Passion Points: Learning
Blame it on Thomas Friedman and his best-selling book The World Is Flat: high-school students (and their parents) have become increasingly aware of the importance of being global citizens with firsthand experience of the social, economic and cultural differences between nations. That may be one reason that new organizations are creating opportunities for high-school summer study abroad that go far beyond the bike trips around Europe that were popular twenty or thirty years ago. These groups offer the same choices as most school programs—service projects, cultural internships—but they distinguish themselves by embracing the world’s developing nations and taking an outside-the-classroom approach.
New York-based China Prep (888-878-4814; www.chinaprep.com), founded in 2006 by an American who had lived in China, leads groups of just sixteen U.S. students on three-to-six-week summer trips to mainland China, including Shanghai and Beijing. The program combines intensive study of Mandarin with regional travel and experiences that give wide exposure to modern China. Before they go, participants receive a recommended reading list and links to Chinese pop culture Web sites and radio stations. During most of the trip, the group stays in hotels near historical sites and financial centers in the heart of the cities they are visiting. In this rapidly developing and complex country, China Prep students enjoy unusual access: they might discuss economics with the director of the port of Shanghai, meet local fashion designers, build a house with Habitat for Humanity, learn the techniques of traditional Chinese medicine from a healer or spend a weekend with a local family. Fees from $5,600, including airfare.
Note: Due to popular demand, China Prep now offers trips for intellectually curious grown-ups. Read more on the company’s new adult trips.
Rustic Pathways (800-321-4353; www.rusticpathways.com) hosts multiweek excursions to Africa, India, Australia, Costa Rica, Vietnam and Thailand, among other destinations. The focus of each trip might be anything from language immersion or community service to soccer, surfing or a photography clinic. Depending on the locale, students reside in private accommodations or with families in local villages. Participants hail from all over the globe but are primarily from the United States. The company encourages parents to meet their children in the foreign country at the end of the stay for independent travel and more cultural exchange. Fees from $1,895, excluding airfare.
For those particularly fascinated by Asian cultures, Where There Be Dragons (800-982-9203; www.wheretherebedragons.com) offers a wide variety of options, including six-week programs of peace studies in Cambodia, rainforest research in Thailand, Tibetan Buddhism in North India or comparative religion in Senegal. All trips incorporate hands-on service projects, home stays, trekking and language study. Each group of up to twelve students includes one staff member for every four students. Participants might live in the homes of villagers or at a Buddhist monastery while immersing themselves in development issues, community service and cultural awareness. In preparation, students use online links provided by the company to view host country maps, listen to local radio stations and read local English-language newspapers. Fees from $5,050, excluding airfare.
Friedman ends his book with the advice that he gave his own daughter, that she and her contemporaries be “the generation of strategic optimists, the generation with more dreams than memories, the generation that wakes up each morning and not only imagines that things can be better but also acts on that imagination every day.” The programs described here are clearly geared to groom such a generation.
Read about special trips focused on marine conservation
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