The Dangers of Studying Abroad in High School

by Rebecca Murphy

There are unlimited excuses students use about why they shouldn’t study abroad in high school: they’re too young, it’s too expensive, their parents are really strict, or the most popular, they’ll just study abroad in college. All of these are more or less chump excuses in comparison to the real one: it’s dangerous.

Yeah, you heard us right. It’s scientifically proven (kind of) that the younger you study abroad, the more at risk you are of totally altering the course of your life. Sounds awful, right? If you’re weighing the pros and cons of studying abroad in high school and for the life of you just cannot make up your mind, let this list of all the potential dangers lead you in the right direction.

Map of France with an Eiffel Tower trinket
You’ll go places you never thought you could, learning things you never thought you would.

You’ll eat too many new foods.

You will be overwhelmed with amazing food and beverage choices everywhere you turn. Your parents will be pissed that you no longer think their cooking is the best. You might even gain a few pounds. THE HORROR!

Being immersed in a new culture means that you’ll have the opportunity to explore all that this new region has to offer through your taste buds! After gorging yourself every night on fresh pizza and pasta in Italy, you will never want to touch crappy take-out in college. You’ll come home and crave all new foods, like spiced hummus and meat empanadas, every day, and your mom will shake her head like she doesn’t even know you anymore. After all, the easiest way to fall in love with a new place is through your stomach!

You will make too many new friends.

Imagine being able to snap your fingers and instantly have new friends, a new family who wants to know everything about you and include you in everything they do, and the ability to make even more friends every day from all corners of the world. Does this sound like the absolute worst to you? Better not study abroad in high school! And definitely better not choose a homestay.

When studying abroad, you will meet new people literally (Chris Traeger voice) everywhere you turn. When you arrive in your host location, you’ll immediately be thrown into a group of 10 to 20 other high schoolers just as excited, vulnerable, courageous, and desperate for friends as you are. Hello instant #squad. Then you’ll meet your new host family, who will be all up in your business and want to bond with you ASAP. Hello cooler big sister (and cooler big sister’s clothes). Then you’ll go on crazy adventures every weekend and meet even more awesome people at hostels, on walking tours, and even on the street corner at the neighborhood kebab stand. HOLA global lifelong network!

Women reading and writing at a picnic table
You’ll make too many new friends with similar interests and passions - the horror!

You will be bitten by the travel bug.

You’ll never be able to sit still again. You’ll think in terms of days per country rather than semesters and summer vacations. All future dollars earned will immediately go into an international flight piggy bank. This is a REAL epidemic and you should prepare yourself accordingly.

Once you see how truly beautiful and unique different parts of the world are, you will never want to stop exploring and learning.

You’ll suddenly question why you sat still for so long, and you’ll probably resent your parents a little for not exposing you to this curiosity sooner. After experiencing how thrilling and easy it was to adventure around Central America, you’ll never question if you can backpack Europe again. You simply can’t hike the Alps surrounding Switzerland and not want to explore the Himalayas. You won’t be able to witness wildlife on the Galapagos Islands and not want to play with penguins settling in South Africa. Call the doctor, because you’ve been infected!

You’ll miss all of your life-changing social events.

Homecoming is this weekend and while your friends back home are primping and partying, you and all of your new friends have been rocking sweet dirndls and lederhosen at Oktoberfest all week. Your friends are PO’ed that your hometown rivals beat your basketball team? You were too busy cheering on FC Barcelona to notice. Your school is putting on Hamilton for the spring musical? You witnessed the best sword fight in history when you spontaneously saw Romeo and Juliet performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater last night.

When you’re considering study abroad, you might be concerned about what it’ll cost you, both socially and emotionally. If you can’t bear the thought of missing Jocelyn’s sweet sixteen or not being able to take your girlfriend to her junior prom, know that everything you experience abroad will be worth it.

Pushing your boundaries and living outside of your comfort zone is one of the most amazing and powerful things you can do while in high school, and everything else is fleeting in comparison. You’ll feel bad for a few days when you see all of your friends’ pictures on Facebook of them having a blast without you, but we bet you wouldn’t trade places with them in a heartbeat. What you’re experiencing is significantly cooler, and we promise that your friends back home are SO. MUCH. MORE. JEALOUS. OF. YOU.

