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  • Erin Austin

High School Summer Abroad: A More Equitable Way to Bring Global Experiences to High School Students

I’ve never heard it argued that high school trips abroad aren’t wonderful for students. It’s a chance to use (and improve upon) what they’ve learned in the classroom, and it’s a deep dive into target language culture and customs. 


On the other hand, it’s common to hear high school teachers proclaim some version of, “No way! I’m not going to lead one of those trips!” Some don’t have the time, some admit that they’re scared to do it, and others simply don’t want to give up hard-earned vacation time. 


So what, then, can we do that benefits students yet also meets teacher needs?


High School Summer Abroad


The nonprofit study abroad and intercultural exchange organization Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) was founded in 1947, and its mission is “to help people gain understanding, acquire knowledge, and develop skills for living in a globally interdependent and culturally diverse world.” 


Although CIEE offers programs for high school and college-aged students, adults (for work), and educators, it’s their High School Summer Abroad programs that excite me most! They have over 35 global destinations with 3- to 4-week summer programs in the categories of Arts & Culture, Business, Language, STEM, Leadership & Service, and Social Change. 


For world language educators, the Language-based programs are of particular note; for these programs, students receive language instruction every day, targeted activities to use the specific structures and vocabulary they’re learning in class, and home stays that help students dig into the rich culture and traditions of the program country.


What Makes CIEE Ideal for Students?


We know that not every family can afford to send their student on a week-long sight-seeing tour. They’re expensive! And yes, a summer abroad program is as well. What draws me to CIEE, however, is the extensive opportunities for scholarships. Thanks to a generous donor, CIEE boasts $6 million in yearly scholarships. Some are solely merit-based, and some are a combination of merit- and financial need-based. In the fall, I regularly meet with students to review and edit their scholarship applications, doing my best to nurture critical and reflective thinking, as well as helping them improve their English grammar, punctuation, and word choice. 


Each year, scholarship offers come out in late winter. Students have the opportunity to accept or decline them, and I’ve had students do both. In fact, I’ve had multiple students receive full scholarships for their chosen High School Summer Abroad programs! Seeing students come running into my room with giant smiles and their scholarship offer emails pulled up to show me is incredible! 


CIEE’s commitment to global education is evident in their commitment to funding programs for students. I understand that not every student can take a month off of work in the summer to study abroad, but the dollars that make these programs possible are more readily available than anything else I’ve seen for students wanting to go abroad.


What Makes CIEE Ideal for Teachers?


For the teachers who don’t want to lead student trips abroad but who value global experiences, CIEE’s High School Summer Abroad program couldn’t be more attractive. The only work the teacher does is promoting the program and setting up informational sessions. CIEE takes it from there, as the program is entirely non-school-related. 


But there’s more!


If ten or more students from a school participate in a High School Summer Abroad program in a given summer, CIEE offers a free trip to the teacher who coordinated the effort. Teachers visit one of CIEE’s centers abroad to experience what the program is like for students. They sit in on language and/or topic-based lessons and outings, eat local cuisine, share a meal with a host family, and network with other teachers. And they receive continuing education hours, to boot!


Lastly, if you’re in the market for a summer job, you may consider being a program leader. It’s an outstanding way to work abroad for a short period of time, yet not be in charge of the students around the clock, as you would with a sight-seeing type of trip.


Take the Next Step


CIEE’s High School Study Abroad programs benefit students and teachers in rich and meaningful ways. Over the years, all--yes, all--of my students who participated in a high school summer abroad language program with CIEE came back to my class with noticeably higher skills in pronunciation, grammar, fluency, cultural awareness, and ease in the language. This is, of course, wonderful…though the scholarship announcements may be even more thrilling! 


If you’re interested in learning more about CIEE’s programs and how to introduce the vast possibilities for immersive summer learning to your students, contact CIEE’s Colorado representative, Tania Huitron, at thuitron@ciee.org




Erin E.H. Austin is a National Board Certified French teacher in Fort Collins and the author of The Ultimate Guide to Selling Your Original World Language Resources and Going Global in the World Language Classroom. Ms. Austin is the 2023 CCFLT Teacher of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @Erin-EH-Austin or on YouTube here.


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