The opportunity to study abroad usually only happens once or twice in a lifetime – most commonly in high school or during your junior year of college. Whether you’re learning a foreign language, majoring in a subject relevant to your study abroad program, or just want the chance to enhance your education in another country, studying abroad can give you a new outlook on life and education.
During your travels, you will have the chance to immerse yourself in a new culture, meet lots of amazing friends from other schools and from the local area, and broaden your horizons by learning in an environment different from what you might be used to.
Study abroad programs can be inspiring, exciting, and above all: life-changing. This spring, we asked travelers from all over the world about their best experiences overseas – whether they volunteered, interned, taught, or studied abroad. Here are some of the best stories and tips from students who have embarked on study abroad programs!
Advice for Students Studying Abroad
Studying abroad is a one-of-a-kind experience for every student traveler, but there’s something you’ll always encounter regardless of where you go: and that’s the importance of communication and cultural exchange.
Ekundayo traveled from Nigeria to study in Hungary for his MPH and PhD but found that many people he met spoke very little English. “Communication became predetermined Hungarian words or Google Translate-based exchanges at the grocery store, post office, and recreational centers.”
To relate better to the locals, Ekundayo learned to speak Hungarian at a basic level, noting that “it was fun and it meant easier communication. I also learned that most Hungarians are precise, time-conscious folks who can be totally depended upon to keep their words. An almost alien concept to a young man coming from Nigeria.”
Even if you do all of your research and learn everything you can about your study abroad program before traveling overseas, some of the very best advice might just come from the students themselves.
Moriah traveled to Israel for Archaeological Field School, as well as to England for a semester abroad. “If anyone is considering studying abroad, my resounding advice is this: do it. Traveling the world allowed me to become more cultured, open-minded, and focused on global issues.”
She raved about her time abroad with both experiences and concluded that “Overall, the experiences have been amazing. I’ve stretched my body and my mind to its limits. I highly recommend all kinds of excursions for those wanting to explore who they are and have their mind opened up to the world surrounding them. It’s a decision I never regretted. Nor, do I think, will I ever.”
Looking for more tips? Here’s what a few more travelers had to say about their top advice for students who want to study abroad:
“I would recommend paying attention to the itinerary, saving up for not only the cost of the trip but also spending money, and most of all, taking it all in! Traveling abroad is an incredible opportunity and it all goes by quick!” -Amanda
“Planning, research, adaptation. …I think no matter to which country you go, without planning and a lot of research, you will have more problems than with the [coursework]. Another important point is to adapt yourself when you are living in a new country because you cannot act the same way like it is usual for you. You arrive to a new country with other cultural habits – in Brazil for example, I [found] when I greeted the people with a smile I got more help and advice.” -Alexander
“1: Don’t be afraid of any challenge you will probably find along the way; you will be able to reach all of them by making an effort.
2: Make the most of your time while living abroad. You will probably live the best experience of your life. It might not be easy at some points, but it will be worth it thanks to all the incredible people you will have the chance to meet during your stay abroad, and all the new things you will have the chance to try meanwhile. So don’t waste any of your time while you are abroad. Make always plans, learn always new things, travel a lot, discover new places, etc.
3: If possible, go alone. Going alone for such a challenging experience will make you feel more insecure at the beginning but much more proud of yourself at the end, because you were capable to deal with everything on your own. And that makes the difference.” -Adriana
“Try every food and experience offered to you at least once. You don’t have to like it, but you’ll never know if you don’t try. Pack your own medications for colds and other common aches… you’d be surprised what you cannot get in other places that is so easy to get at home, such as Tylenol, Dayquil, and Sudafed. Embrace that this trip will be different – it may be hard – but the you that comes out on the other end will be better.” -Victoria
“Put some more money aside than you possibly need. Set three certain goals with what you achieve before you come home. Trust life – something good is always around the corner, and if it is not possible, it is possible!” -Miret
“Above all, I encourage those hoping to study abroad to enter the experience without any expectation of what awaits. This is perhaps the most challenging thing you can do in this situation, but it will be the most rewarding. If you can go into this frightening and exciting adventure without expecting difference, similarities, positivity, negativity, or whatever else, you will be able to meet each new experience with an open and observant mind, which will, above all else, allow you to form an idea of a new culture that is not affected by bias.” -Quaid
Studying abroad not only can make a difference in your education but can be a wonderful way to learn more about yourself.
