For some teens, learning really takes flight when they travel to participate in educational programs and exchanges. Not only do they learn what’s on the curriculum, but they also get a course on culture, independence and leadership. But before you send them packing, here’s what you need to know.

By Samantha-Kemp Jackson

 

WHAT WOULD POSSESS a parent to send their teen off to travel the world without them? How about the ability to learn about other cultures,
the ability to perhaps learn another language and the fact that their child will return home with a lifetime of positive experiences? These are just some, but not all of the reasons behind parents’ support of their children’s journeys. More specifically, the opportunity for kids to participate in a global education program with like-minded students around the world has considerable appeal.

Ask Melanie Belore about what she’s seen during her tenure at Toronto-based private school, Havergal College. In her role as manager of the institute, Belore is closely involved with both parents and students at the school as they prepare for what is poised to be one of the defining
experiences of the student’s young lives. She’s seen many Havergal students leave the comfort of their family homes to travel across the world, coming home with a new sense of independence, strength and a fierce desire to continue their travels.

“For many students, this is the first time travelling on their own,” she says. “Our goal is to provide students with different experiences and to expand their world views.”

Gwendolyn Julien, president of Blyth Academy International in Toronto, says students returning from their travels afar also come back with a renewed interest in their own education.

“They come back excited to learn,” says Julien. “Being away inspires and motivates students to embrace learning—even those who struggle in a classroom setting.”

If your teen wants to travel with a school group or organization, there are different options available. Here are a few programs that offer different experiences as well as what you need to know in order to prepare for your child being worlds away.

AN EXCHANGE IN EDUCATION
Founded on the philosophy that an exchange program experience for students is a family affair, Havergal College (havergal.on.ca) works with the parents, students and their family members to assure that the process of being vetted for the program is inclusive. After all, a student leaving home to travel to a distant locale is something that would indeed affect all family members. With the motto and goal “to prepare young women to make a difference,” the program has been successful in achieving its objective since starting over 10 years ago.

Understanding that sending one’s child off to another country isn’t just the concern of the eager traveller, Havergal strives to include all members of the family in the planning and decision-making process.

“It really is a full family experience—from sending your child away to hosting a family in your home, we work closely with the families to make sure everyone’s comfortable,” Belore says. Havergal’s partnerships include locales around the world, with five schools in Australia, two in France, and one each in Germany, Argentina, South Africa, Singapore and Hong Kong.

As part of what the school calls its “Global Experience Program,” Havergal’s exchange with other schools is headed under the mandate that facilitates both academic and personal growth. Exchanges are usually done over the March Break, either two weeks before or two weeks after to minimize the amount of studies that may be lost while travelling. For a full four weeks, the student is immersed in the lifestyle and culture of the host family, which consists of living in the family home and following the day-to-day routines of the student host—including attending classes. A Havergal student who is part of the program will go to school with their host student. She enrols at the school during the course of her visit and shadows the other student so that she can have a better understanding of the answer to the question, “What would it be like to be a student somewhere else in the world?”

“You’re signing up to experience the daily rhythm of someone else’s life,” says Belore. And this experience is invaluable. “Students feel a lot more independent and feel more confident travelling next time,” continues Belore. “They feel like they’ve ‘found their voice’ since they’ve
gone abroad: [for the first time] they’ve had to advocate for themselves as Mom and Dad aren’t there to look out for them.”

GLOBAL HIGH SCHOOL
At Blyth Academy (blytheducation.com/blythacademy), students have been travelling for more than 40 years. They don’t participate in an exchange and instead go for a prolonged amount of time when they participate in Blyth’s Global High School.

Offered to students in Grades 11 and 12 as well as gap year students looking to upgrade their education, Global High School sees students living in Europe, Australia or Central America for a four-term program. Students travel with experienced teaching staff and stay in affordable, safe settings.
Throughout the program, students enjoy hands-on, personalized teaching while being immersed into the community where they are exposed to new languages, culture and are given the tools to develop independence and leadership skills.

“At Blyth, we understand the importance of experiential education,” says Julien. “Students learn in a new context and apply their education in different ways. Travel provides that environment to do so, unlike what a normal classroom provides.”

For instance, Julien says the ambitious travel itineraries, coupled with the academic rigour of the program, teaches students to quickly learn responsibility and time management.

“It also teaches them new interpersonal skills, with their peers and teachers as they are living and working together,” she says. “It definitely prepares them for their post-secondary education when they move away to study. That’s the biggest thing we hear about from parents. Their kids’ personal growth.”

SUMMER AWAY
If sending your teen away for months is too daunting, Blyth Academy also offers an International Summers program wherein teens in Grades 9 – 12 have a choice to stay in 30 countries and participate in 20 programs—in locales everywhere from Australia and Hong Kong to Hawaii and Madrid.

Just a small sample of the programs available: students can study everything from cloud forest ecology in Costa Rica to history in England, Scotland and Ireland. While prices range, parents can also pay with their Aeroplan points.

JUST SAY YES
For parents who don’t have their teens enrolled in private school, YES—Youth Educational Services Canada (youthedservices.ca)— is another option. Based in Toronto, YES provides study abroad programs to students to over 20 countries across the Globe. YES students travel to a
range of countries including France, Australia, Italy, Japan and Spain. Teens must be between 14 and 18, have at least a B average and must
be enrolled and registered in their own school district during the academic calendar year of the proposed exchange.

“We give Canadian students the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in a brand new culture, language and environment while living with a host family and attending a host high school in their country of choice,” says Scott Baird, national student recruitment manager at YES Canada. “Students can choose from programs that range in length from two weeks up to the whole school year and experiential programming that includes, summer cultural travel, post-secondary travel, language learning programs and our flagship high school immersion and homestay experiences,” he continues.

For Baird, as well as the students who have been part of the program, the benefits of global travel are clear. “Experience has taught us that a
global exchange can have profound affects on students and that the results and benefits are different for every student,” he notes. “Whether it’s gaining cultural perspective, gaining fluency in a foreign language, learning to adapt to a multitude of situations or developing emotional and social maturity, the after effects of the exchange program stay with a student for the rest of their life. If not just for these benefits, exchange students have an advantage once they graduate high school and move on to their adult life as language skills, adaptability and an international awareness are key skills in an increasingly globalized culture.” ■

LETTING THEM GO:  What you need to know before you send your teen away on an exchange program.

DETERMINE WHAT YOUR CHILD’S GOALS ARE FOR TRAVELLING, urges Baird. “What do they want to achieve most? Is it a language? A skill? An experience? It could be all of the above; just be sure that there’s a focus.”

LEARN THE LANGUAGE BASICS. Have some understanding of the language that your child will be exposed to. “If it’s a foreign language, brush up on some standard phrases, simple words and common conversation to help your child get by in the country they’re visiting,” says Baird.

STOP HELICOPTERING. While we live in an age of technology wherein we have access to our teens 24/7, Julien urges parents to give their kids the space they need to learn and appreciate the experience. “Don’t text or call them constantly,” she says. “This is very difficult for many of the parents but it can be a big distraction for the kids. We often hear from the kids that they have the best time when they are in places with no Internet access. They’re able to shut down and really be in the moment.”

HELP THEM PACK WELL. “This means pack lightly,” says Julien. “We always say, ‘pack half their stuff and double their money.”

HELP THEM GET ORGANIZED. When teens are away, they’re going to get a big lesson in time management. This lesson can start before they
leave if parents can work with their kids and help them organize themselves. “It’s really helpful,” says Julien. ■