Some high school students head to the closest beach, others jump into a van to hit up a music festival, a handful put on Games of Thrones marathons, and then there’s you; you’ve decided to put everyone else to shame by embracing an alternative spring break. Fellow classmates will be jealous because you’re enjoying a sunset in Costa Rica, teachers will be impressed that you’re personally trying out the echo theory inside the Pantheon, and your parents will look forward to getting a souvenir bottle of authentic saké. Short and sweet, alternative spring break programs abroad are just long enough to inspire your future educational travels, so indulge yourself.
Why Spend Spring Break Abroad
Spring means blooming flowers, chirping birds, sunny study sessions at the park, iced lattes, and the next fashion trend of sunglasses. The only thing that could make this magical season better is spending a week or two abroad.
Just like Mother Nature is waking up from winter and shedding her skin, you too can blossom into a new person with a brief experience across the border. Not only do you get automatic brownie points for taking initiative and the road less traveled, but you’d be surprised at how much personal development can be packed into a few days. In a week, go from zero to hero when it comes to mustering up the courage to order morning coffee at the local café, become a pro at navigating bus systems (note: there’s no yellow-submarine buses abroad), and gain confidence boarding a plane without Mom and Dad. The leadership qualities you’ll develop are worth more than any Extracurricular Club Vice President experiences on future college applications.
All things considered, spring break is the ideal time to head abroad. Mountain trails aren’t frozen, but the Sahara isn’t unbearable. In addition to perfect weather, you also get to experience the world without masses of tourists; since spring break varies between countries, chances are, you’ll get to actually see the Mona Lisa, not just glance in its general direction over the masses of Chinese tour groups. A week or two is enough time to paint a general picture about a foreign country and incite the travel but, but not enough to get homesick or tired of long bus transfers.
As most transformative experience tend to happen abroad, spending a meaningful spring break away from home can give clarity to what you’d like to focus on for the remainder of your school year. Whether it’s more community projects, language development, sports involvement, or just finding a part-time job to fund future travels, there’s no lack of scholastic and co-curricular inspiration to find abroad. Whatever it is, it’ll sure beat babysitting your younger sibling once again.
Great news: spring is beautiful in every corner of the world. Bad news: the world is big, and you need to pick where to go spend a meaningful spring break abroad. Great news: we’re here to help.
United States. Bigger than a lot of countries put together, the U.S. is vast in its diversity and opportunity. If you don’t want to waste two days sitting on a plane (and another two adjusting to new time zones), keep things “local.” You can’t exactly call New York boring. Hawaii and Alaska aren’t too shabby either, I’ve heard…
Central America. Close by, but a world apart. Whether it’s a volunteer opportunity on the scenic beaches of Honduras or a jungle trek through Costa Rica’s colorful rainforest, couple your time adventures abroad with some Spanish language practice (and a lot of freshly-squeezed juice). If you think your Mom’s rose garden looks pretty this time of year, just check out the vibrant “lobster claws” in Panama.
Europe. For those interested in the Classics, explore the playground of Western philosophy. Take a tour of Greece’s ruins, get to know the history and cuisine of Spain’s sunny south, and laugh at the differences between American and British English in England. If that sounds too mainstream, combine bohemian lifestyles with intricate architecture and modern art in the Czech Republic.
Alternative Spring Break Programs
Whether it’s some good humanitarian involvement or a heart-thumping trek through the Andes, there are alternative spring break program options in all sorts of fields. Try something new or pursue a long-life passion; it’s up to you, kid!
Adventure. Not just seniors suffer from senioritis; we all lose steam sitting behind desks all day. Get all of that excess energy out of your system with a wild adventure abroad. Sign up for a hike to Colombia’s Lost City or go white-water rafting in Slovakia; either one sure beats being a couch potato.
Cultural Tours. It’s a lot more exciting to eat ramen than it is to learn how Japan’s political history influences its food production. It’s also a lot more memorable. Tour Portugal’s coastal towns or learn about the UK’s many castles with a cultural tour abroad. Pick up some foreign cultural quirks, which aids in communication skills throughout the board.
Volunteer. From baby orphans to the elderly, there’s someone out there that needs your help. Wield a hammer in a construction project, reap the rewards of a land conservation program, and zone into your inner nanny with a child-care placement. Do good while exploring and having fun!
Students are not usually expected to know the local language, and any potential class time (don’t worry, there’s not a lot of it) is conducted in English. However, it’s not a bad idea to pick up a few basic phrases, out of curtesy and for a higher ease of interaction with the natives.
Tips & Advice for Spring Break Travel
No one likes to waste time when traveling; even less so when there’s only seven to 14 days spent outside of the country. To really get the most out of your alternative spring break abroad, consider these helpful tips:
- Transportation. Unless you’re doing an epic castle tour of Italy, try to find an alternative spring break program that spends more time in less locations. Why sit in a bus for 12 hours every day, when you could be interacting with locals and eating croissants?
- Packing. Pack half of what you think you’ll need. Especially with such a short time period abroad, you really don’t need a lot. Leave room for souvenirs instead! Also, invest in a good backpack, instead of a heavy suitcase to lug around.
- Jetlag. No time for this pesky side-effect of travel. Start adjusting your watch and routine a couple of days before departure. If you need reinforcement once abroad, this is a good excuse to try a lot of café macchiati and café de olla’s.
- Lean and have fun. Most importantly, see an alternative spring break as more than plane connections or a party in a new country. Remain aware of your surroundings, pick up a few lessons, and remember to let down your hair.
Benefits & Challenges
Fitting alternative spring break trip into a week might seem tricky. It’s true, helping build houses in Nicaragua or drawing the rooftops of Spain will fly by in an eye blink, and before you know it, it’ll be time to go back home. In fact, the application process itself might seem longer than the program duration. But, like a good teaser trailer, an alternative spring break trip can give you a taste for international education and travel, and you’ll know if it’s something that interests you (for longer) in the future.
Since time is brief, do consider the goal of your alternative spring break. If you’re interested in environmental conservation, the size of the carbon footprint left by the plane ride to Kenya might cancel out all of your seed-planting efforts. If you want to become a pro at a new language, a week might not get you there (however, if you’re already studying French, a week in France will definitely loosen up that tongue). Adventure excursions and cultural tours are optimal here!
Whatever the reason for doing an alternative spring break program in high school, your trip will be one for the books. Throw more than bikinis, movie dates, and Netflix into the mix, and instead give homecoming season a new twist.