If you're seeking an eye-opening experience that will stick with you through college and beyond, experiential education programs are perfect for you! From big cities to rural villages, just picture yourself witnessing flamenco dancing in Spain or enjoying an authentic hot pot in China while becoming fully immersed in a new language and culture. You will come home from an experiential learning program with a broader point of view, and a greater sense of independence too. Plus, experiential education programs abroad will give you plenty to talk about on that college admissions letter!
Why Consider Experiential Learning?
In order to truly explore the culture of a distant land, experiential learning programs will take you through city streets and dusty roads, from museums and monuments to folk traditions and grassroots projects benefiting local communities. Whether you are just starting to pick up a second language or well on your way to fluency, experiential programs will be a great opportunity to practice your conversation skills. The depth of cultural experience you’ll gain simply cannot be matched by staying home and reading a textbook!
A culturally-immersive experience abroad is sure to impress college admissions counselors and future employers alike, as well as provide some valuable insight about what you might like to major in. Writer’s block won’t be a problem when it comes to college admissions applications with some cultural experience under your belt either; you will be bursting with enthusiasm recalling the time you were inspired by the diversity of plant and animal species in the cloud forest of Costa Rica, when you were awestruck by the architectural marvel that is St Peter's Basilica, or even that time when you had an enlightening conversation with a local spoken with a blend of English and Mandarin that changed the way you see the world!
Best Places for Experiential Education
Experiential learning is a very broad program type to begin with, so location options are as diverse as the people you could possibly meet. To get started, begin honing in on a country or culture that interests you, or check out the highlighted destinations below that can give you a healthy combination of culture shock and cross-cultural understanding:
Costa Rica is a popular destination for high school students learning Spanish as a second language, or students with an interest in biology or ecology. During experiential learning programs in Costa Rica, you will find a culture that is just as vibrant as the snapdragons, butterflies, and scarlet macaws of the rainforest.
China is another top choice for high school experiential learning programs abroad, and a good pick for those who see themselves playing a part in global business or international relations. Understanding the complex history, philosophical movements, and artistic and technological innovations of China is key to understanding the people who make up this prominent and dynamic country.
Europe is very popular as well, especially with first-time travelers, as it is easy to get by speaking English. Although, it can also be a great destination for those learning Spanish, German, or French too. High school students will get a kick out of admiring the stained glass of the Notre Dame cathedral, the bizarre shapes adorning Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, and the paintings they have only read about in humanities books. Experiential education programs in Europe also provide the fascinating opportunity to learn about how medieval cities have adapted to urban challenges over time.
South Africa has it all, natural splendors, diverse cultures, over 11 languages, and a fascinating history central to the global civil rights movement. There are many opportunities for high school students to engage with local communities during experiential learning programs hosted by international NGO's while learning about sustainable development.
Before packing your bags, you will need to assure Mom and Dad that you will come back in one piece! Rest assured, whether your experiential learning program is hosted by your high school or one of the providers listed on GoAbroad, safety will be a top priority. All high school program providers have plenty of experience taking students on the adventure of a lifetime, and of course, work only with verified host families and partner companies.
Experiential Learning Programs
The journey abroad to an array of human cultures will have a lasting impact on any high school student, expanding your vision of the world and equipping you with real educational benefits. Experiential learning programs for high school students will be full of coursework and extracurricular activities, all of which will be worth listing on a resume or college application. Not to mention, some experiential education programs will sometimes even allow high school students to rack up college course credits!
More often than not, high school students will live with homestays for the duration of their experiential learning program, but some programs will involve traveling around the country, or even the region. Students will get to experience the full array of a specific culture, from urban centers to rural villages. Experiential education programs for high school students usually last two to four weeks, but will often seem longer thanks to itineraries packed with the kinds of culturally immersive experiences young travelers dream about.
High school experiential learning programs typically do not require students to master the language of their destination, since cultural exploration is all about experiencing a different culture. Even if you do not understand what everybody is saying, you’ll still get a sense of the world around you by taking in the sights, sounds, and by noticing people's mannerisms and body language. Of course, it never hurts to learn a few key phrases before taking off to a non-English speaking country. For budding bilinguals studying a foreign language, experiential education programs can be a great opportunity to practice conversation skills though!
Benefits & Challenges
It is normal to feel overwhelmed at first adjusting to new surroundings, especially when going from an industrialized country to a developing economy. Don't worry, culture shock is a normal part of experiential learning and it isn't as bad as it sounds! Just remember: you are there to get out of the comfort zone and to experience a very different world than the one you're used to. Try to leave your conceptions of what is and isn't normal back at home. Get too hung up on the cultural differences, and you won't notice the similarities which connect us all no matter where we are from.
Cultural Fluency. More and more experts are taking the stance that studying different cultures may be becoming more relevant than mastering foreign languages! As computers become smarter and better at translating, more people will be communicating across cultures with the help of pocket-sized interpreters, making cultural understanding more important than ever. That’s not to say that foreign language studies are obsolete, only that the complexities of cultural sensitivity cannot be decoded with algorithms.
It's a Small World After All. No matter what you decide to major in, experiential learning will be a huge boost to your career in a world where people from vastly different and distant places are more connected than ever. Whether you are planning to be a teacher, business mogul, engineer, or journalist, chances are you will be interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds. Most major companies and organizations operate across national borders, and employers see great benefit in talented young folks who are worldly and culturally-aware.
Get Lost and Find Yourself. They say college is where you go to find yourself, but why not begin that journey in high school? By leaving your comfort zone and becoming immersed in a different culture, you will have a unique opportunity to apply the knowledge and life skills learned so far, to adapt to a new and exciting way of life, while leaving some misconceptions about the world behind forever.
So, go invest in a bigger backpack and get ready for the first of many grand adventures abroad!