Rebecca traveled to Italy both during high school and college and found that the experience helped her grow as a person. “I outgrew that identity crisis, more or less figured out who I am (for now, at least), but many times, when the purpose of life has seemed so clear, it’s been when I am in Italy: laughing, eating, drinking, talking with dearly loved friends, and celebrating time for being what it is.” Lucas speaks of Italy as a place “where time, love, family, and food are held with the highest regard, and sharing all of those together is what makes everything better.”
Similarly to Rebecca, Megan found that her study abroad trip helped her grow as a person. Being outside of her comfort zone, making new friends, and finding new interests made for a truly impactful experience. “I came back to America a different person, a better person, and though I have yet to experience in America the euphoric sense that absolutely swallowed me in Dublin, I look forward to finding it again someday soon. But until the day I return, cheers Ireland, ‘tanks a million’ Dublin, and best of luck to my VDP friends. I miss you now and I’ll miss you forever. You brought me home, and for that, I am eternally grateful.”
Volunteer, Intern, Teach & Study Abroad Programs
Feeling inspired? Here are a few different organizations that you should check out if you’re interested in embarking on an experience overseas where you can travel, learn, and even make a positive difference in the places that you visit.
Maximo Nivel offers a wonderful Spanish Immersion Program in Latin America where travelers of all ages – and groups of all sizes – can enhance their Spanish speaking skills for school, work, or just day-to-day interactions. Through this program, you will have the opportunity to choose between learning with a small group, in private classes, or in a combination of the two where you will be taught by professionally certified, native Spanish-speaking teachers.
During your stay in Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru, you will live in a wonderful home base with large common areas, free wifi, computer lounges, and an onsite snack bar with free coffee and tea. Maximo Nivel has a bilingual team available for 24/7 support inside and outside of the classroom to answer any questions you may have during your journey. Along with learning Spanish, you can also participate in volunteer, internship, and TEFL projects, and will be able to take salsa dancing classes and cooking lessons. This language course can be taken for university credit, and once you’re finished, you’ll earn an official certificate of completion.
Global Leadership Adventures offers student trips combining community service, hands-on learning, and adventure. If you’re still in high school but still want to try a study abroad program before jumping into a full semester overseas, check out GLA’s Spring Break Sea Turtle Initiative in Costa Rica.
On this program, you will learn about wildlife conservation and actively work to protect some of the world’s most beautiful and vulnerable species. Over the last few decades, the sea turtle population has declined by 90% – so it’s up to biologists, researchers, volunteers, and students like you to help them thrive once more. During the service portion of this trip, you will participate in beach cleanup efforts, monitor and maintain a sea turtle hatchery, help hatchlings safely reach the ocean, and even help to raise community awareness of the challenges facing sea turtle survival by posting signs marking protected areas, and educating local children about the importance of keeping the coast clean to preserve the animals’ natural habitat.
In addition to hands-on work, you’ll also learn a great deal about conservation and climate change – an excellent introduction if you want to major in marine biology, or even public policy or international development.
Through presentations by local speakers and conservationists, you will learn about strategies for protecting sea turtles and other native wildlife, the effect of climate change on marine and coastal life, how trash buildup and boating collisions affect animals and their habitats. Outside of service-learning, you will have the wonderful chance to go zip lining through the jungle, spot wild animals on a mangrove cruise, play games with local children, and learn about Latin American cooking, dance, and music.
Another excellent study abroad program to check out is Global Works’ 21-day France Language and Leadership trip for high schoolers. On this summer study abroad program, you can immerse yourself in a new culture, pick up French language skills, and even volunteer on a community service project – a great way to help your college application stand out!
On this adventure, you’ll meet local students, meet with a French host family, and earn 30 hours of community service credit by helping to restore the grounds of an 11th century castle and teaching English to elementary school students at a summer camp. You will be introduced to some of France’s most amazing and iconic sites and stories as you see the Palais de Versailles, the French Alps, the Medieval City of Carcassonne, the Eiffel Tower, and so much more. Throughout your trip, you will build your French language skills and leadership abilities while also learning about French culture and history.
For housing, you will initially live in a hotel in Versailles that has been converted from a monastery and is perfect for student groups. While traveling in the Alps, you’ll stay in mountain lodge in the small town of Mizoen with four to six other students, and when adventuring in Carcassonne in the South of France, you’ll have the opportunity to live with a local family. And finally, while in Paris you will stay in the BVJ, or Bureau des Voyages de la Jeunesse, in the heart of the city with your own private room.
Founded in 2006, Connect-123 offers customized international internships, volunteer programs, and study abroad placements in Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia. On these travel opportunities perfect for students, you can learn about and make a difference in global issues such as healthcare, human rights, social work, education, sustainable development, and much more. All of Connect-123’s placements overseas are hosted by local organizations – schools, NGOs, hospitals, and others – and you’ll have housing support, an orientation, weekly events and get-togethers with fellow students and volunteers, and emergency support to make sure that you have the best experience abroad possible.
One of Connect-123’s internship and volunteering opportunities brings you to Dublin, Ireland. Through the volunteer placement, you can work in a children’s hospital, a home for the elderly, a shelter for abandoned animals, or with organizations that support asylum seekers, operate advocacy campaigns for human rights defenders, and much more. If you’re interested in an internship that will help kickstart your career, there’s lots to choose from: from architecture, to marketing, to microfinance, project management, or web development, you’re sure to find an amazing opportunity in Dublin.
Global Vision International (GVI) provides impactful and adventurous internships and volunteer programs worldwide for travelers who’d like to expand their education, learn more about their career paths, and make a positive impact through travel. With placements available in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe, GVI has a wide range of trips that will immerse you in a new culture and let you make a difference to community organizations, researchers, and development initiatives globally.
One trip that’s perfect for teen travelers is GVI’s Under 18’s Volunteer and Adventure Experience in Costa Rica. Designed for students aged 15 to 17, this program gives you the chance to help with construction work – such as renovations, painting, and other light projects – for local schools, plus take part in a guided tour that includes surfing lessons, hiking, white water rafting, zip lining and rappelling, and lots more. When you sign up for this trip, you’ll have dedicated support from GVI’s experienced in-country staff, all of whom have a background in mentoring and leading students.
For over 30 years, Raleigh International has offered adventurous and impactful trips for high school students to visit and volunteer in Borneo, Nepal, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Tanzania. Through these trips, you will work hands-on with initiatives such as clean water and hygiene, sustainable use of natural resources, and community building. Each of Raleigh’s programs incorporates a youth leadership and development component to engage young volunteers and their counterparts in the countries that they serve.
With a commitment to excellent quality and support, Raleigh International helped design and currently holds the BS8848 Safety Standard for organizing and managing visits, fieldwork, expeditions, and adventurous activities outside of the UK – and so far, 400,000 young volunteers have traveled with Raleigh International, with another 800 expected to sign up this year. If you’re looking for a great volunteer experience for your summer or spring break, or a gap year before enrolling in college, Raleigh International offers a wide variety of volunteer experiences with a real impact.
One program to check out with Raleigh brings you to the Southeast Asian island of Sabah, where you will be immersed in an indigenous community, and will have the wonderful opportunity to build your leadership and teamwork skills, explore one of the world’s most remote destinations, and help with environmental and community projects. As a volunteer, you can help with building a children’s education center, setting up a clean water and sanitation initiative, constructing bridges and walkways for a rainforest research project, and much more. You also will have the chance to go hiking through the foothills of Mount Kinabalu!
Inspired to Study Abroad?
Studying abroad offers you something that you cannot gain by staying at home: immersion into a new culture and a completely different way of seeing the world. This wonderful chance to enhance your education – whether you’re in high school or college – is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have as a student.
No matter how long you have to travel – from spring break, to summer break, to a semester or even a year – there are so many wonderful study abroad programs waiting for you all around the world.
Looking for alternative travel programs for students? Check out these articles for our top picks!