As home to some of the world’s holiest sites, the Middle East stirs up more conversation, conflict, and inspiration than possibly anywhere else on Earth. While many people shy away from visiting this region, it actually presents amazing opportunities for teens, with the chance to enhance global understanding of a misunderstood region while challenging students’ global thinking and communication. From world-renowned Arabic programs in Jordan to wildlife conservation programs in Egypt, the Middle East offers endless options for high schoolers looking to challenge themselves and learn in one of the most controversial areas in the world.
Most students go-to locations in the Middle East are Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but there are so many places that high schoolers can study or travel in the Middle East beyond Israel. Whether you are interested in the religious history of Israel or the wildlife along the Nile River, there is a location and program that is right for you.
Always an intrigue to people, Israel is truly the cradle of modern-day civilization. As the holy land for several religions, this small but highly-populated country is both a region of conflict and a place of divine beauty. Even if you are not spiritual, there is something overpowering about the centuries upon centuries of history, the millions of people who make pilgrimage every year, and its diverse landscape and territories. Not everything has to be serious in Israel, however, and teens will love riding on camels through the desert and sipping herbal teas in the palaces and temples of magnificent rulers.
Quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Middle East, Jordan is known as “the crossroads of the Middle East.” Its unique position in the center of the region makes it a prime location to begin your high school adventures, and its recent educational renaissance has made it a very popular place to study abroad in high school. Jordan is perfect for students looking to explore thousand-year-old crypts and temples as well as those who enjoy tasting pistachio desserts on patios overlooking the desert sunset.
High School in the Middle East
Many people have the preconceived notion that there are not many options available for high schoolers looking to travel meaningfully and that study abroad is reserved for college students. This is fortunately not the case, as there are many options available for high schoolers looking to receive school credit, volunteer, or just explore another part of the world. The most popular forms of high school travel in the Middle East include:
Study Abroad. Studying abroad in the Middle East is a great way to learn a new language, immerse yourself in a new culture, and acquire some school credit. High school study abroad programs in the Middle East vary in length, as some just run for a few weeks during the summer and teach one subject while others are a semester or year long and have you matriculate into a local high school. Many high schoolers choose a study abroad program that offers some type of language immersion component so that they are gaining a solid skill while completing high school credits.
Adventure Travel. These three to four week long programs are usually the most popular among high school students, as they typically occur during the summer and give students an overview of several different areas. Most adventure programs for high school students do not require any previous language or travel experience, so they are among the easiest ways to dive into the world. Some high school travel programs in the Middle East cover a lot of ground, like ones that take students to multiple countries, while others focus in on in-depth exploration of one region and cultural immersion.
Volunteer. There are unfortunately a fair amount of issues and conflicts that are on-going in the Middle East, so there are a wide range of volunteer opportunities for high school students. High schoolers have their choice of natural or historical conservation work, conflict resolution, education, or health volunteer programs all over the Middle East. High school volunteer programs in the Middle East can range anywhere from one week to one year, and offer cultural and language immersion on top of the benefits to the society in which you will be volunteering.
Scholarships & Costs
The cost of high school programs in the Middle East vary depending on the type of program you choose. Semester-long study abroad programs tend to be the best value, as you live in a new city and receive school credit for a small percentage less than a few week travel or adventure program. The typical three-four week summer program can cost anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000, whereas a semester can cost $8,000 to $10,000.
The United Arab Emirates and Israel typically rank as the more expensive Middle Eastern countries, but their prices will be fairly comparable to what you are probably used to. Countries like Jordan and Iran rank much lower, so you will spend less if you choose high school programs these countries. You will be able to get a typical street food meal for the equivalent of a dollar or two, public transportation for even less, and a night at a reasonable hostel for $15 to $20.
Most high school programs in the Middle East offer scholarships and grants to assist with program costs, and there are also national and subject scholarships available. Check with your provider or GoAbroad’s scholarship directory for more information on available scholarships and how to apply. Don’t forget to check with your home high school about scholarships and financial assistance, as many schools are actively trying to encourage younger students to study abroad.
Accommodation & Visas
Accommodation and visa situations in the Middle East are as diverse as the countries themselves, and primarily dependent upon the duration of your stay and the nature of your program. High schoolers who will be studying abroad in Jerusalem will have a much different situation than someone embarking on a two week adventure program in Istanbul, so be sure to do your research when selecting any high school program in the Middle East.
In terms of living arrangements, most high school programs offer a choice between international student housing or a host family for your time abroad, both of which would be located in the city of your program. If you are going to be abroad for an extended period of time and want to learn a new language as well as immerse yourself in a new culture, a host family is always your best bet. This will enable you to truly see what life is like in your host country, make meaningful connections with locals, and participate in traditional events and customs of everyday life.
There is a wide range of visa requirements that you will need to be aware of depending on where you will be traveling. Most Middle Eastern countries have one month tourist visas available at airports and borders, but many countries require visas be obtained before arrival. If you plan on staying for longer than a month, you will either need to obtain a study visa or a longer tourist visa. The biggest admission issue comes in the form of where you have traveled to previously, as many countries will not allow you to enter if you have an Israel or Israel-ally stamp in your passport. Before selecting a country for your high school program in the Middle East, make sure that you qualify for entrance and that your location won’t affect your ability to travel afterwards.
For more country-specific visa and passport information, check with your program advisor or GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory.
Benefits & Challenges
Push Boundaries. The Middle East is not usually the first place high school students (or anyone) seek out when traveling abroad, usually due to unnecessary fear and ignorance. People are oftentimes afraid of what they don’t understand, which is exactly why the Middle East is a great place for high school programs abroad. Being surrounded by something that is so different than what you grew up around is the key to developing different perspectives, ideas, and goals, and pushing yourself to go to an unconventional place to travel abroad will ultimately make you a stronger and more open-minded person.
Prioritize Safety. The Middle East is unfortunately known as a notoriously dangerous place. While much of the Middle East is no more dangerous than your hometown, there are occasionally incidents of foreigners not being as cautious as they should. Just like you would traveling anywhere else, follow the basic rules of safety: stay alert, use your best judgement, and don’t do anything that will draw unwanted attention to yourself. As long as you are aware of your surroundings, you should not run into any problems.
Develop Respect. As a very conservative area of the world, Middle Easterners take their traditions and customs seriously. High school students coming to this area will be forced to quickly adapt to the host culture’s way of life, and eventually gain a deep respect for a culture that was at one point very foreign to them. Living in such a different area of the world will teach young adults an important lesson in adaptability and that all successful people need to have a flexible state of mind. To assist with this process, students should be sure to dress more conservatively, act maturely and responsibly, and be respectful of the different culture around you.
The Middle East is one of the most diverse, eye-opening areas in the world and any foreigner, no matter the length of time, will be changed after visiting. Don’t let negativity in the media scare you away from doing a high school program in one of the world’s most historical and beautiful regions. Most of the world’s major religions, technologies, and languages were born in this region, and continue to greatly affect societies around the globe. Travel meaningfully in the Middle East to challenge not only yourself, but also to help educate those around you.