Study Abroad in High School to Develop College SkillsMay 21, 2014
While studying abroad is increasingly popular for students in their undergraduate years, some students take this journey in high school. Studying overseas for a summer can be an excellent way for younger students to expand their worldviews, master a new language and enhance their college applications.
Most importantly, the experience of living in a foreign country at that age can influence and mature a student in ways they never could have imagined otherwise.
Fortunately, finding a study abroad opportunity as a high school student is not as difficult as one might think, and study abroad options for high schoolers, as well as college benefits, are plentiful.
Max Liebeskind, a freshman at Harvard University, found his study abroad program through an online search. He ended up traveling to Argentina through Sol Abroad and said the program lived up to his expectations.
"The language instruction was top-notch," he said.
While Liebeskind’s decision to study abroad was mainly fueled by his desire to refine his Spanish skills, other students might be motivated by opportunities to serve a community or for personal growth.
Northwestern University freshman Shay Rajavel traveled to Paraguay with Amigos de las Americas and was intrigued by the prospect of exploring and helping a different culture.
"I have been involved in philanthropy since I was 5 years old, so it has been an integral part of my life," said Rajavel, who now works with the organization. "Also, as a travel and culture enthusiast, Amigos seemed to be the perfect opportunity to explore a new part of the world while impacting a community."
Rajavel found the program through her own search, but said that her mother knew someone who participated in and loved it, and that helped seal the deal. Tapping into personal networks is a great way to find references from people you trust regarding programs.
Alyssa Pierce, a sophomore at Northwestern University, learned about her study abroad program through family members, and found an extra benefit as well.
"I learned about Youth For Understanding because both my older sister and my mother had studied abroad through them and had great experiences, so I researched their programs and found they had a fantastic scholarship for a summer in Finland through Finland-U.S. Senate Youth Exchange," Pierce said. "I didn’t really know anything about Finland, and I was immediately curious about life there."
Studying abroad is not just another extracurricular to add to your list, but an overarching experience that says so much more about you than most other items on that list ever could. Alexander Posner, who will be entering Yale University this fall, said there is no doubt a study abroad experience helps students stand out in the admissions process. Posner studied in Costa Rica with Sol Abroad.
"Participation in a study abroad experience signals that students possess a certain level of maturity and are equipped with the skills necessary to thrive in college," he said. "It communicates that students are accomplished global citizens who can use past experiences to enhance both their own education and that of their peers."
Rajavel says that the experience allowed her to prove to colleges that she was capable of more than the average student.
"The experience improved my college application by showing that I was a young girl who could handle adult responsibilities independently and was not afraid of foreign challenges," she said. "It showed I could adapt to new environments and excel in them. It gave me the skills of a leader and a collaborator."
Studying overseas as a high school student can also help prepare you to handle the independence of college life. "You’re in a foreign place with new responsibilities, new friends, new culture – that’s more or less true of college – and you’re forced to be pretty independent," says Rajavel. After making it through an overseas program, she says, college is easy.
From exploring a foreign land to volunteering, the experiences you have on a study abroad trip can impact you in long-term ways. Harvard University freshman Priscilla Russo reflected on the many interesting sights she saw during her stay in Peru with ProWorld – some positive, such as historic monuments including Machu Picchu, and others more difficult to view.
"I was able to see firsthand what poverty in a developing country looked like," she said. "Never had I imagined the living conditions that could be found in the mountains of Cuzco."
Rajavel described her program as a life-changing experience.
"None of these people were actually related to me and had no reason to care for me, but almost immediately, I was accepted as part of my host family and the community," she said. "I received love and gave love back, and I had never felt more secure, wanted and important in my life."
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