How Summer Travel Can Lay the Groundwork for Studying Abroad
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How Summer Travel Can Lay the Groundwork for Studying Abroad

One of the key advantages of summer travel is that it often serves as a springboard for future international experiences. Students who travel during middle school or high school are more likely to pursue rewarding study abroad experiences while in college. Rustic alumna Allison Luing is among those who went from summer trips to longer study abroad programs.

“Having traveled to Costa Rica, Fiji, and Southeast Asia with Rustic, I found that I have a passion for travel and adventure which led me to study abroad three times throughout my college career, including on a program called Semester at Sea during which I lived on the ship taking classes and exploring the world,” Luing said.

These experiences sparked Luing’s future career and educational itinerary. After graduation from college, she relocated to Japan to work as an assistant language teacher and cultural ambassador with the Japan Exchange and Teaching program for one year. Then she aimed to move to Israel to earn her Masters in Diplomacy and Conflict Studies.

Many other students have followed similar paths. In the years before the pandemic, the number of U.S. college students studying abroad annually grew. Overall, it’s estimated that more than 10% of post-secondary students have taken the opportunity to study in another country.

Students in Rustic’s Spanish Language Immersion program get hands-on learning experiences in Costa Rica.

The nonprofit Institute of International Education found in surveys that the benefits are large – 96-percent of respondents said studying abroad increased their self-confidence. 87-percent said it influenced subsequent educational experiences. Three quarters reported that they acquired skills that influenced their career path.

Many like Luing also continue with international work or volunteering after studying abroad. Plus, in an increasingly global community, international experience is a huge plus across the board. Here are some ways to use summer experiences to get started.

A Roadmap to a Meaningful International Experience

It’s easier for students to pick the right study abroad programs if they have the knowledge necessary to make the best decisions. The groundwork for this can be laid in middle school and high school in a number of ways.

Get Your Feet Wet

For many students, it’s great to start off with a shorter international trip to see what traveling alone is like and to build the maturity needed to study abroad. It’s particularly helpful when these programs immerse a student in the local culture. Popular choices for this include:

Pura Vida Service in Costa Rica

Intro to Community Service in Fiji

Mountain Air and Island Service in the Dominican Republic

Another option is a trip to Puerto Rico for the Puerto Rico Paradise program. This can give a student an international feel without leaving the U.S. or using a passport.

Photo: Sara K Francis, Puerto Rico Paradise program

This is the route alumna Victoria Tadewald took. She took her first trip to Costa Rica after her sophomore year of high school, saying she needed to be close enough to home for her parents to be comfortable. Later she traveled with Rustic to Australia and then Peru. When she went to college she was ready to study abroad.

“On my semester abroad, I was exceedingly more prepared than my counterparts,” Tadewald said. “I understood how to be respectful of other cultures, was willing to try all of the exotic foods, participated in cultural ceremonies, and got so much more out of the experience simply because I was a comfortable and seasoned traveler.”

Gear High School Trips to Academic Expectations

After getting your feet wet, some students will look for programs where they can explore potential majors or other educational pursuits. Alumna Valentina Baccianella is among the alumni who took this step. She went on service and adventure trips with Rustic in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand to pursue her interest in international relations.

- Rustic Pathways Alumni

Photo: Valentina Baccianella

When she went to college she took courses in international development and economics to further explore her interests.

“More often than not, I found myself researching and writing about topics that I had learned about on my Rustic trips,” Baccianella said.

From there, she studied abroad in London, and today she is a Trade & Investment Associate for the UK Department of International Trade.

This kind of path is popular since business is one of the more common majors for study abroad programs. However, there are certainly many other options. Many students who major in subjects such as international relations and environmental science will include international experiences in their studies. There also are programs like Public Health in the Caribbean that allow teens to try their hand at tackling medical care in another country.

Rustic students learn about public health from medical care personnel in the Dominican Republic.

Explore Different Regions of the World

Some students may be uncertain about future academic plans or want to travel to different parts of the world to get a feel for where they may want to study later. There also are many students who like to try different countries to diversify their experience as much as possible.

Alumna Charlotte Ide is among the students who have traveled to very different regions of the world. She was invited by a friend to join a Rustic program in Tanzania when she was 15. Later she traveled again with Rustic to the Dominican Republic. Then when she went to college, her journey led her to yet another region of the world.

Photo: Charlotte Ide, Tanzania.

“Rustic Pathways built my confidence, and prepared me for college. Without Rustic, I never would have signed up for a course on Islam that took me to the Middle Eastern country of Jordan,” Ide said. “Their programming encouraged me when I was younger, allowing me to gain incredible leadership ability.”

Make a More Detailed Plan

An attempt to fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to world exploration may work fine for many students, particularly those considering doing shorter study abroad programs. However, if you have a student who is considering longer study abroad programs or who wants to go to college entirely in another country, then it may be time to make a more detailed plan.

Not surprisingly, The Institute of International Education found that students who study abroad for a longer period of time benefit more from the experience. However, picking a country and a program for a longer period of study can be daunting.

To help the process, students can begin by doing research on different parts of the world. Then they can decide if there are certain countries they are more interested in and how comfortable they may be with foreign languages.

Rustic students enjoy a Spanish lesson in Costa Rica. 

So a student who is considering studying in a Spanish-speaking country can start by making a summer trip to Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Puerto Rico or Peru. During this program they can get a feel for the language and culture. They then could step it up by trying the Spanish Language Immersion program or maybe booking a longer program. This would lay the groundwork for future study.

Similarly a student interested in more than one region of the world could try different programs to see what they prefer. Most U.S. students study in Europe, so they could start with the Mediterranean Paradise program. Then afterwards they could try a less common study abroad location and see what they prefer.

After completing these travels, students can look into what university offerings may be in that nation. Keep in mind that going to school in another country can be a very affordable option if a student attends a local university. There also are of course many study abroad options through U.S. universities and other private programs.

Regardless of the path taken, summer travel can be a good start.  Perrin Duncan who received her Masters Degree in Ireland certainly found her two trips to be a good launching point.

“I am grateful for my experiences through Rustic Pathways. They opened my heart and mind to new possibilities,” Duncan said. “If every young person had the opportunity to leave home and see the world through a new perspective, I have no doubt our future world would be a better place.”

About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer

Mary is a Content Writer at Rustic Pathways. She has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. Prior to covering student travel, Mary created content for the music education company J.W. Pepper & Son. She also was a writer and producer at CNN International and a communications director for a social service agency and a K-12 private school.