A sponsored post by Jane Stine of Loop Abroad
As the Managing Director of a study abroad program, I spend a lot of time advising students and parents on finding the best study abroad experience for them, and a lot of time working to shape the experiences my programs offer to optimize the experience for our students.
If you’re exploring the idea of a summer travel program for your son or daughter, here are six tips to help make the experience a positive one!
1) Assess what your Child Needs to Thrive
There are lots of options for summer travel experiences for students. They range from free to costing tens of thousands of dollars. There are programs on every continent, on cruises, and in your neighboring state. There are programs focused on college credit, research, service, or just plain fun.
It’s important to think about what you’re looking to get out of a travel experience. I feel it’s important to mention that, except for a very limited list of prestigious, competitive, and generally free programs, participating in one of these programs will not help your child get into college. Anyone telling you that it will is giving you a (false) marketing spiel.
That said, travel abroad can have huge benefits. It widens perspective and exposes students to new things. It can teach them more about career opportunities, network them with other students and professionals, and allow them to try new things. These are valuable rewards, and I absolutely love seeing the huge and positive impact our programs have on students.
Think about what your child needs from a program. Independence? Support? Help in making friends? Experienced staff? Authenticity of activities? Value for money? Ask your child what they want to get from the experience - you might be surprised!
2) Do Your Research
A quick Google search will return numerous databases of travel abroad programs, which are a great place to start. When a program piques your interest, I would look for the following things either on the website or in a phone call with the organization:
- Can you get a clear itinerary of what’s included in the trip, including details on the vendors used and on free time?
- Can you talk to a staff member who has been on the program instead of just a sales rep?
- Is there an application process, or can anyone with the money enroll?
- Can they give you a feel for what type of kids attend the program? How strictly are the rules enforced? What happens if someone gets sick or something goes wrong?
Look beyond the information available from the program itself. Do a Google search, or post on their social media looking for others who’ve attended. This is a good way to get a feel for the program “vibe”, which I feel is the most important piece of the process.
3) Focus on the Program “Vibe”
Look beyond the websites, which all show smiling students, cultural moments, and probably a group in bathing suits holding hands and jumping into the water. Just like some colleges are “nerdy” and some are “party schools”, summer travel programs vary. Is it just for rich kids? Have most of their students traveled before? How many of their students get financial aid? Is there any diversity in the group? Is there drinking and partying? Are lots of students returning year after year and already friends?
When parents ask, I can tell them about the “Loop kid”. She is kind, maybe a little quiet at first. She loves animals and is a hard worker. She is genuine, serious, and wants to learn. We’re a great program for a first-time traveler, a shy kid who needs help opening up, or a student who needs financial aid and support in preparing for their trip. For someone who wants to go on a party tour? We are not the best fit.
Talking to a few alums or alumni parents and searching online, as well as reading into the program language, should give you a feel for the “vibe” really quickly. This matters more than anything listed on the itinerary, in my opinion.
4) Involve your Child
For your child to have the best experience possible, they should be involved in every step of the process. Helping to research, apply for, plan for, and even pay for the program can contribute hugely to your child’s experience.
I would be cautious of any program that allows the student to be enrolled purely by the parent (meaning there’s no student application or paperwork that the student has to sign and agree to). If a student isn’t interested enough to go through these steps, it’s probably not the right time for them to travel or the right program match for them.
5) Be Flexible
The nature of all travel, particularly group travel, is that it does not go exactly accordingly to plan. We encourage parents and students to be prepared, and provide detailed packing lists, itineraries, contact forms, and supporting advice. But we also let everyone know that they should expect that not everything will go exactly as planned.
I encourage parents and students to prepare together to be flexible. Your child may not have internet exactly as planned. The itinerary may change slightly. Some of the meals may not be what they had in mind. Preparing to be flexible can help equip a student to handle these surprises well.
You probably remember some moments from when your child was young when he or she would be SO excited for something that their first reaction would be tears or anger. Christmas morning, a birthday party, or a long-awaited visit can get so hyped in a child’s mind that it causes overwhelming emotion and sometimes initial disappointment. Travel abroad, especially for the first time, can make students feel very vulnerable and, especially if they are very invested and excited, can initially cause feelings of homesickness and disappointment. Most experienced counselors know how to handle this and help students process those feelings, but it will help both you and your child to know what to expect.
At Loop Abroad, part of our student orientation is preparing students for the fact that jet lag, culture shock, and overwhelming feelings are part of travel and growth, and we provide some coping strategies and support. Overall the most important thing is addressing that it’s okay and even normal to have trouble adjusting and that they should experience those feelings and ask for space or support if they need it, as well as giving one another a lot of wiggle room in the first few days of travel. Talking about flexibility ahead of time can help prepare a student to make the most of his or her trip on a macro scale even if every little detail isn’t what they expect.
We encourage students not to let the experience end when they get home. We empower that through alumni outreach, but we find that our students tend to stay in touch and support one another over the years to come.
You can help students to get the most out of their trip by helping them debrief which parts of their trip mattered the most to them and building on those experiences. If they loved volunteering with elephants, maybe they want to do a fundraiser to support elephant care. If they got inspired by marine biology, maybe they want to look for research opportunities at home. (By the way, these are examples of ways in which a travel abroad experience can help a student get into college, as well as getting more value and depth from the experience). Encourage your child to build on and learn from what they liked and didn’t like about the experience, to learn more about what inspired them, and to continue the benefits of their experience.
Summer travel programs can be a great way to enrich a student’s high school (or even middle school) experience, and can be especially valuable for homeschool students in creating a network of other students with the same academic or professional aspirations. I encourage you to put in the research to seek out the right program and to work with your child to make sure it offers what your child is looking for. With thousands of program choices available, there’s one out there that’s the right fit.
Also? Pack wet wipes, a box or two of a favorite snack (more, for picky eaters), a phone powerbank, and one more pair of clean socks than you think you need. Those are the real keys to a great travel program experience
Jane Stine is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Loop Abroad, a study abroad program with an animal conservation and pre-veterinary focus. As a teacher and tutor, she has worked with students for twenty years and managed Loop Abroad’s student experience for the past eight years. Jane holds a Masters in Education from Harvard University. You can find out more about Loop’s programs at www.LoopAbroad.com.