News Flash: Study abroad is NOT just for college students! If you're thinking about ways to spice up your high school experience, explore options for international study. We have even done your homework for you! At the end of this article, we share a listing of links to international studies programming designed specifically for high school students (and a few for middle schoolers) around the globe and outside your comfort zone. Here are 7 reasons to consider spreading your wings beyond the four walls of your high school:
1. Explore the World
Whether you're from Los Angeles or New York, Fargo or Schenectady, there's an even bigger, wider world out there. Imagine the possibilities of study in Beijing, China or Madrid, Spain. Get beyond scenes of Paris in Disney's Ratatouille and stand under the Arc de Triomphe in real life! Studying abroad is like exploring a dictionary-sized menu of culture, history, and language. You might even find that one experience overseas is just the tip of the iceberg, and before you know it, you'll be comparing the language offerings and foreign study programs of the target colleges on your list.
2. Join the C.I.A. - Cultural Intelligence Authority
Cultures can be really local, but also exist regionally and nationally. Once you've lived in one place for a while, you absorb cultural competencies into your daily life. Think you already "get it"? One way to better understand your home culture is by living in another. Leaving your home country will inform your point of view on the norms that are currently part of your daily life. But when you see some of your own behaviors - which are "normal" to you - through the lens, or viewpoint, of another culture, you might decide to make a few changes. Will you hold eye contact longer to indicate you are paying attention, as is often done in Germany? Will you wait for an answer to the question, "How are you," as people do in Switzerland, or simply use it as another way to say hello, as you would in the U.S.? Studying abroad teaches us to be aware of different perspectives and to apply a critical lens to our own. Cultural intelligence will help you to understand interpretations from multiple points of view. Cultivate this skill that the Harvard Business Review calls "an outsider’s seemingly natural ability to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures the way that person’s compatriots would." This could translate into your newest superpower!
3. Get Fresh Insights on YOU
Have you had the time to engage in self-reflection? If you are as busy as most high school students, finding the time to pause and reflect is a challenge. Studying abroad as part of your high school experience and placing yourself in a completely new environment can help you to take a deeper look at your strengths, as well as to uncover the skills that could use improvement. As you look ahead to choosing your next set of challenges, wouldn't it be amazing to develop increased self reliance, independence, resilience and adaptability? Not only might you find new confidence in yourself, you will also find new favorite foods, fascinating places and meet interesting friends from different backgrounds that capture your interest and help you learn more about yourself in the balance.
4. Increase Global Awareness
You read The Economist and The New York Times in your school library, and you have the CNN app loaded on your smartphone. That's global awareness, right? Well, it's a great start for sure! Studying abroad in high school will take that knowledge and your existing awareness of global events and issues to a completely new level and provide additional perspectives. And if you choose to truly immerse in your new culture, embracing an openness to others' opinions, you will be privileged to view the mosaic of stories and perspectives behind the blended views that you had only read before in black and white. Why is this global awareness important? Your enhanced global mindset is a fantastic analytical tool which you can put to work during future studies, around the dinner table, and even in your future internships and career. Use this awareness to be more curious, to question what you read, and then channel your enhanced awareness to guide future goals and inform personal values. In the meantime, you will be well prepared to study in college with a broadly diverse group of students from all over the country, and all over the world. Your comfort level and ability to understand people who hail from different backgrounds will be strong, as will your ability to establish relationships with them, based on your deeper global awareness.
5. Stretch Outside of Your Comfort Zone
What is it like to live with a host family? If boarding in a dormitory for the first time, what it will be like to live with a roommate in a foreign country? New experiences can be intimidating at first, and it's normal to feel nervous when embarking on study abroad. But we often learn the most when we stretch ourselves beyond the boundaries of our comfort zone. Even going to the grocery store to purchase a banana for a daytime snack is an adventure: you will figure out how to say 'banana' in the local language, learn the way to the store and back with the help of Google Maps, and get familiar with unfamiliar-looking coins and bills of another country. Planning a day trip to a neighboring town to see the sights will require online research skills, determination of logistics like bus and train schedules to get you there and back on time, and analytical thinking. Stretching beyond your comfort zone results in greater independence, self-reliance and personal growth.
6. Learn a New Language
According to Gaia Vince in Mosaic Science, "Around the world, more than half of people - estimates vary from 60 to 75 per cent – speak at least two languages. Many countries have more than one official national language – South Africa has 11." If you feel stuck in your Spanish 2 class, do not despair! Sticking with a second language until you are fluent, and even learning a third language, can have incredible benefits. Not only will be you be prepared for future world travels, but your brain will benefit. According to the brain research professionals at The Dana Foundation, "The cognitive and neurological benefits of bilingualism extend from early childhood to old age as the brain more efficiently processes information and staves off cognitive decline. What’s more, the attention and aging benefits discussed above aren’t exclusive to people who were raised bilingual; they are also seen in people who learn a second language later in life."
7. Why not?
Make the most of your high school experience! It might be that your high school offers just the right mix of opportunities to keep you challenged and supported. If so, then stay put and focus on being your very best. There will be plenty of opportunities to study abroad or across the United States whether you plan on a gap year before college or a study abroad program during your college years. Yet if you are yearning and ready for a different set of challenges, studying abroad during your high school years might be the next branch in your tree of learning.
And one more thing: if you are not able or ready to travel abroad for study, consider expanding your worldview within the U.S. You can challenge your cultural awareness and gain exposure to new ways of thinking at several domestic school year study programs designed for high school students like you.
There's a big world out there. Start exploring!
BONUS! Links for Further Research
The links below are a starting point for further research. Have you found other resources worth sharing? We would love to learn from you, too. Contact us with questions or comments, and enjoy the journey!
City Term (US based)
School for Ethics (US based and South Africa)
Outdoor-focused programs/experiential learning (US-based)
Have a sibling in middle school? Here is a highly regarded program in Switzerland for younger students: