Foreign Travel, Volunteering & Exchange Programs
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Foreign Travel, Volunteering & Exchange Programs
My son is a high school junior and thinking of majoring in biology in college. He
has taken 9th grade biology and AP biology. This upcoming summer he is interested
in a summer biology program. We googled and found some good options nearby -
Berkeley especially. However, we are also thinking of travelling this summer.
Do you know of a biology program happening this summer:
- Nearby (our google search led us to Berkeley, UCSF - only for SFUSD students,
- If so, in a Spanish speaking country (whether the program is in English or
- We'd likely take language classes in addition to his being in the program if
it's a Spanish speaking country - we both speak quite a bit of Spanish.
- I may come even if he lives in a dorm/with a family through the program, and do
my own thing. He's very independent and competent - I'd only join because I want
to travel as well.
- If we both needed to find accommodations we'd be happy to live with a family.
While not a biology program per se, I can recommend ARCAS Guatemala as a wonderful place
to volunteer and work with folks interested in animals. They have a facebook page and
also a website at arcasguatemala.com. Guatemala has a ton of language schools and you
can live with families while there although maybe not at the Peten ARCAS site, but
definitely at the Parque Hawaii site. My teen daughter (between 9th & 10th grades)
volunteered there and loved it. Look at the ARCAS website for all the information and
the volunteer handbook to see if this is something of interest.
My son, a rising college freshman who will be 19 in August, is
interested in a gap year or summer 2012 'gap' type experience
abroad. He's been fortunate to travel abroad in style with family
during his K-11 years, but I am looking for a more 'real life'
experience for him for 3-4 weeks this summer, in which he would be
integrated into the local community, and perform meaningful
community service. The David Denman mentioned on this site has
retired. Does anyone know of a consultant well versed in gap
summer and gap year programs, and/or does anyone have knowledge of
programs offered through realgap.com; Cross Cultural Solutions;
Gap Ywar South Africa; GVI/USA; or Projects Abroad (all culled
from a Gap Year Fair website)? Many thanks
Try Loop Abroad for Southeast asia trips. My daughter has done amazingly w these- they
are for late high school and gap year students.
Prep school Mom
Does anyone have experience with a teen summer program that involves
travel and community service? We are looking for either domestic or
foreign travel, NOT a language immersion program, that has good
supervision, and safety as a high priority.
My 17yr old daughter went to Nicaragua for three weeks this past summer
with Al Campo International on a service/adventure trip. There were some
kids who were as young as 14. Safety is definitely important to them -
they want to stay in business! - that said, almost everyone got some
version of ''turista'' for several days. Go on the website,
www.alcampointernational.com and check it out.
To the mom asking about summer programs and the mom asking about the safety
of programs in Mexico: Please consider AMIGOS, the program that - since
1965 - has sent thousands of teens to Latin America for a summer of
language immersion, youth leadership, and cultural awareness. Youths spend
6-8 weeks living with a family, working with kids in schools, and carrying
out community-based projects. Requirements: age 16 by Sept, 2012; two
years of high school Spanish by then; fund-raising; and completion of our
8-mo. training program. Orientation sessions have ended, but if you are
interested, our family interviews are coming up the weekend of Oct. 15-16.
Financial aid is available, especially to families in the Richmond area.
Check out the video on our website - eastbayamigos.org . Contact Becca at
beccag28 at gmail.com or Elva at elvaharding at gmail.com.
My organization (Center for Cultural Interchange, www.cci-exchange.org)has
several volunteer exchange programs, but all are language immersion;
however,we might be able to custom design an Independent Home Stay (IHP)
program in the United Kingdom and add a volunteer component to it. Our
current volunteer programs include: Environmental/Wildlife Conservation
Projects, Women's Empowerment Projects, Community Development,
Childcare/Mentorship, and Medical/Public Health. If she is under 18 years
of age then our Costa Rican Wildlife conservation project might be of
interest. My daughter (a sophomore)is planning on doing this next summer.
