By Katie, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
A great opportunity for many students to consider as part of their high school journey is taking advantage of study abroad and having some type of international immersion experience. These international experiences can promote personal growth, intercultural development and competency, and academic and career exploration.
Study abroad is most well known as an opportunity for college students, typically in their junior years to spend a semester or full-year living in another country and studying at a local university there. Somewhat less popular but no less valuable or impactful are chances to travel and immerse yourself in another culture and country during your high school years.
What Kind of International Experience Can I Have?
If you are looking make the most out of your study abroad experience, hone in on what type of program or opportunity you are looking for. Suppose you are looking for a longer-term experience. In that case, you can actually spend a semester or full-year abroad spent in a local high school, live with a local host family, and truly immerse yourself in the culture and community of that country. For students interested in this, I strongly recommend doing this during Grade 10, though I’ve seen students complete these programs even as late as Grade 12 while still navigating the college application process.
Other students might find the opportunity to move with their family to another country and attend an international school. In fact, my entire K-12 schooling was spent in the Netherlands, where my dad was the high school Chemistry teacher. It was an incredible place to grow up and gave me the chance to attend school with peers from 60+ countries.
If the idea of being away for that long feels like too much or would complicate your academic course progression, there are a ton of opportunities for international immersion trip that are much shorter, anywhere from a week to a month, either during a school break or summer holidays. Spend your time intensively learning a language or completing a service project.
How Do I Pick the Right International Experience?
Pick a destination and a program that aligns with your academic or personal interests. If you are interested in combating climate change, look for opportunities to immerse yourself in an entirely new environment and learn about how local efforts might relate to conservation efforts on the global scale. For example, spend the summer in Nicaragua observing solar power generation and usage in rural areas and geo-thermal energy from volcanoes, learning about the effect renewable energy has on communities in Nicaragua. Or perhaps you are fascinated by refugee and immigration practices and policies with aspirations for law school after undergraduate; in that case, immerse yourself in a refugee center in Uganda, getting to know the faces and stories behind the statistics.
Select a program that fits into your overall academic plan. If you are interested in a STEM major, consider how the opportunities in the program may add to your overall knowledge and understanding of topics in the STEM field. As appealing as sampling pasta and gelato in Italy while viewing Renaissance masterpieces might be, it would probably make more sense to head to Switzerland for a High School Internship at CERN (Europe’s Nuclear Research Organization). Perhaps you are an avid sports fan and captivated by the exploding world of esports, head to South Korea and immerse yourself as a project manager of an esports tournament.
It can be tempting to choose a program based on a dream travel destination, but it’s important to remember to pick options that will further your education and enhance your overall profile.
Will This Experience Help Me Get Into X College?
This is the most common question regarding anything in the grand scheme of high school, the so-what factor? The secret from the admission officer side of the desk is that that anything can be a helpful part of your overall narrative if it is a valuable and impactful experience for you. As you evaluate opportunities abroad, some useful things to consider include your excitement and enthusiasm about the experience. If you are genuinely excited about the program, you will likely get much more out of it. If you are just doing it to check the box, then I suggest focusing your energy elsewhere. It’s incredibly difficult to fake authentic passion or excitement over something you feel lackluster over. Especially when an admission officer is looking at the whole picture of your application. They will look at things like are your teachers talking about how powerful of an experience this was for you? Did your study abroad serve as a catalyst for a deeper dive into specific extracurriculars or other enrichment?
As cliché as it might sound, international experiences can be truly life-changing, exposing you to new experiences and perspectives, challenging you in new and dynamic ways, and overall giving you the chance to step outside your comfort zone. At IvyWise, our team of college admissions experts are here to help you pinpoint the right exciting international educational opportunities for you. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation and get started.