Go Away

Summers abroad or volunteering stateside during and after high school provides valuable life experiences that make you ready for success.

Whether it be in the summer or during high school, or between high school and college, students who participate in volunteering opportunities and other culture and language immersion programs report life-changing experiences. There is no limit to creative ways to take a break and improve your surroundings as well as yourself.

Lasting impressionsJordyn Walker community service trip in Costa Rica

Jordyn Walker, North Broward Preparatory senior, spent the summer between her sophomore and junior years in Costa Rica, sprucing up the coastal town of Tamarindo, painting classrooms in the impoverished Los Piños school and playing with children in what is considered the poorest neighborhood in the country, La Carpio.

“It made a lasting impression on me,” she says about meeting the people living in such terrible conditions. “It was like nothing you’ve ever seen.” Yet, Jordyn says, “there was so much color everywhere,” in the houses cobbled from packing crates and tin, and brightly painted walls and roofs. “They were making the best of it.”

Jordyn knew she wanted to spend a summer volunteering, and to go outside the United States, but not too far.Her school works with teen travel company Westcoast Connection, which offers a wide variety of experiences. Her trip to Costa Rica, in partnership with the Costa Rica Humanitarian Foundation, included 21 other teenagers from around the United States, a great source of lifelong friends.

It’s important to travel during high school to experience other cultures, Jordyn says. “As you grow up, you have less opportunity, so take it” while you can.

Gap year

After graduation from St. Petersburg High, Corey Kimer decided to focus on personal wellness for a year. He found programs through Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, working first on a farm in Spain then staying in an ashram in India. The demanding fieldwork combined with “an endless supply of organic food” steered his choice. Corey now goes to St. John’s College.

Gates Lucas built a gap year after graduation from Berkeley Prep in Tampa with three experiences. First he interned in China at a company that uses in-person and software instruction to teach English and Chinese. Gates had studied Mandarin at Berkeley, so he helped in both languages. He then found an internship with Victory Group in Tampa, a political consulting firm, and in his favorite part of the gap year, he helped coach the rowing crew at his alma mater. Gates now attends Dartmouth College.

travel study abroad volunteer high school

Many high schools offer travel and immersion programs during the school year or summer, with teachers often sponsoring a group tour. Check with your language department or guidance counselor. Such trips are not cheap, but many have scholarship or other financial aid packages available.

Emily Harwell, University of Chicago sophomore, contributed to this story.