Based on a private ecological reserve in the rainforests of northern Costa
Rica, our animal rescue and eco-reserve volunteer project acts as a home
for rescued wild animals and also is a site for ongoing conservation and
community development projects that help to protect and sustain the natural
beauty of the rainforest and local residents. If she is 18+ then we have
many other opportunities too numerous to mention. Check our website to get
me know if I can help, Bonne Chance!
I would like to send my 16 and a half year old daughter to a 3
or 4 week summer volunteer program preferably in Costa Rica or
Latin America. The program I had heard good things about,
Education International, no longer exists. Does anyone have any
experience with Al Campo or Visions, or any other similar
My 15 yr old son went last summer with
Education without Borders to Costa
Rica for the month of July. The leader, Alfredo, is a great guy.
as is co-leader Dani.
They took 10 kids, 2 from BHS, and then a bunch from Oakland Tech and
other schools. He had a great experience. They painted a clinic, planted
trees in the rain forest, built eco-char stoves, stayed with host
http://www.educationintl.org/ Their website looks very slick, but they
are actually small, hard working, dedicated and struggling, like a lot of
groups these days. I highly recommend them.
My 16 year old daughter wants to do a mini Peace corps/ Amigos type
of program this summer (too late to sign up for Amigos) She applied
for one through school (Trek/ Build On) but was not chosen. She
wants to go to a Spanish speaking country and do community service,
preferably with children. She is ok with 'roughing it' but probably
nothing too extreme.
A friend gave us this list of organizations which provide teen
programs but we have no idea if they are reputable, which are better
than others, etc.
I have asked her school counselor but have not heard back yet and am
anxious to get this figured out as the deadlines are coming up soon.
If you have heard of any of these please let me know. If you know of
someone who would know the reputation of these (educational
counselors? not sure) please advise.
Here is the list:
Academic Study Associates
A Different Spain
Adventures Cross Country
Costa Rica Explorations
Ecology Project International
Global Leadership Adventures
The Language travel Company
Putney Student Travel
The road less traveled
Where there be Dragons
Windsor Mountain International
World Horizons International
My daughter participated in programs with two of the organizations
that you list - Putney Student Travel and Where There Be Dragons.
Neither was specifically a community service program, but both had
elements of community service as part of the program. My daughter's
orientation was more focused on learning about the culture and the
economic and cultural factors behind the country's current
circumstances. With Putney Student Travel she participated in their
Global Awareness in Action program in Malawi, which was a three and
a half-week on site program that started and ended at Yale. Other
students in their group went to Rwanda and South Africa. They did an
orientation before they left, then presented a program for the
parents at the end that encapsulated what they learned. She had a
great experience, and learned a lot. With Where There Be Dragons
she went to Cambodia for 6 weeks, and really appreciated the
additional time. They traveled throughout the country, learned
about the Cambodia war and genocide, visited the Killing Fields and
S21, visited numerous Wats, did a home stay, and did some community
service. Both organizations are very well organized and careful in
their hiring of group leaders, many of whom were previously in the
Peace Corps in the given country. I would recommend either. You
can check out the full scope of their program offerings on their web
sites, and at least for WTBD, read the blogs that the students write
about their experiences, which is a required part of the program.
For additional information about study abroad programs, you can also
check the Berkeley International High School web site. It has a
pretty comprehensive listing of programs, and links to the
individual program web sites.
I took a group of high school students (FR - SR) to Costa Rica with
Ecology Project International. We all had a fabulous time. At least
two returned and decided to major in Biology at college. We stayed at
a camp at the beach with Grad students from several companies, having
some lectures during the day and patrolling the beach at night in the
dark to protect Leatherback turtles, camoflage their nests, count
their eggs, etc. Then we spent a few days at a super eco-lodge in the
rain forest with a zip line and fabulous birding. We planted baby
trees, fertilized them and hauled water from the river for several
days to help them get started. At the end we had a day of river
rafting. A super duper trip!
Last summer my 15 yr. old son went to Costa Rico with Education
Without Borders International. I discovered it from a posting on this
site. My son LOVED the experience: social justice, Spanish language
foci; very diverse group, learned a lot, worked on organic coffee farm
and in a small village with homestay. They do different trips each
summer. Based in Oakland. Not fancy, very real, close group, great
leaders. Check out website.
