We all know that high school can get to be incredibly boring and repetitive; taking the same classes day in and day out, seeing the same people, eating the same cafeteria food, and so on. Some students just need a break from it all. Well, living in an island paradise for an extended period of time might just be the perfect way to escape the monotony! The picturesque South Pacific island nations that make up Oceania, the largest of which being Australia, are alluring for a reason, providing all the culture, education, and fun-in-the-sun any teen traveler could hope for.
The exact definition of Oceania is a bit vague, with some using the term to refer to the islands of the South Pacific, while others include New Zealand and Australia as well. High school programs in Australia and New Zealand are well-known and very popular, but there are programs available in the lesser known islands as well.
Australia is the world’s smallest continent, the sixth-largest country by total area, and a giant death trap (okay, maybe that is an exaggeration). Everything in Australia can kill you: crocodiles, poisonous snakes, venomous spiders, and I wouldn’t trust kangaroos either, but it’s a perfect location for fearless high school students looking for an international adventure (and, we may be exaggerating a tad). Like most countries and islands in Oceania, Australia is full of contrasts, including tropical rainforests, mountain ranges, miles and miles of desert, and the Great Barrier reef, the world’s largest coral reef system whose reputation precedes it. Students interested in wildlife conservation, environmental sustainability, and adventure with a capital A, will love high school programs in Australia.
New Zealand. Students looking for an adventure should look no further than high school programs in New Zealand. There’s a reason why adventurers, both real and fictional, are drawn to the islands. Wander the redwood forests of the North Island, then take the ferry across the Cook Strait to explore the golden shores of Abel Tasman National Park, or swim with dolphins in Kaikoura. High School students will have the opportunity to learn about New Zealand’s legendary origin story and the Maori people, who will welcome you onto their Marae with a Powhiri (welcoming ceremony), a warm Kia ora (hello/be well), and a hongi, the traditional Maori greeting where you press your foreheads and noses together. Cultural exchange is the cornerstone of any high school program in New Zealand.
Fiji. The Fiji islands are one of the top tourist attractions in the South Pacific. The (literally) hundreds of islands in this isolated archipelago contain dozens of world class beach resorts, giving students the chance to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the islands, the ocean, and the beaches in between. Some of the best locations for snorkeling, diving, and related water sports can be found in Fiji, but nature isn’t all the Fijian islands have to offer. The locals in Fiji are well known for being some of the friendliest people on Earth. Outsiders are welcomed with open arms and a boisterous “Bula!” (“hello!” or “welcome!”), making Fiji a beautiful, safe, and culturally stimulating destination for a high school programs abroad.
Samoa. For English speaking students, high school programs in Samoa can represent a fascinating blend of strange and familiar. Consisting primarily of two main islands and located roughly halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, Samoans speak both English and their native language, meaning a language barrier is not an issue here. This may be where the similarities end, however, as the native islander culture is alive and well on the islands. An ‘Ava ceremony is one experience that’s not to be missed, with outsiders often welcomed to participate in the ritualistic and community-oriented drinking of a liquid made from the native ‘ava root. High school programs in Samoa tend to center around volunteer work and many are offered on a shorter-term basis, making for a great getaway during short breaks from school.
High School Programs in Australia & Oceania
High school programs in Australia and Oceania tend to be fairly different than college-level programs, especially in this part of the world. Many programs are centered around service learning, or travel paired with volunteer work. Civic engagement and community service are important commitments for a happy and fulfilled life (and killer college app); so, why not develop those skills sooner rather than later?
Adventure travel programs are also popular amongst teen travelers, especially in Australia and New Zealand. With Queenstown being the adventure capital of the world and Australia having no shortage of epic nature to explore, it is no wonder teens choose to develop their outdoor and leadership skills down under.
For a variety of reasons, accommodations and travel logistics are almost always entirely planned out by high school program providers. Student safety is of primary importance, so projects and locations are often vetted in advance. High school programs in Australia and Oceania aren’t meant to be pure vacations, but providers tend to go out of their way to schedule fun and relaxing activities into the itinerary to encourage extensive experiential learning.
Since high school programs are targeted at teens with generally no advanced training in anything specific, special skills are rarely required. If volunteer work is involved, a solid work ethic and willingness to work with and help others is all that is needed. Since most program participants are minors, many organizations value adequate supervision and support for students.
Everything from initial questions to obtaining proper passports/visas to on-site support is handled by high school program providers in most cases. These arguably cookie-cutter experiences are meant to be a “first taste” of international travel and may be some of the easiest (though still rewarding) international experiences a student could ever take part in. High school programs in Oceania are also a good primer for future, more independent travels or full-on study abroad semesters.
Scholarships & Costs
Scholarships for high school programs in Australia and Oceania are rare, but they do exist. Check out GoAbroad’s Scholarship Directory, which lists specific scholarships for high school students, with the largest number available for those headed to in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji.
Australia and New Zealand can rarely be found on lists for “world’s cheapest destinations.” However, with careful planning, budgeting, and proactive fundraising or saving, students can mitigate unnecessary costs and spending. Keep in mind that airfare to Oceania is also relatively expensive and may be a difficult initial financial hurdle to overcome.
Thankfully, high school program costs are another area that the organizing group tends to help with. In an effort to make high school programs in Australia and Oceania as easy to participate in as possible, many providers charge one flat fee that incorporates all the expenses of the trip, including airfare, accommodation, and daily expenses. Recreational activities tend to add to the total cost of the trip, but many times these activities are optional, or there are several to choose from. Going on a scuba diving expedition, for example, will add to the total cost as opposed to choosing to snorkel on your own while spending the day at a local beach.
Accommodation & Visas
Living arrangements and accommodations for high school programs in Oceania vary depending on how many students are traveling together and where they are going. For small groups (less than four students), homestays are ideal accommodations; this incredible housing opportunity puts students into the homes of trusted locals for a fully immersive experience. This allows students to get a first-hand look at the daily activities of local residents, including their cultural practices, daily tasks, and food choices.
For larger groups, hotels and resorts are more common. Running water, hot showers, and access to most (if not all) of the resort’s amenities are typically included. All things told, these are not a bad option for students trying to operate on a budget.
As mentioned above, visas and other important documents will be obtained with help from the organization providing the program abroad. As high school students, it is understood that not everyone will have a passport or will be well-versed in the requirements of international travel. Providers are the experts and will be happy to help participants get all the documents they need in a timely and convenient fashion. Check out the GoAbroad.com Embassy Directory to find out the latest information for getting a visa for any country in Oceania.
Benefits & Challenges
The benefits of participating in a high school program abroad in a less common region of the world like Oceania are endless. The available destinations in Oceania are naturally and culturally gorgeous, and opportunities to travel to Australia and Oceania may come few and far between for the rest of a student’s life.
Students can be exposed to the challenges of a developing nation and the laidback vibes of island life. Fiji isn’t all resorts and surf lessons, after all, and spending time there would be a good introduction to populations very culturally different from us.
The largest challenges faced in this region may be the occasional language barrier (although English tends to be spoken in at least some capacity in most places because of tourism) and culture shock. However, once these things have been adjusted to, an international experience in Oceania is one that a high school student is highly unlikely to ever forget!
Get a sweet-as taste of life Down Under when you experience Australia and Oceania on the walkabout of a lifetime!