Back to Basics About International Programs

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There you are scrolling through web page after web page looking for more information about international programs. You probably have a lot of questions— what are international programs? Who participates in them? Are you one of those people? As you click on page after page, blog after blog, you may start to feel like people are speaking in some sort of international program travel code. It might feel like everyone else has already done this international travel thing and these writers have lost their ability to relate to someone who is just now experiencing, or looking into experiencing, an international program for the first time.

Back to Basics About International Programs

Fear not; we’ve got you covered! We brainstormed questions that someone (maybe someone like you) would have as you begin your journey into exploring international programs. From questions about what international programs entail to where the best locations are for different types of international experiences, we’ve researched it all so you can make a more informed decision about your next–or maybe your first–adventure abroad!

What are international programs?

Excuse me, international what-ams? International programs are designed for someone planning to study, teach, intern, or volunteer abroad. While there are a wide variety of options and levels of support when it comes to different programs, some facets of the experience typically include housing, in-country support and guidance, a program itinerary, and tips for integrating into your new home country. Some programs may place you with a homestay, which is a host family who usually provides a room in their home for international adventurers like yourself, while others may provide tips for finding your own apartment or housing.

So...can anyone do international programs?

Well, this is an easy answer: yes, of course! Whether you’re young or young at heart, there is an international program out there for you.

What types of international programs are out there?

Pennant flag that reads Explore on a dark wooden background

International programs are the best, most meaningful way to ‘Explore’ the world.


If you thought there was just one way to do an international program – we hope you will take a look at the list we have put together below and think again! 

Study Abroad Programs

This is for students, usually those already enrolled in a college or university, who want to spend a semester or summer during their academic career bolstering their language skills or going to a country that offers specialized courses in their field of study.

Do you want to improve your French while getting an in-depth look at art history in the land of Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne and Pierre Auguste Renoir? Search through these study abroad programs in France and you’ll find something to fit your needs! Spend a few minutes writing a list of places you could envision yourself living or working – based on your academic history, personal background, or professional aspirations. There’s a program for everyone!

[Keep reading: Top 10 Destinations to Study Abroad in 2018

Volunteer Abroad Programs

Volunteering abroad can be a great option at any stage of your life. Whether you decide to volunteer abroad with your children or you are looking for a way to spend a meaningful vacation, you can find a short, or longer, term volunteer abroad opportunity that fits your needs – and those of the people you’ll be serving – anywhere in the world.

[Keep reading: The 10 Best Places to Volunteer Abroad in 2018]

Intern Abroad Programs

Does another summer working at the neighborhood pool sound a little dry (ironically)? Does applying for an internship at a local company, small business, or nonprofit just somehow not seem quite right for you? Do you want to establish some international street cred while fulfilling the need to complete an internship? If so, interning abroad may be for you.

Internships abroad offer the opportunity to develop your skill set in your field of interest or study while also experiencing life abroad.

[Keep reading: The Top 10 Destinations for Internships Abroad in 2018]

Teach Abroad Programs

International programs for teaching abroad can run a broad spectrum. There are short-term opportunities where you would be more of a support in a classroom, or there are longer-term opportunities like teaching in an international school – usually for a full year or two years. While you don’t always need to have a teaching certification, it is always helpful to have one so you can leverage your experience and be the best possible educator!

[Keep reading: 8 Best Programs for Teaching English Abroad]

International TEFL Courses

If you are interested in dipping your toes into teaching abroad, but don’t yet have the qualifications, earning your certificate to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) abroad could be just for you. Take your time identifying a program that works for you, and make sure it meets international standards, often including a certain number of practical, supervised teaching hours, so that you can use your certificate to teach abroad all over the world.

[Keep reading: 5 TEFL Programs that Basically Guarantee Job Placement]

Degree Programs Abroad

Full degree programs abroad are for people who are truly committed to living abroad while completing their education! Learning how to get your degree abroad can be challenging, but is definitely not impossible. Here are some seriously good tips to apply for degree programs abroad. You can enroll directly in a university or go through a third-party program provider. Each has their pros and cons, it’s up to you to decide which will best suit your needs and help you meet your goals.

[Keep reading: Most Popular Degrees to Earn Abroad]

Woman sitting on grey rock in the sunlight wearing red plaid with a hat at her side

With so many types of international programs to choose from, there is surely one out there for you.

High School Study Abroad

There are many ways you can incorporate international travel in your life – even at the high school level! Get your hands dirty with a little service work, impress your Spanish teacher next semester with an intensive language program abroad this summer, or feel the wind in your hair and your blood thumping through your veins with adventure travel programs abroad.

If you’re coming to the end of your high school career, looking for an edge on your college apps, but not quite ready to dive into academia again, consider taking a gap year. Malia Obama did it, why can’t you?

[Keep reading: Drool-worthy Summer Trips for Teenagers]

Language Schools Abroad

Have you always wanted to learn a foreign language, but you couldn’t get past the basics from your high school or college language courses? Maybe an immersion language program abroad is just for you!

Live and study the language. It will really stick with you once you have to start haggling at the market in Arabic or French. There’s no better way to really immerse yourself in the culture and the language. It won’t just be repetitive conjugations— you’ll be conversational in no time!