I have the travel (to other continents) bug, but I also have
the volunteering bug and I'm wondering if anyone has
suggestions about how to combine the two. I've looked online
at a couple of websites that offer community development
projects on different continents, but how much info can you get
about what actually happens in these projects from a website?
Does anyone have personal experience in this area or know of a
reliable source of info? Any suggestion would be appreciated.
Gotta get movin' and doin'
There are a lot of organizations that offer volunteering
experiences all over the world. It's become a huge growth
industry like ecotourism. A lot of them, like the ecotourism,
treat the service aspect quite shallowly. Many are also very
expensive because they are providing a western-style hotel
holiday combined with the volunteering and/or cultural
exploration and/or language learning. That's okay if that's what
you want. One of the least expensive was ''A Broader View'' who
managed my daughter's trip to Morocco in January. There were
some issues with the accommodation, and with one of the other
volunteers (who, for example, brought four suitcases of clothes
and then had nowhere to put them in a tiny shared room). In
general A Broader View offers very basic local standard
accommodation, which may be a grass hut in some communities.
Their expertise is particularly in South America, I think, and
Morocco is not an easy place to arrange homestays. Their central
organization was very flexible and helpful, however, and the fees
and airfares you pay are deductible against US taxes. Despite
the occasional hassles, my daughter absolutely loved the time she
spent there working at an orphanage, and had an experience far
removed from ordinary tourism.
Here are some places to check out.
Senegal (work with local villagers building fences, farming land
India (working with people still effected by the chemical
disaster in Bhopal in 1984)
Click on ''Ways to Help'' for info on volunteering at Sambhavna
Guatemala (working with animals)
www.animalaware.org click on volunteering
Try contacting Peace Corps volunteers in your country(s) of
interest. You can go online to Peace Corps Online and there
should be a link to search Peace Corps volunteers, both old
(RPCVs) and current. There is such an amazing network of RPCVs;
I am also an RPCV and have hooked up travelers with volunteer
op's for their trips. Good luck.
I spent around six months in Dharamsala, northern India, working
as a volunteer ESL teacher in the exile Tibetan community and it
was an incredibly enriching experience. The Dalai Lama came to
our school a few times, too.
There are a lot of Western volunteers in Dharamsala. I was there
most recently in October 2008 so I can give you more advice if
you are interested.
Visit www.volunteertibet.org for more info and opportunities.
Lisa Tsering firstname.lastname@example.org
Try kiva.com. There is a section of how to be a volunteer
worker for kiva in other lands. Those people learn how to make
videos and send that information to others who are supporting
Our 18 year old son has dropped out of college (long story) and is
drifting. He is not very open to our assistance and seems to be
stuck in figuring out himself and how to proceed into adulthood. A
counselor suggested that he really needs to go away and be
independent to progress (which makes sense to us) but we don't know
what alternatives are out there (don't want military/probably
wouldn't go anyway). We thought of something like volunteering for
3months to a year building houses in New Orleans or even abroad (we
would be willing to pay a stipend/housing costs) but other than
researching on the internet, don't know how to find a program,
particularly a quality program with structure that will help him
grow up. Any suggestions for such a volunteer venue or anything
else? (by the way he doesn't have problems working - has had summer
jobs for past 3 years- but in this economy and a teenagers idea of
how to find a job....) Thanks.
I found a site, www.helpx.net, that has a huge variety of programs for
volunteers. They are
free, because the volunteer works to pay their room and board. One is
capable of seeing all
the opportunities, but has to pay a fee to join the site and access contact
information. (It's a
pretty low fee, nothing buget-hindering.) It isn't a scam, I have a close
friend who is having
the time of his life, having done multiple stays. Now he's in a backpacking
hostel in Ireland. I
I'm 18, and have a free semester, and had I not ended up with other projects,
have taken advantage of the vineyards or beautiful countryside homestays.
Good luck! Feel free to contact me, and I can pass any questions on to my
friend if you'd like.
