(BPT) - Think about how your teenager will spend their next summer vacation.
What if their months off from school could include something much bigger than the usual lineup of part-time jobs, sports practices and hanging out with friends?
Picture this: Your teenager wakes up in a different bedroom in a different country, far from home. After eating a breakfast that may consist of new and different foods and flavors, served by a caring host family, your student heads out to have amazing experiences in a new land. Whatever the day brings, your teenager will remember it for a lifetime.
What surprises many is a summer of studying abroad is not just for college students. What's also surprising: going abroad is not just for families of means. For all high school students, there is ample opportunity to spend their summer in a new country, having an experience of a lifetime that just isn't available at home.
Every year, more than 300,000 U.S. students study abroad, according to the NAFSA: Association of International Educators. If your high school student were among them, how would the adventure transform their lives and futures?
1. They stretch and grow.
A summer abroad is the ultimate 'stretch' experience a student could have. That is, learning to communicate in a foreign language and adapting to daily life in a different culture makes students who study abroad in high school more resourceful, and helps them develop their interpersonal skills and discover new solutions to obstacles.
'Many parents see a change in their students when they return from the experience of studying abroad,' says Matt Redman, vice president of Global Navigator High School Study Abroad programs at CIEE: Council on International Educational Exchange, a nonprofit that operates more than 300 study abroad programs. 'They just carry themselves differently because of that boost in maturity and confidence they gain from living in a new place during their summer break."
2. They get exposure to bigger ideas and experiences.
If going abroad is an opportunity your student wants to pursue, it's important to understand the options and to identify goals for the program so your teenager has the experience he or she is looking for. Some programs offer daily itineraries where students visit multiple cities and see the major sites. Others are more focused and offer interaction with local people, local language lessons and a chance to live and engage with the community. While both approaches offer valuable life experiences, learning can be balanced with fun.
For example, CIEE's Global Navigators high school programs give students an opportunity to learn and work in a field of study, such as marine science, filmmaking or global entrepreneurship in places like China, Spain or Peru. At the same time, there's room in the schedule for exploration and fun, where students sightsee, try new activities and participate in community events.
3. It prepares them for their next steps.
After their time in a different country, the feedback from the students is nothing short of inspiring.
'Our students often talk about the new things they've discovered about themselves just from having these new experiences far from home,' Redman says. 'Along with becoming more independent, many talk about their plans for the future. With very few exceptions, they see college as an essential part of their futures. These teens are not only excited about going to college, they know what they want from life. In having these experiences, they find their focus, and they set goals.'
It's easy to see how focus and passion can fuel a student's drive to excel academically. Beyond college, research suggests studying abroad also has positive effects on career prospects.
Villanova University found that graduates who spent time in a different country as part of their studies had better opportunities and a higher job placement after graduation than those who did not.
In addition to that, businesses are increasingly seeking employees who can contribute a global perspective. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 78 percent of 400 employers surveyed in 2015 said students should gain the 'intercultural skills and understanding of societies and countries outside the U.S." Yet only 15 percent of employers find these qualities in recent college graduates.
Thinking about it? The opportunity is closer than you think.
Studying abroad is long associated with families of means. Look for scholarship opportunities and doors can start opening for your teenager. For example, CIEE's Global Navigator Scholarships are based on financial need and cover anywhere from 20 percent to 100 percent of their tuition costs, making the opportunity to study abroad and experience a new culture within reach for even more families. Since 2013, these scholarships have made international study a reality for more than 3,000 students. To learn more about CIEE's Global Navigator High School Study Abroad program and the scholarships, visit ciee.org/globalnavigators.