Girl eating soup
You’ll try too many delicious foods and all about the cultures which created them.

Your Instagram will be a hot mess.

You’ll take so many pictures every day that your fingers won’t be able to deal with all the cropping and filtering. You’re constantly getting “cannot take photo, not enough storage” notifications on your phone. You’ll have a meltdown when you know you already posted a picture today, but you just took an even better one and need to share it, too. Likes and new follower notifs out the wazoo, constant comments to write back to. Like seriously how are you supposed to keep up?

This is the best thing about study abroad; everything you do will be something new and everything you see will be something you want to remember forever. You will be overwhelmed with stories to share and pictures to post because there is something to be explored around every corner, and it will be so awe-inspiring that you’ll want to document it all. And, with the power of the social media, people will actually want to see what you’re experiencing, especially if you approach it from a unique angle. Hello, even more friends and connections around the world!

Your Snapchat will be even worse.

If you thought your #insta was overwhelming, better take cover right meow. The beauty of the internet and social media is that we can all be connected and experience what someone else is experiencing instantaneously. So, when you’re not Skyping with family, you’ll be tempted to post minutes upon minutes of videos to your Snap Story so everyone else can see your life, too.

If being super connected and basically glued to wifi sounds horrible to you, that’s actually for the better. When studying abroad, you’ll go through phases just like anyone else with a shiny new toy (but times 10 because your host city will probably be the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen). You’ll want to show it off for a little while, but then you’ll realize how pictures and videos don’t do your host city and other travels justice, and you’ll start to enjoy them just for yourself and not for anyone else.

School soccer stadium with players out on the field
You’ll miss the big rival soccer game, unless you’re out there cheering on FC Barcelona!
Studying abroad teaches you to appreciate experiences in the moment and to do something just for yourself, not for the attention it will bring you with your followers.

Your mind will become too opened.

This is the ultimate danger of studying abroad at such a young age, and all teens should seriously take precaution. You mean to tell me that there’s a way to start college with a global perspective and actual knowledge of the way things work in other cultures and countries? You can come home with enough skills that you can start working right away? You’ll be responsible and experienced enough to live on your own/move into a dorm and make somewhat decent choices instead of totally horrendous ones? No, stop, can’t handle all of this mind-blowing information!

Being exposed to the whole world means that you’ll understand problems and successes around the globe. You’ll form actual political and social opinions because you’ve seen how they affect real people. You will challenge all preconceived notions about “dangerous” people, “dirty” places, and “disgusting” foods. You’ll return home with new passions, goals, and perspectives. You might’ve never thought that you had much in common with Princess Jasmine (except maybe your disdain for your parents’ “unfair” rules), but you’ll be so thrilled by everything new you’re experiencing that you, too, won’t be able to stop from publically belting out about this “whole new world.” Get your carpet ready!

You’ll never want to come home.

When you realize that you only have two weeks left in your host city, you’ll slip into a deep depression that only churros con chocolate can fix. When you have to start packing your bags, you’ll feel like your life is ending. When you say goodbye to your host family and get on the plane, it’ll be the worst day of your life.

Airport departures and arrivals board
You’ll never want to leave!

The reality is that reverse culture shock is hard, and re-integrating into a place and life that used to come so naturally to you can be quite difficult. You probably won’t get so jazzed to go to your favorite cafe anymore because there was one in Paris that has your heart more now. You might never be satisfied again skiing your hometown mountain because the ones in Chile were so much better. Our worlds shift and expand as we experience more of the planet, and it’s natural to feel out of place and unbalanced when you have to return back to life in the “box.” But, let’s face it, at least it’s only temporary. The worse you feel at home, the more motivated you’ll be to buy that next plane ticket!

As you can see, the only thing to be afraid of when considering high school study abroad is that you’ll make the wrong choice (AKA NOT GOING). There is really very little that is legitimately dangerous when studying abroad in high school, as most high school programs are so well-organized and well-supervised to ensure students’ safety and growth.

So, now that you’ve put your fears to bed and made up your mind that you’re going, it’s time to compare programs, read reviews, and hit up some alumni with any questions. And, most importantly, have a blast in your new home!