can strive to understand the country you are traveling in, as well as immerse yourself more fully in the local traditions and customs.

3. Learn the lingo.

If you are traveling to country where you do not speak the language, it is always a good idea to study a bit beforehand so that you arrive knowing the basics. Learning another language and using it while abroad not only improves your language skills (and assures that you can order food in a restaurant), but also shows native speakers that you are making an effort to get to know them and their culture.

Language is the first step to reaching across borders!

4. Embrace the homestay.

Teen travel programs abroad typically arrange accommodations for students, and many offer the option for students to reside in a homestay, where you’ll live with a local family. Don’t be afraid to choose this option, if given the choice. There is no better way to get to know the day-to-day life of an average person in another country than to live with a family, sharing authentic meals and becoming a part of the home. This is also an excellent way to become fully immersed in the language of your host-country!

5. Don’t get stuck behind the lens.

By all means, take pictures and videos and post those amazing Instagram shots to your blog! Documenting your experiences abroad through social media is a great way for you to record your adventures, while also sharing them with your friends and family back home. Just be sure that your time abroad isn’t completely defined by those Facebook albums. You will find that many other cultures do not rely on smartphones and constant Twitter updates. Being attached to your phone and constantly keeping up with what’s going on back home can cause you to miss out on things happening right in front of you.

6. Get to know the locals.

Although a homestay offers you the chance to be a part of another culture’s family life, meeting people your own age in another country is an excellent way to immerse yourself in the day-to-day life of the locals. Take advantage of any opportunities your program offers for you to join local social clubs or language exchanges, where you can meet other people your age. You’ll not only have a chance to practice your language skills (don’t be afraid to make mistakes, locals love to see you making an effort), you’ll also forge unforgettable friendships that will stretch across nations and borders. 

7. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Venturing out on your own, especially in a foreign country, can be intimidating. Away from all that is familiar, with the distance from your friends and family, can certainly be challenging. Culture shock, the confusing feeling of displacement when immersed in a new country, is very common among international travelers, especially young ones. Know that it is perfectly normal to feel homesick, even when you’re in the middle of an incredible adventure. Small reminders of home, such as pictures or the occasional phone call to your family and friends, can help alleviate those travel blues.

8. Remember your credits!

If you are planning to earn high school or even college credits on your program abroad, meet with your school counselor before deciding on a program to make sure that the courses you will take count towards credits at your school or at a future university. Some courses or university programs will not correlate with courses in your home country, so it is important to ensure that your hard work will be counted on your school records before you even step foot out of the country.

9. Keep a record for the future.

As the college admissions process becomes increasingly competitive, studying abroad in high school can set you apart from the rest of the crowd. Keep a record of all of your travels as well as all coursework or volunteer work that you perform while abroad, you’ll be able to use this when you are applying to universities or entering the job market. According to a survey conducted by IES Abroad, 90 percent of students with international experience get into their first or second-choice schools, and those who study abroad are twice as likely to get a job after graduating college. Very few people go abroad during high school, so be sure to highlight it on your applications!

10. Consider a gap year.

An increasing number of high school students are embarking on the infamous “gap year” between graduation and university. If you choose to travel, volunteer, or study abroad for a year, you will not only gain independence and learn to manage yourself in other countries, you will also have a unique experience that will set you apart from other applicants when applying for colleges.

Very few teens are bold enough to explore on their own for a year, and doing so will only give you more confidence and skills for the future. 

11. Keep a journal.

It’s such a simple task, but an important one. Blogging is a wonderful platform to share your experiences, but it is obviously in the public eye and does not always offer a chance for personal reflection. While abroad, be sure to carry a physical journal around with you to remember the little things, how the light looks coming through your window in the morning or the smell of your host mother’s cooking before dinner. These are the small things that are easy to forget, but are just as important as the Colosseum or Machu Picchu. 

12. Open eyes, open mind.

It’s important to remember that other countries and cultures will be different from what you are used to at home. As a young traveler, you have the incredible opportunity to see the world from a fresh perspective and learn from the people in your host country. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, explore, and get to know the other side of the globe. You’ll be surprised by how rewarding (and fun) it can be!

Nowadays, the phrase “life-changing” is used left and right for almost anything, from that “life-changing” dinner you had the other night to your last relationship. However, going on a high school or teen travel program abroad is REALLY and truly life-changing. Very few people get the opportunity to explore the world at such a young age, so don’t be afraid to throw yourself headfirst into the experience! This is your chance to step beyond your front door and into a whole world of new adventures.