My friend's daughter is doing a residential internship year (she's
also 18) through Dynamy. See http://www.dynamy.org/
The internship year starts out with a two week Outward Bound program
and then interns are placed in volunteer positions. They live in
apartments (2-6 interns per apt) with a residential coordinator
assigned to the building.
The program is set up to provide opportunities for success (and a
safety net to avoid failure).
The year just began but so far it has been very positive for both
daughter and parents.
Another possibility is United Planet. Internationally they are
affiliated with ICYE (I spent a year in Sweden with ICYE in 1971!) See
It might be a bit more of a challenge but can be a great experience.
Good luck. Remember, there are many paths to adulthood!
My son volunteered in New Zealand through
and had a great experience.
They have semester or year long programs that they run and then they
also have internships where they just do the screening and match the
volunteer up with an org abroad--that's what we did.
I've also heard great things about Volunteers for Peace which is a
shorter summer program.
The good news - they pay him. And he can choose what job he does and
Our family (includes 14 and 16 year old boys)is looking to do a 2 week
volunteer project in Peru, Costa Rica or Ecuador this summer.
Does anyone have any programs they could recommend?
I would love to hear from you ASAP!!
Check with www.ecologyproject.org/english/costa_rica.html,
www.earthwatch.org/expeditions/paladino.html. Earthwatch is probably
the most expensive of these but you work under a university
researcher. I took about 12 high school students to Costa Rica to
study leatherback sea turtles with EcologyProject and it was a
fabulous experience for all of us. They also have projects in the
Galapagos. Earthwatch has projects all over the world.
Would like suggestions for almost 16 year old son for volunteering
placements, organizations outside of Bay Area that are priced
reasonably or offer financial aid. Looking for 2-3 week stints. Rustic
Pathways would be an example of very expensive.
Sino Language Gateway
has a great volunteer summer program for teens
15-18. Visit http://www.sinolanguage.com/2009/programs/news_item.asp?NewsID=188
(copy and paste the whole URL) you will see what it is
about. It offers teens to do English teaching to Chinese kids, earn
as many as 80 community service credits, immerse into Chinese
language and culture, and travel a bit inside of China.
The program is very reasonablly priced. It is cheaper than most
other non-profit volunteer opportunities. The program is so packed
that truly offers a lot to teens. Check it out or call call 1-866-
WITH-SLG for more info.
I am looking for summer programs in Spain for Spanish
language for my 15 year old son.Any recommendation will be
appreciated. Thank you
My son has spent the past three summers with the Johns Hopkins CTY program.
He has not been to their 3 week program in Spain, but the courses that he has
attended have all been terrific. Here is a link to their Spanish program:
Recommendation for Spanish classes for teens or adults
I highly recommend Instituto Mesoamerica in west Berkeley
(near University and Bonita) as a great place to learn
Spanish. Arturo Sosa, the director, is a wonderful teacher.
He is a native speaker from Mexico, and is full of helpful
explanations to make grammar stick! Besides his language
teaching skills, Arturo has lots to share about the culture
and history of latin america, and of latinos in the US. He
is flexible with scheduling, and the classes are fun. His
website is http://www.institutomesoamerica.com/index.html
and phone # is (510) 849-3434
My daughter is a college freshman, taking her 5th year of
spanish (studying international relations), and currently
working part time at a immigrant rights organization. She
has a fantasy of spending part of her summer in some kind
of volunteer capacity in Latin America. Does anybody know
of good potential organization to check out, or any other
tips, like on how this could be affordable...
Look in to Amigos de las Americas.
They seem to have a
really well organized program and they seem to prepare the
teens very well for their summer away. The kids can choose
from many Central and South American countries and the
type of volunteer work they want to do. They spend the
summer -- or at least 5 weeks-- with a family. The teen
must have at least 2 years high school Spanish so your
child would definitely be ready. I did the same kind of
thing when I was a teenager and I came home speaking
Spanish fluently. I was able to challenge 2 years of
college Spanish and I ended up getting one degree in
Spanish literature. We are planning on having our kids do
this program. I think the volunteer work runs the gamut
from working in classrooms to actually building housing.
They have a very informative website.
I have daughter who is a sophmore at Berkeley High
School. She is looking for a fun, well organized resident
summer program for a couple weeks. She's in Spanish at
school, so maybe a program in central america, or a
program with a focus on community service. Any ideas?
you could contact ''seeds of learning'' -- they have GREAT programs.
their website is http://www.seedsoflearning.org/ i've known their director,
annie bacon, since she was a middle schooler, and she is terrific.
My son spent 4 weeks in costa Rica last summer with a program called
Global Routes. His experience was '' life altering'' , he felt. Global
Routes is both a cultural exchange program along with communithy service. He went
with 18 other teens from around the country . They spent a week orienting and going
to the cloud forest and volcano and then headed to a small village
where he lived with a family for 2 weeks. At the village they built a commuity
kitchen and worked hard. He loved his homestay and really getitng to know the
Costa Rican family he lived with. His spanish improved alot over the
course of the time he spent there. The last 5 days they went to the coast and
went river rafting and vacationed. I highly recommend Global Routes to any
teen interested in experiencing another culture with community service and
language. They have been around for 30 years and REALLY know what they
are doing! www.globalroutes.com for more info most of the kids were between their
sophmore and junior year but a few were after their junior year and 1 was before his
sophmore year- to give you an idea of ages.
parent of teen
My 15 year old would like to participate in a program abroad this summer where
she can use her spanish and French language skills.
She's never done this before so would like to be with a group, maybe with a
family, work, volunteer etc...She is very resourceful, talented and has much to
Safety is my main concern. I saw a question about AFS on teens network. What
does it stand for?
AFS stands for the American Field Service. My parents were
very involved with AFS in Southern California thirty years
ago. We made lifelong friends with families in England,
Austria, Germany, Italy and Belgium because of AFS.
AFS sends students for either a summer or a school year.
Unless they've changed things, they do NOT take a
student's language preference into account. My brothers
both studied German, and spent a year in Italy and Flemish-
speaking Belgium, respectively. But it opened worlds to
them. One brother came back to major in Engineering and
Under the best circumstance, AFS interviews both the host
families and the students, and matches them pretty well.
The student may share a bedroom with a child of the same
gender, and goes to school in a school where there is an
AFS Club so that they meet other interesting students. The
local AFS organization is supposed to organize activities
and weekends away in other communities, to see more of the
In the worst situation, the student finds themself in a
family with no experience with teens, no teen children, no
interests in common, and placed in low level classes at
school with no support at all. If it's not a good match,
the local AFS club is supposed to help them find another
Two of my family's AFS students have stayed members of our
family. One would have been much happier in another
family, and bailed halfway through the year. A friend of
mine spent her AFS summer on an island in Sweden on a farm
with no one but the family to talk with. Not so great.
AFS stands for American Field Service, and was actually started
years ago by volunteer WWI ambulance drivers. Like the
International Living it is an old and established program which
had the mission of encouraging understanding between people of
different cultures with the
goal of making the world a better and safer place. I've included
below, I have no idea about how the current programs are
administered, or how
students are selected.
Like others who have posted here, I was an AFS student in
in the Summer of 1974. My sister went to Finland in Summer 1970.
We both had
wonderful experiences both with our student groups and host
It would seem there is more control now over where you go and
speak the language. In the '70s you agreed to go wherever they
AFS, which stands for Amercian Fields Service, began
providing opportunities for high school kids to experience
other cultures after WW II in the hopes that increasing
cultural understanding would promote peace. The
organization is extremely well organized and offers
programs in 50 different countries. The Bay Area has a
very active chapter. I spent my junior year in Brazil
through AFS (many years ago) and it was a life-changing
experience! I hope that my now 11-year old will have a
similar opportunity in a few years. Check out their
I would highly recommend Visions Service Adventures for
your daughter looking to spend the summer overseas
practicing her language. My daughter went to Guadeloupe
for a month last year with the program. The 25 teens
worked about 6 hours a day, weekdays, volunteering in
various capacities in a remote part of the islands. The
people in the area spoke only french so the kids were
forced to use thier language skills. The kids also spent
time hiking, snorkeling, sailing etc in the afternoons and
on weekends. My daughter had a fabulous time! The program
was well organized and the kids well supervised. Visions
offers programs in spanish speaking destinations as well.
