It’s hard to imagine myself in a position to give advice. Still, I have managed to learn a couple of lessons that I could have used a few years ago. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my advice: GET OUT OF HERE!
I don’t have to tell you that the world is getting smaller or point out the immense diversity around you. However, what you might need to hear is that it is never too soon to look beyond your front door.
In one year, at a small town university in the U.S., and then a year later in Paris, I learned some pretty crucial stuff about the world and myself. Things I don’t think I would have discovered had I stayed safely cocooned at home.
Sure, there are plenty of things to consider about travel, but if the only thing stopping you is not knowing where to go or how to get there, here’s a tip: get off your butt and find out! It will be time well spent.
There are basically three types of organized travel opportunities:
1. Studying Abroad
2. Working Abroad
3. Volunteering Abroad.
All three of these options are guaranteed to open your eyes and give your mind a workout, not to mention look terrific on a resume.
What will it get you? A new language, exposure to new cultures and a whole new set of friends. As a high school student, there are programmes that will place you with a host family in another country and send you to a new school for one semester or a full year if you choose. Along with the basics like math and English, you can often choose from some great subjects like dance, photography, art, drama, society and culture, design and technology, computer studies or even join the school band! Check out Campus Education Australia (www.campus.com.au) and AFS Interculture Canada (www.afscanada.org).
Picking grapes for a summer in Bordeaux?
If living with a host family doesn’t appeal, you can always postpone your plans for a few years. However, you’ll have to wait until you’re at least 18 and permitted to stay on your own. While you’re waiting you’ll probably be checking out universities, so be sure to add the ‘exchange office’ to your list of things to look into. Most universities will have programmes set up. Find a university with a strong international focus and you will most likely have the chance to apply for exchange in your third year as a student.
When I was a student at McGill (a great University in Montreal, Quebec), I applied to study abroad and wound up at a small town university in Massachusetts. It’s amazing how different the world can be only 8 hours away from home! What’s great about these programmes is that they allow you to remain a student of your home university (i.e. pay home tuition!) while studying elsewhere.
In most cases, these opportunities must wait until you are 18. There tends to be less student support than the programmes offered in highschool, so you may need a little more life experience before you head off on your own.
You must look into the Student Work Abroad Programmes (SWAP: www.swap.ca). All you need is to be a student or recent graduate, have a little money in the bank and SWAP will help you process a work permit, a VISA and the health documentation you need to get into a country legally. After that, the job and accommodation search is up to you – though they are full of advice. Last year I was a SWAP France participant and I found out that Paris is practically made for people with the nerve to get out there and carve out a new life. Within a month, I was working at a restaurant and living in a tiny little apartment on the Left Bank. I was totally shocked to find out that the French I hadn’t spoken for 10 years came rushing back. Many stereotypes were quickly dispelled – Parisians aren’t ALL snotty. In fact, it was tougher to get lost on the streets of Paris than on the average university campus!
Another very popular option is travelling abroad to teach English as a second language. That’s a huge topic on its own. In general, though, companies look for people with a university degree and some teaching background. Some of the other travel options would be good training for this kind of work.
A job walking dogs in the south of France?
Volunteering and helping people in need can be both satisfying and fulfilling. It is a great way to develop cross-cultural awareness, global citizenship and community involvement.
If you’re between 17 and 20, Canada World Youth is a great programme to look into. They have a youth exchange programme that lasts six to seven months. During this time you are paired with someone from the exchange country for the full length of the programme.
Tree planting in China
You will spend half of your time living and working in a community in Canada and the other half in an exchange country in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean or Latin America. By the end of it, you will have learned about your own country, other cultures, gained practical work experience and deepened your understanding of community and global development issues.
A FEW MORE TIPS
There are a lot of details to cover. There will be an application process – probably with an interview. You’ll need to have the proper VISA, show proof of a certain sum of money in your bank account, need travel insurance and for most developing countries, you’ll need vaccinations. You’ll also need to do some reading about the culture and social practices of the country you’re visiting. And then you’ll have to pack. Once you’re there, there will be budgeting, reading maps, figuring out train schedules and finding the nerve to walk into job interviews.
And finally you’ll have to prepare yourself for experiences that will last a lifetime!
Nice, France – Faze’s Paul Z studied and worked here for a year