[Keep reading: Languages that will get you HIRED & Where You Should Learn Them]

Adventure Travel Programs

These kinds of international programs are not for the faint of heart! If lounging on a beach with a cocktail doesn’t get your heart pumping enough, adventure travel programs will get your adrenaline coursing through your veins and help you make memories you will never forget! All you have to do is take the plunge (quite literally) and sign up.

[Keep reading: Find the Sickest Adventure Travel Programs Abroad in 2018]

Jobs & Work Abroad

This is just what it sounds like – finding a job abroad! Because you want to werk, werk, werk, werk, werk. If you don’t have any international experience or near-fluency in the local language, it might be hard to find a good fit. Work abroad programs tend to be very competitive, but there will still be an opportunity out there to fit your experience, language proficiency, and professional goals!

[Keep reading: 5 Programs to Work Abroad We are SO LOVING Right Now]

Man in shorts and green windbreaker with backpacking pack looking out at valley and river

No matter your age, previous travel experience, or your taste for strong cheeses, international programs are the way to go.

What are popular destinations for international programs?

We are glad you asked — after all, if you're going to sign up for international programs, you might as well do them in great places.

Ultimately, where you go and what you do depends on YOUR goals, and what you want to get out of the program. The only way to make sure you know what you’re getting into is to do the research. You can read the reviews, reach out to alumni, and speak with the program providers. They’ll be your best sources of info on all things international programs.

[Save & compare your favorite programs side-by-side with MyGoAbroad]

Are international programs safe?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is – how can you guarantee safety anywhere? Not to answer your question with a question, but how would you ensure your safety in a new city in your home country?

Traveling abroad has inherent risks – you’re in a country where, maybe, you don’t speak the language, don’t know/understand the customs or rules, and don’t have a safety net around yet in terms of friends or family. With this in mind, it is essential to be cautious and aware of your surroundings wherever you go. Know your limits and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

How old do I have to be to participate in international programs? 

This will vary depending on the program you choose, but for high school programs participants are typically between 14 and 18 years-old, and other programs will list their age limit — usually 18 and up. And you’re never too old for international programs! 

How long are international programs typically?

This varies widely as some programs are designed for shorter-term opportunities – one to two weeks – while others are for longer term one to two months, or even up to a year. You can filter your search for international programs by duration, to find the one that best fits your schedule! 

Person with camera standing out on coastal ridge looking out at water and shoreline

See things only you can see. Make memories that will last you a lifetime.

Can I get credit for doing international programs?

Yes! Make sure to spend time with your study abroad advisor on campus who handles international credit transfers. Whether you’re studying, volunteering, or interning abroad, there is a real possibility to get credit for your time abroad. Some schools will even let you design a research project or independent study that can be completed in tandem with your international program. It’s a win-win-win!

Are doing international programs worth it?

Do chickens have lips? Do fat babies sweat in the night? Absolutely (to all of those questions)! From pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to learning a new language to gaining a new skill, the possibilities are limitless when it comes to participating in in an international program. Soon, international programs will just become part of your life, part of the fabric of your being!

...meaningful travel becomes a lifestyle. That’s not saying that we are all doomed (blessed?) to be homeless nomads forever, but it’s difficult to lead a “normal life” after witnessing all of the effects that meaningful travel has had on us.” 

How do I find international programs?

We get it — you haven’t been tempted by all of the glowing hyperlinks in this article. Follow the steps below to get started finding your ideal international program:

  1. Make a list of your dream destinations 
  2. Next to that list, make a list of your goals: do you want to learn a new language? Gain work experience? Volunteer with a specific project? 
  3. Create a MyGoAbroad Account
  4. Remember that list of dream destinations and goals? Use them to review the GoAbroad directories for programs that interest you
  5. Save your programs to MyGoAbroad and compare them side-by-side
  6. Narrow it down to your top three programs
  7. Read reviews, reach out to program advisors and alumni, get the full scoop!
  8. MAKE YOUR DECISION!
  9. READ ME: Your OMG I Just Found the Perfect Program Abroad Action Plan
  10. Apply for your dream program!
  11. Renew/apply for your passport
  12. Read up on your future host country and start getting STOKED
  13. Pack your bags and GO! 

Remember, as you make your list of dream destinations, don’t let yourself be too married to any of those locales. As you cross-reference your own travel wish-list with your personal and professional goals, you might find a country or city you never quite considered makes the top of your list. Remain open to any and all international programs around the world, you never know where you could end up! 

close up, woman holding a vintage globe to her hip in the sunlight

You’ve got the whole world in your hand. Where will you go?

Now that you’re ready to sign up for international programs… 

There’s a difference between simply traveling abroad and participating in an international program – and it can be confusing to understand lingo related to international programs if you’re new to the field. The good thing is that it’s not all that hard to get in the groove once you spend some time, like you’re doing right now by reading this article, familiarizing yourself with all of the options out there.

At the root of a successful international program is doing your research before you take the plunge. While it is sometimes better to ask forgiveness than permission, it’s almost always a better idea to over-prepare rather than dive into the deep-end of an international program without the information you need. Use the resources listed above to make your decision – and send us photos once you end up somewhere!

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