A Guide To High School Programs Abroad in Africa
From the sands of Egypt to the flat top mountains of South Africa, from the stampedes of Kenya to the glittering shores of Mozambique, spending a portion of your high school years in Africa offers benefits as boundless as the Sahara Desert itself. With summer and multi-month long programs available (not to mention opportunities to earn college credit!), Africa is an incredible and important place to experience as a teen traveler. Ready to stand out from the crowd on your college apps, learn firsthand about incredible historic cultures, and make your friends jealous of your safari photos?
With more than a few countries suspended in a turbulent time, it’s important to know which countries are “ok” to study abroad in. Even though we oftentimes only hear about African countries facing difficult issues on the news, there are still a plethora of African nations that are perfectly safe to visit as a high school student.
South Africa. Located on the southern tip of the African continent, South Africa is one of the most historically complex countries in the world. Known as the Rainbow Nation and the 2010 World Cup host, South Africa is an ideal destination for high school students. With summer, semester, and year long programs available, students can explore Johannesburg, Cape Town, and other historical sites during their program. All in all, South Africa provides a unique look into a sub-saharan culture that few other experiences can provide.
Ghana. Known in some circles as West Africa’s “Golden Child”, Ghana is a great example of a an African country integrating successfully into global society. Currently enjoying a stable democracy and a sprint to development, Ghana is an attractive destination for teen travelers wanting a relatively conflict-free taste of Africa. No matter if you stay for a year or less, students will be privy to experiencing the infamous Ghanaian energy (which will forever challenge their notions of stereotypical, media-driven images of Africa). Along with providing students with an intensely immersive experience, many high school programs in Ghana also offer students the chance to volunteer on a weekly basis with local organizations, giving them another opportunity to discover Ghana in a unique way. The chaos of the nation’s capital, Accra, will be unlike anything students have experienced yet!
Morocco. On the northern edge of Africa along the coast lies the mystical country of Morocco. High school programs in Morocco typically run in the summer, when students can spend several weeks learning Arabic, studying Moroccan art history, and researching the difference between the nation’s past and present. Along with a rigorous academic schedule, students usually have the opportunity to check out some of Morocco’s ancient sites (Chefchaouen, anyone?) along with the beautiful cities of Rabat and Marrakech. Do you hear the Sahara calling your name? Do you have a craving to learn Arabic? Do you need some college credits? Then consider high school programs in Morocco.
High school study abroad is always an excellent choice; however, it’s important you identify ahead of time what YOU want to get out of it. Do you want to do some service learning, are you only looking to go for the summer, or do you want an immersive year long experience?
Many students seek opportunities to give back while simultaneously earning high school or college credit. The good news is: Africa is chock full of service learning programs, both short and long term. Service learning placements often place students in an academic setting for three or four days out of the week; the remaining days are spent working on volunteer projects in local communities and villages.
For students interested in mastering critical languages, such as French, Arabic, and Swahili, now is as good of a time as ever to choose a language immersion program in Africa. Added perk: a lot of vocab from the Lion King will start to make sense (Hakunnah Matata, baby!). Without real-world experience living amongst native speakers, claiming true language fluency can be a challenge, making language study in Africa all the more valuable.
Other popular high school programs in Africa revolve around cultural immersion or adventure travel. With 1500 to 2000 languages spoken across 54 countries on the African continent alone, there’s no shortage of cultures to be intrigued and inspired by. There are most definitely plenty of opportunities for thrill seekers too; you can get your adrenaline pumping by white rafting on the Nile, shark diving in Cape Town, or scuba diving in Zanzibar (sign us up!).
For students looking to take a gap year or study for an entire year abroad, be prepared for a more immersive, and in general, more intense experience. Year long high school programs in Africa will most likely put students with host families and be a little less hands on than, say, a four week summer program. The goal of long term placements is to get students fully immersed and integrated into their host community, thereby learning the language and coming back to the U.S. a more mature and grown individual. Many long-term high school programs in Africa will also offer students volunteer opportunities, so look for programs that contain everything you want to do in your year abroad.
For most high school students, summer and short term placements in Africa are ideal, typically lasting for two weeks to three months. These high school programs are usually more varied, with each provider offering different features and amenities. Summer high school program in Africa are great for students who don’t want to miss out on any high school back home, but still want to experience traveling and living abroad. Expect summer programs to have students traveling more and be on more of a fast paced schedule as providers will try to have students experience as much as possible in their short time abroad.
Since Africa is such a popular destination for high school programs abroad, there are plenty of academic scholarships out there for students to apply for. Be sure to review your financial aid options in GoAbroad’s high school scholarship directory, and don’t forget to filter by your destination of choice (for instance, South Africa and Tanzania each have more than ten scholarships specific to teen travelers!).
Another avenue to bring down program costs is to ask your program advisor what scholarships and financial aid is available through your program provider. Many high school program providers have a small “refer a friend scholarship” and early application opportunities, which while small separately, together can put a good dent in your costs.
Our best advice? Apply early, and apply often.
As far as costs go, most students will have to pay for the flights to and from the country, along with a packaged program fee. These two costs tend to be the largest, with additional costs being limited to optional side trips and food. Program tuition can be anywhere from $1000 to $15,000 for a whole academic year. As a general rule, high school programs in Africa will provide housing for students, and in a lot of cases food as well. Finally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the pending costs, why not start a fundraising campaign?
Accommodations throughout Africa will vary depending on the setting the student is placed in. For most city dwellers, students can expect to be placed with host families that live in either apartments or houses, with varying amenities. For those looking to do service learning programs in more rural settings, housing will usually be very different; some students may even stay in adobe houses or huts! Students should be prepared to experience a very different way of living, one where you may need to hand wash your clothes or use a squat toilet. Just remember: it’s all part of the adventure!
In general, most (if not all) high school programs in Africa will provide students with housing. Just be sure to research what kind of housing is provided and decide what you want before you determine which program to participate in.
With such variety across the continent of Africa, and differing systems of government, each country will require a different type of visa depending on the length of your stay and your home country. Students planning to travel to Africa during the summer for only a couple weeks will generally not need visas. For those planning on long term study abroad placements, a student visa will be required in most African countries. Student visas can be tricky to get, so make sure to work closely with your program provider months ahead of your departure date so everything can be sorted out in time.
Be sure to check out GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory for the latest up-to-date information on visas for Africa.
Going abroad in high school is a life changing decision that will benefit you in college, in grad school, and in your career. High school study abroad in Africa will only amp up those benefits, as it shows you’re a go-getter and a student who doesn’t shy away from the unknown and the challenges therein (aka your endurance is tougher than the average teen-bear!). Besides this, Africa is an incredible place full of colorful people, amazing history, and awesome food. From fufu to pap to rolexes, your tummy will not feel slighted during your time in Africa.
Africa is a challenging destination to travel to for many reasons. Poverty is more obvious and widespread. The cultures are vastly different than what you are probably used to. The way of life is much more simple. BUT, don’t consider these as reasons NOT to go. Traveling to Africa is important; the region needs more voices and more advocates to educate the world on what it is rather than what it is not. During any high school program in Africa, you will develop a new appreciation for your life and walk away deeply changed. What a beautiful souvenir!
No matter where you choose to travel in Africa, the continent that birthed humanity is one of the best places to visit during your high school years. Fun fact: “Safari” translates directly into Swahili as “journey,” and we wish you a great one!
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