The Globalist guide to high school study abroad programs

Seattle high schooler James Smith after his first plane ride took him to Guatemala on a Global Visionaries program. (Photo by Reagan Jackson)Study abroad opportunities abound for young Seattleites who can’t wait until college to get out and explore the world.

The number of US college students studying abroad has doubled over the last decade rising to almost 300,000 students each year.

But you don’t have to wait until college to get global! More and more high school students are taking advantage of international exchange and study abroad opportunities as well. In Seattle alone, almost every public high school either has their own school sponsored study abroad or allows other programs to present opportunities to their classes.

Wading through these opportunities can be a challenge, so I put together this guide to get you started.

First let’s tackles some FAQs:

What kinds of high school study abroad programs are there?

There are almost as many programs as there are travelers. They range from broad based cultural immersion experiences to very specifically tailored thematic excursions. You can study culinary arts in Paris, tango dancing in Buenos Aires or anime in Tokyo. Programs can last for a few weeks, a summer, a semester, or even a whole year.

What is the difference between an exchange program and a study abroad program?

Students on a Global Visionaries program to Guatemala gather at Sea-Tac. (Photo by Reagan Jackson)
Students on a Global Visionaries program to Guatemala gather at Sea-Tac. (Photo by Reagan Jackson)

The two are not exactly mutually exclusive and there are many combination programs. As the name implies with exchange programs, there is the possibility to receive students from other countries in addition to sending a student to another country.

But the key word there is possibility. If for whatever reason you are unable to host a student, you can still participate in an exchange program and vice versa. There are lots of organizations seeking Seattle based hosts, if sending a student abroad is not an option.

So how do you find a program that is right for you?

Sometimes it helps to identify what kind of program will make the most sense for you and your family, financially, ideologically, and logistically. Most programs fit into one of three categories, school based, faith based and third party providers.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

School-based programs are run and operated directly through a high school which means the trip schedule will most likely work with the school schedule and there will be no credit loss—in fact students might receive extra credit in some cases.

Another important advantage is that these trips are led by the school faculty, so both parents and students will ideally know the chaperones or have ample opportunity to get to know them before the trip.

Also this model might include travel as a part of a longer class, so students will have a lot more time to really prepare for the experience they will be engaging in and have a built in support community for their re-entry process.

The disadvantages are that there may be a smaller variety of countries. If you are taking French and your school goes to Spain, you are not going to get the language immersion opportunity you had hoped for.

Moreover group dynamics might be a challenge. Students who already know each other tend to interact accordingly, meaning cliques from back home can stay in tact during the trip. This can be a challenge on any program, but with school programs it is especially important to have trip leaders who are ready to address and establish inclusive group dynamics before it becomes an issue.

Many faith-based organizations host multi-generational travel experiences, which can be a great option for families who want to travel together. These trips also offer certain comforts, like a flexible itinerary that allows for families to stray from the group.

Elayne Flicker and other Seattle high school students visit Guatemala in a Global Visionaries study abroad program last year. (Photo by Reagan Jackson)
Elayne Flicker and other Seattle high school students visit Guatemala in a Global Visionaries study abroad program last year. (Photo by Reagan Jackson)

If you belong to a religion with strict dietary guidelines, sometimes it is easier to travel in a group where everyone else has those same guidelines.

A disadvantage again is the loss of selection. Usually faith based organizations are only able to do trips once or twice a year. Because these trips are often include a variety of people, the activities are not always as geared toward high-school-age participants.

Third party providers are organizations that run independently of schools and/or faith based organizations. These programs can be local, regional or even national. Because study abroad is their mainstay they will often be able to provide a variety of travel and programmatic theme options.

Many school and faith based programs will rely on teachers or religious leaders to serve as chaperones, which can be great, but with third party providers you are more likely to have program facilitators who are well traveled and well versed in the culture of the area in which you will be traveling. A good guide can make or break a trip.

With local third party providers you might have the opportunity to meet with your group before you travel, which is almost always an advantage. With some of the national providers however, you might be meeting your group in the airport on your way overseas. This can be very stressful.

Conversely it can be a huge advantage to have an adventure with people you have never met before. It simply depends on what kind of experience you are ready and interested in having.


Here are a few programs to consider:

Seattle Based Exchanges and Study Abroad Programs:

One World Now

Global Visionaries

World Affairs Council

Northwest Students Exchange

Foundation for International Understanding Through Students 


National Programs:

AFS Intercultural Programs 

Amigos de las Americas

ASSE International



Experiment in International Living 

Foreign Language Study Abroad Service

People to People 

Projects Abroad 

School Year Abroad 

Sea Mester

The Traveling School

Youth for Understanding

Where There Be Dragons



  1. When I was in high school in Bellevue during the late 90s there weren’t nearly as many programs as there are apparently now. However, my Junior Spanish class took a summer trip to Spain that really opened up my eyes and influenced me to continue living a global lifestyle. In college I was required to study abroad for my degree which I did in Spain and Mexico. Upon graduation, I completed and internship in Paraguay and then joined the Peace Corps for three years serving in El Salvador. When I completed my service, I opted to stay in El Salvador and continue to serve under-privileged communities. Now I’m preparing to move back to the states and attend grad school where the author of this post attended. Basically, any educational experience one can get overseas is very beneficial and I encourage anyone, who has the means, to do so as soon as possible.

  2. Hi Reagan, I wanted to add in an upcoming study abroad (r)evolution resource called Better Abroad: a non-profit partnership effort between Melibee Global and Amizade to improve study abroad experiences radically, providing discussion and resources for better program design. Please keep a look out for this at!

  3. So glad to see a great list like this!

    I would like to add another option, though, for students who perhaps can’t miss a year of school (and maybe can’t afford such a program either).

    One such example is the American Youth Leadership Program (AYLP). It’s a grant-funded program that still requires a year’s worth of commitment and work from students, but most of it is virtual collaboration. Then, over the summer the students travel abroad to see and understand all they learned in person. Once they return, there is a service-learning project aspect they implement in their home communities.

    It really is a fantastic way for ambitious students from across the country to get abroad that might not otherwise be able to. And it’s great that the experience doesn’t stop with them – that they bring back what they learned and share it in their community. This year the students are focusing on sustainability and will be traveling to Singapore and Malaysia. A bit more about the program:

  4. Thanks for your comments everyone. This is some great information. I am always excited to hear about new programs. Please keep it coming.

  5. Thanks for the resources. They are very helpful. If you can share some information about scholarships for study tours abroad, i’ll really appreciate it.

  6. Dear Regan,
    Thank you for this nice article .
    I wanted to add Abbey Road Programs to this list :
    Abbey Road Programs offers two-, three-, and four-week programs in the United States as well as Spain, France, Italy and other European countries. Abbey Road incorporates experiential learning in all daily classes. Student can learn and improve foreign language skills while interacting with locals during real-life situations; and lessons involving art, history and culture occur on-location throughout the host community. Students will live in either modern apartments, with host families, or hotels, depending upon the program choice.

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