Why this #WHTravelBloggers Speaker Was Dead Wrong

I’m not talking about the guy with the mic.
I’m just showing you that my tweet made it to the White House. 😉

Last week I virtually attended the Travel Bloggers Summit hosted by the White House (you can watch the replay here). The focus was encouraging travel bloggers to spread the word about study abroad.

The majority of the speakers and many of the bloggers had studied abroad, presumably in college, and everyone seemed to be on the same page as to the importance of spending time outside your passport country. This was awesome.

High school study abroad came up once or twice, and I found one of the White House speaker’s off-hand comments very interesting, basically that high school programs are for the “very adventurous.” I realize that the comment was probably made off the cuff, and maybe people do see it as very adventurous. But I think comments like that can make students and their parents wary of going abroad as a teen. We need more teens going abroad, not fewer!


As many of you know, I was a high school exchange student…but I’ve never considered myself very adventurous for spending 12th grade in Germany.

Does it take guts to leave your family, friends, school, pets, and everything you’ve ever known to move to a country you’ve never been to and whose language you don’t speak?

Yes, absolutely. Studying abroad in high school isn’t the easiest thing you can do, and it’s not right for all students, but I still wouldn’t say it’s for the “very adventurous.” Here’s why:

  1. It makes high school exchange sound exclusive, and students who could be amazing exchange students and benefit from the life-changing experience might not apply if they don’t consider themselves “very adventurous.”
  2. Why is going abroad as a high school senior more adventurous than going as a college freshman?
  3. My high school experience abroad was waaaaay different, and to be honest, in many ways richer than my college experience. We need more teens to have the type of deep intercultural experience that high school exchanges offer.
  4. Studying abroad as a teen is commonplace in many parts of the world.
  5. High school study abroad barely gets any recognition as it is, and comments like this – even off-hand comments – don’t help students and parents see that living abroad as a teen is doable, worthwhile, and necessary. 

My high school experience abroad was the best thing I did in my K-12 education, hands down. I went from being a quiet, self-conscious, monolingual kid from a small town who wouldn’t go anywhere alone to a bilingual independent woman ready to take on the world at 17.

Going abroad in high school made me adventurous.

I learned how to navigate public transportation in a huge European city.

I experienced history (German Reunification) as it was happening.

I became my own support system instead of always relying on my mom to make me feel better.

I learned about healthy, functioning relationships by observing my host parents.

I was part of the family, not merely someone who rented a room in a German family’s basement (as is often the case with college programs).

I got to try on a “new me” because nobody knew me or had any pre-conceived ideas about who I was. (Important for someone who went to school with the same kids K-11.)

I received a competitive scholarship that paid for the entire program, which boosted my confidence.

I got to know highly educated professionals, which helped me see options for my own life that I hadn’t ever considered or even thought possible.

I was 100% immersed in German language and culture for 12 months. And because I was still relatively young, learning German in an immersion setting wasn’t that difficult.

As I said in a previous blog post, living abroad in high school didn’t change me, it created me. I’m US American but I there’s a big part of me that thinks like a European. Being able to see the world through two (or more) cultural perspectives is for everyone, and something we need more of.

Sure, I loved my college study abroad program. But when I signed up I assumed it would be Round 2 of my high school program; it wasn’t. I wasn’t immersed in the same way because I lived in a dorm, instead of with a family, and I took classes with international students instead of Germans.

My college year abroad was more about simply living in Germany and traveling all over Europe, which was valuable and awesome in its own right. But it wasn’t as deep of an experience as my high school program.

Bottom line? Go abroad. Whenever, however, wherever you can. But let’s stop classifying high school study abroad as for only one type of student, whether very adventurous, very rich, very smart, or very whatever.

We need MORE teenagers going abroad and to get more teens abroad we need teens and their parents to see that high school study abroad is for those who are interested in the world, not just the “very adventurous.”