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Overseas Learning Trips for Teens

During the summer break before his last year of high school, Ted Chamberlain, now a 27-year-old Washington, D.C. writer and editor, spent three weeks in central France. But rather than tour Lyon or Limoges, he helped restore river habitat along with a dozen other teens from Europe, the U.S., and North Africa.

“I really enjoyed myself,” says Chamberlain, who sought out the program—Jeunesse et Reconstruction—to prepare his resumé for college applications. “I met a lot of great people and made a very good friend.”

Overseas educational trips offer teens the chance to experience a country beyond the veneer of mere tourist attractions. As important is the chance for teens to explore their own self-reliance.

Nurite Notarius-Rosin is a Silver Spring, Maryland, mother of three. She has seen both her daughters, now ages 18 and 20, travel on educational programs to Israel as teenagers and intends to send her teenage son next summer.

“It was important for me to send them on a program where they’d learn and grow and not just travel for the sake of going on a tour,” says Notarius-Rosin. The overseas experience helped her daughters develop independence. “It’s one thing to be away from home. It’s another to be thousands of miles away and have to make good decisions,” she says.

The benefits of overseas educational trips may be clear, but so is an inherent dilemma: Given the distance and cost, it’s unlikely parents or teens can preview a trip beforehand. And if problems do arise, help can be far away. Families, as a result, need to examine potential programs closely.

“Parents will want to choose a reputable program for their child,” advises Maureen Gavaghan, Executive Director of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET), a nonprofit organization in Alexandria, Virginia, that monitors overseas student exchange and learning programs.

When looking at programs, parents need to determine what items program costs cover. “I suggest [parents] be very specific about those fees,” says Gavaghan. “They need to know whether the program covers insurance, what kind of coverage [that entails], whether [costs] include international transportation, lodging, [or] additional sightseeing,” says Gavaghan.

Gavaghan says parents should also ask programs for the names of past participants, then interview those references: Did they enjoy their experience? Was there adequate oversight? Were there any unexpected costs? Were their host-family placements satisfactory? How were problems handled by the sponsor organization?

Programs are often affiliated with overseas agencies. Parents need to determine what organization holds ultimate legal responsibility and who to contact in an emergency situation.

Additionally, students participating even on relatively short programs “need to figure out how or whether they will obtain credit for their study abroad,” says Gavaghan. Students should be provided contact information for a program representative in the area where they’re traveling. “It can be a resource if they’re having problems,” says Gavaghan.

With some careful research behind them, families can hope for a positive overseas learning experience for their traveling teen.

Last year high school senior Shirah Rosin of Silver Spring, Maryland spent ten days in Israel with 14 other area Jewish student leaders on a program sponsored by an area Jewish community service organization. Rosin had the chance to meet with Israeli Jewish and Arab students and says the ensuing dialogue was one of the highights of the program. “I have always thought that the best way and most effective way to learn [is] through experience,” she says.

— Sean Markey

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