I have a son who will turn 16 this spring. We are interested in an
abroad teen travel experience that could include language study (Spanish),
community service, adventure and fun. If any of you have had a child recently
complete such a program, we would be very grateful to learn more about it. He
is interested in going to Spain or Latin America.
Good for you & your son that you all are considering this
type of experience for him. International travel &
service work are among the finest ways to for a teen to
grow. I have two recommendations. The first is Amigos de
las Americas, a highly regarded Latin America
Second, my children (ages 8, 11, 13 & niece 14) and I went
to Ayacucho, Peru last summer with Cross Cultural
Solutions. We did service work, some Spanish study, and
there were weekend travel/adventure opportunities. The
volunteer group included several high school students who
were on their own on the program. I think they had good
experiences with CCS--we certainly did. All of us really
liked living and working in Peru. CCS does a good job--I
would feel confident sending my kids on their own with CCS
when they are old enough.
CCS has programs in many countries; in Latin America, they
are in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Peru and Brazil.
I'd be glad to answer other questions.
Has anyone heard of the Cultural Homestay International organization
that arranges language classes/homestays overseas? We too are looking
for reputable summer language programs.
Reply to the request for information on Cultural Homestay International:
I am the director of Language Studies International, an ESL language school
in Berkeley and we deal with Cultural Homestay International. They are a
very reputable organization which arranges for short and long term
school/cultural stays both here and abroad as well as work experience
programs. (We provide the ESL teaching portion of the programs for their
adult students who then are placed in work experience programs all over the
USA). Their head office is in San Anselmo and their director is Gayle Emson
415 459 5397 ex 125.
We have 18 language schools and programs around the world offering language
and host accommodation all year (www.lsi.edu)... our school in Frankfurt
organizes and sends European high school students to the USA for 1 semester
or one academic year through Cultural Homestay International and they have
been very pleased;
If you wish more info on CHI (or LSI), feel free to contact me at 841 4695.
This is in reply to the person who was looking for an international family travel
adventure for the whole family, including a 14-year-old. I wanted to let you know
about a program that my family participated in called Global Buddies
(www.globalbuddies.net). We had such an amazing experience traveling with this
group to South Africa, when my daughter was 16 and my son 12, that we went back
with them to visit the same community the following year. We spent two weeks
doing a joint program for American and South African youth in one of the black
townships of Cape Town, hosted jointly by Global Buddies (based in Los Angeles)
and a South African grassroots group called Women for Peace. We received the
warmest welcome imaginable from the South Africans. Because of Global Buddies
long relationship with the South African group, we were welcomed into the
community as if we were family, almost. My children got so attached to their
South African friends in two weeks that they cried when it was time to say
goodbye -- just a phenomenal, deep, authentic cross-cultural experience. The
trips are open to families with children ages 7 - 17, but they're especially good
for middle-school and high-school aged kids. Glad to talk with anyone who wants
more info. This year they will be running a trip to South Africa and a new one to
Bali, in collaboration with the Green School there, which sounds terrifically
This is a summer program run by Mare Staten, who is a teacher in Albany, and
who has run both summer camps and travel programs for many years. She has a
deep respect and enthusiasm for kids, nature, and travel. Our readers would
benefit to know about these programs.
Lili (Feb 2000)
Family Adventures to Costa Rica and Galapagos!
I am an Albany teacher and parent who coordinates Natural History Adventures
in the summer time. These trips are ideal for families with kids over the
age of 12.
From July 18-28, we will be exploring Costa Rica, and from July
31-August 10, we will delve into the wonders of the Enchanted Galapagos
Please contact me for further information.
Several campuses of UC offer study abroad programs open to older teens. I
have the 1998 catalogs. UC Davis offered programs in Rome, Nice, London. UC
Irvine offered one in Cambridge. They study literature, history, art, etc. I
am sure other colleges have similar offerings. Try
Duke has several international programs for kids in 10th, 11th and 12th
grades. Try www.tip.duke.edu or call 919/683-1725
-- Sunsol (Jan 2000)
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