12 Reasons to Study Abroad During High School
My number one tip for high school students: Travel abroad. Why you might ask? The benefits are endless, and the experiences are potentially life changing.
“…studying abroad isn’t just an important part of a well-rounded educational experience. It’s also becoming increasingly important for success in the modern global economy. Getting ahead in today’s workplaces isn’t just about the skills you bring from the classroom. It’s also about the experience you have with the world beyond our borders—with people, and languages, and cultures that are very different from our own.”—First Lady Michelle Obama
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel abroad to non-English speaking countries multiple times during my high school years, once for a structured four-week immersion language program in Russia and subsequent visits to tour the art and architecture of Spain and Italy, where I immersed myself in the language, culture and cuisine.
Studying and travelling abroad during high school not only drastically improved my language skills, but it also equipped me with unique life experiences I likely wouldn’t have had on U.S. soil. My time abroad shaped me; I returned home more globally aware, self-reliant and prepared for life in college and beyond.
Here are 12 reasons to make the decision to study abroad in high school:
1. Gain real-life experience speaking in language. Learning vocabulary, grammar and conversational skills in the classroom setting is one thing, but thinking on your feet while conversing with a native speaker is another. Living or traveling abroad will accelerate your language learning, improve your accent and listening skills and give you confidence holding fast-paced conversations. Studying abroad will also show you that you know more language than you think you do. Being dropped into a new country forces you to apply yourself and put your language skills to the test. Take advantage of the opportunity to speak in language as much as possible.
2. Leave the nest. Become self-sufficient and make decisions for yourself. When you study abroad in high school, you’ll be relying on yourself rather than the support system you’ve had at home. It might be your first time travelling without your family. It might be your first time travelling period. Learning to become self-reliant and make decisions for yourself will result in increased confidence and maturity.
3. Manage a budget. Chances are, if you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to study abroad in high school, you’re not going to have unlimited resources. You’ll have to learn to live within your budget, while dealing in foreign currencies. If you can, visit an outdoor market while abroad where you can fine-tune your negotiation skills—in language!
4. Eat new foods – and live to tell about it. Although you need to be careful when eating abroad, you’ll have the opportunity to try foods you’ve never heard of (or maybe you’ve been too nervous to try). You might not like everything you eat… in fact, you might not really know what you ordered. I’ll never forget the horror (and subsequent laughter) I experienced when I looked down at my plate in Russia and saw a cow’s tongue staring back at me… But eating local cuisine is one of the best ways to truly experience a new culture and learn about customs around food.
5. Navigate public transportation systems. Before I spent time abroad, I had few experiences navigating subways and bus systems. Although intimidating at first, gaining confidence traveling solo and learning to make your way through unfamiliar cities will prove valuable later in life: think business trips and travel abroad.
6. Experience history through art. Bring your high school history class to life by visiting museums or other cultural and architectural sites during your time abroad. Visiting the Kremlin, the Pantheon and Gaudí’s architecture in Spain, among other important art and architecture sites, helped me to finally understand and appreciate world history.
7. Make unlikely friends. Whether you make friends through the program you’re participating in or with locals or travellers you happen to meet along the way, you’ll likely bond quickly with people you might not have befriended at home. If you have the opportunity to speak with locals, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. They will be excited to hear you conversing in their native tongue and will applaud your efforts.
8. Set yourself apart in the college admissions process. As the college admissions process becomes more competitive, study abroad can help you stand out. Not only will you accelerate your language skills (potentially skipping a language level when you return to school), but I bet you’ll experience something profound during your time abroad that shifts your thinking in one way or another. That experience or realization could be the start to a compelling college essay.
9. Become more compassionate and expand your worldview. I don’t have to tell you that living in the U.S. is a different experience than in the majority of the world. Seeing how others live can make you more compassionate and give you a better understanding of global issues.
10. Give back through charity work. Not all international travel or study abroad has to be pricey. There are many opportunities to give back and see the world through volunteer abroad programs or teen community service trips. Many of these volunteer opportunities allow you to have a tangible impact on the lives of others, whether you teach English to kids in Ghana, dive into environmental sustainability issues in the Dominican Republic or help preserve marine life in the Galapagos. You’ll return home feeling proud about your contributions.
11. Create better career opportunities for yourself. Recent studies show that bilingual and multilingual individuals are landing jobs with higher salaries than monolinguals. In fact, last year CNN Money called language fluency the hottest job skill. Even if the result of your study abroad experience isn’t fluency, the personal growth you will experience and the relationships you build will help prepare you for your future. You might also discover a passion you never knew you had (art history for me!) and decide to pursue that passion through a college major or career path.
12. Have an unforgettable summer. A summer abroad is not likely something you’ll forget anytime soon. Make the most of your summers while you can and relish the opportunities to meet new people, try new foods, take in new sights and experience new cultures, while developing valuable language skills that will serve you in your future.8 Fun Ways to Keep Language Learning Going Over the Summer 4 Tips for Making the Most of Your Abroad Experience A Summer Living Immersed in Language: Highlights from the 2014 Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy