"This experience has changed my perspective, and my long term goals. This country, Thailand, is unbelievable, these people are incredible. Every day is another adventure, another story, another life altering expedition through slums, through countryside, through schools, villages, and homes. I'll never be the same again." - Colin, Lifeworks International
"A young girl whose name I later learned was Maritza, grabbed my hand, and tugged me across room to a pile of picture books she had collected from a skeletal shelf that rested crookedly in the corner of the room. I sat down on the floor beside her; she picked up a book and closed the distance between us without a word." – Freyja, Al Campo International
For teenagers who have stayed close to home, summer study and work in foreign countries is always eye opening. Often, these experiences are life changing. Yet less than one percent of high school students in the USA spend time studying or working abroad.
For high school students looking to spend a summer abroad, the options abound: home stays, language classes, service, internships, student exchanges, and rugged adventures.
For five years, WKCD has compiled amd updated a directory of international summer programs with which we are familiar—programs that welcome high school students and combine volunteer work, cultural and language immersion. We refresh it each year. We have not included programs where language study or touring are the primary focus—of which there are countless. The emphasis here is on summer abroad programs that put a premium on service.
Just about all of the programs described below carry participation and air travel fees that make them, tragically, out of reach for low-income students. Eighty-two percent of study abroad participants are white. Low-income and youth of color are especially under-represented in international exchange programs. However, three programs, Summer Search, Onr World Now, and International Youth Leadership Institute, share a unique commitment to providing ongoing and long-term support for low-income high school students.
In its 30th year, ACC continues to match service learning with global action and awareness in relation to specific world issues. This year’s offerings include wildlife conservation in East Africa, working with farmers in China, teaching children in Cuzco, Peru. ACC’s three month Gap Semesters allow graduated seniors to fully immerse themselves into the unique cultures of Asia and Africa.
Al Campo International
Al Campo International projects are designed to teach participants real world solutions to growing community problems with an emphasis on sustainability. Programs in Honduras and Nicaragua focus on solar power and eco-stoves, soil and water conservation, education, and horticulture.
American Field Services (AFS)
With 56 years of experience and programs in over 100 countries, AFS is one of the largest international exchange organizations for American teens. AFS hosts summer abroad programs for high school students around the globe that combine community service and language immersion. Students can chose to live on a university campus or opt for a summer home stay.
Amigos de las Américas
AMIGOS trains young people to meet the challenges of planning and conducting community service programs, both in their home communities and in Latin America. Training includes topics such as Spanish/Portuguese, community assessment approaches, interpersonal communication, Latin American history and culture, medical self-care, and technical training about specific sustainable development programs. Teams of 2-3 volunteers live and work in rural Latin American communities for up to eight weeks. Working in collaboration with development agencies and community members, volunteers have leadership roles in carrying out health, education, and environmental programs, ranging from latrine construction to formation of youth groups to teaching HIV prevention and dental hygiene.
For more than 20 years, Broadreach has been empowering middle school, high school and college students to better understand themselves and the world around them through experiential programs that combine hands-on learning outside of the classroom with global adventure. On more than 70 adventures in 40 countries, students earn internationally recognized certifications and up to 55 hours of community service. College credit is also available on many programs.
Cross Cultural Solutions
While geared towards volunteers of all ages, Cross Cultural Solutions also offers short-term international internships and volunteer experiences for teenagers, whether traveling independently, with their families, or with a school group. It runs programs in 12 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Volunteer placements can run from 2 to 12 weeks, and include work in orphanages and child care centers, schools, health clinics and hospitals, homes for the elderly, centers for the disabled, and other community organizations
The Experiment in International Living (EIL)
The Experiment in International Living offers substantive three- to five-week summer abroad programs that focus on cultural immersion, experiential learning, and making meaningful connections across national, linguistic, and cultural borders. Now in over 31 countries, EIL has given high school students the opportunity to learn another culture first-hand for 80 years. Programs range from learning from Peruvian artists, dancers, musicians, and historians in mountainous Trujillo, Peru to carrying out a ten-day service project in a rural village in Ghana.
Global Routes offers three to five-week summer community service programs for high school students finishing the 9th through 12th grades, gap-year and semester internships for students 17 years of age and older. Students teach children in orphanages, build schools, and help people in rural villages. Community service programs this summer include destinations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Global Explorers seeks to provide "transformative journeys" for students and educators, primarily middle and high school. It seeks to promote among participants civic engagement, ecological awareness, confident to travel, leadership, and service. It strives to make its programs as accessible as possible to people from diverse backgrounds and students with diverse abilities. Destinations include Cambodia, the Canadian Arctic, Costa Rica, Maya Yucatan, Peruvian Amazon, Peruvian Highlands, Tanzania, and the U.S. Southwest.
Since 1990, Global Works has been providing community service, cultural exchange, adventure travel, and language learning programs for teens and young adults. Much more than a vacation, Global Works international trips can be the impetus and “bridge” for meaningful cultural exchange. Potential destinations include Argentina, Australia, China, Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Galapagos, Fiji Island, France, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain.
High School Programs Abroad
This searchable index of thousands of abroad programs for high school students is a great resource. Programs are sorted by country, focus, duration, and language, making it easy to match interests with programs. The website also showcases opportunities, updated weekly, which show students parts of the world they'd likely never considered before.
The International Youth Leadership Institute (IYLI)
Founded in 1989, IYLI prepares African American and Latino secondary school students to assume active leadership roles in their community and global society. Through IYLI, students embark upon a lifetime of meaningful participation in their local and global communities. Signature academic programs based on the framework of history, culture, geography and environment provide training and exposure to prepare well-informed leaders and citizens. IYLI emphasizes the connections between local and global conditions, challenges and opportunities.
Lifeworks offers global programs for teens that combine community service, cultural immersion, travel and outdoor adventure. It collaborates with local service organizations to further their goals and aspirations, helping students gain cultural experience while becoming part of significant, well-established projects. Lifeworks also makes direct donations to the service organizations with which it works. All participants are enrolled in the President’s Volunteer Service Award program—an official recognition system originated by President George Bush, Sr. in 1992, for outstanding students who participate in voluntary community service.
National Geographic Student Expeditions
National Geographi offers three types of programs: expeditions, field workshops, and community service programs. Expeditions range from two to three weeks and are a more in-depth exploration of a region. The 11-12 day field workshops set roots in one or two compelling home bases. On expeditions and field workshops, students pursue an On Assignment project of their choice and are accompanied by a National Geographic expert for a portion of the trip. In the community service programs, students delve into the local culture, working alongside members of the community on collaborative service projects.
Putney Student Travel
For 63 years, Putney Student Travel has offered high school and middle school students the opportunity and insight to shape their world through travel, unique cultural engagement, friendship, and fun. Its summer programs include community service, language immersion, adventure travel, pre-college enrichment, and global awareness— in North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania. Putney also offers a pre-college enrichment programs for motivated and intellectually curious students who seek a bridge to the freedom of college in a structured and supportive campus or study abroad environment.
Rustic Pathways offers service trips throughout the year and a broad range of both environmentally based and human based service projects across its global network. Service opportunities in Thailand and Costa Rica are a special focus.
Seeds of Learning
Seeds of Learning works with North Americans and Central Americans to build and equip schools in Nicaragua and El Salvador, educate children and adults, and promote cross cultural understanding. Each year, it sends ten to twelve work groups of young volunteers to Central America for 7 to 14 days. While there, volunteers partner with communities, form relationships, build bridges and explore each other’s cultures while erecting or improving a school building.
Summer Search is a leadership development program with a unique commitment to providing ongoing and long-term support for low-income high school students. Founded in San Francisco in 1990, Summer Search now operates seven offices nationwide helping to place more than 700 high school students annually on a path of positive change. In addition to providing two summer experiential learning programs, after sophomore and junior years, it offers weekly mentoring sessions with highly trained staff mentors, from sophomore year to graduation, and college advisory services.
The Road Less Traveled
On an RLT Service Learning program, you may find yourself restoring native plants on the island of Kauai or maybe building an orphanage in Lai, India, or perhaps helping to rebuild New Orleans Ninth Ward, where so much work is still to be done. RLT seeks to meet needs and create chang in places "average tourists have never heard of and few will ever see."
Through construction-based and other service and on-site living, VISIONS challenges teens to grow thoughtfully and intentionally within a community of peers and adult leaders. It assists organizations that serve under-resourced communities, providing labor and raw materials for projects designated by communities. Student opportunities also include sustainable development, environmental or agricultural work, volunteering with young children or the elderly, internships with local artisans, farmers, fishermen, vendors and more.
Where There Be Dragons
From a rugged journey along the ancient trade routes of Western China to exploring the diverse indigenous communities of Indonesia's outer islands, Where There Be Dragons offers intimate, yet rugged programs that introduce the beauty and challenges of life in China, Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, and Latin America. Participants make honest and rewarding connections with local communities through home-stays, service work, internships and meetings with respected leaders, artists, philosophers, and experts on the issues facing developing countries.
have a story for wkcd?
Want to bring public attention
to your work? WKCD invites
submissions from youth and
“There’s a radical—and wonderful—new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world.”
– Deborah Meier, educator