I hope the title of this article got your attention. I mean, studying abroad for free? Who wouldn’t like that opportunity? Studying abroad is more than just a chance to sightsee in a foreign country. It allows students to experience and study foreign culture firsthand, instead of solely learning through textbooks. Many students may be familiar with international trips through their schools, but those usually come with a hefty price tag. Three thousand dollars for one week in China? No thank you! For some, affording those trips is no problem, but for a large percentage of high schoolers, it is much harder. With additional passport and spending money expenses, it makes the cost even higher! I, like many other students, thought studying abroad seemed too far from my reach, but I soon discovered the number of free opportunities available to high school students!
By the start of my senior year, I had traveled abroad three separate times; once to Costa Rica, and twice to South Korea. Collectively, I spent $315 to attend all three programs. $165 for my passport and $150 for a program deposit. A plane ticket alone to Seoul, South Korea during the summer costs around $1800 so I gladly decided to stomach that small sum of money. These programs all involve an application process, but it is worth it! Six weeks to a year in a foreign country for a few essays? I would take that trade any day.
The first program I would recommend would be NSLI-Y, which stands for the National Security Language Initiative for Youth. This U.S. State Department program sends hundreds of students abroad for summer and year programs! Aimed to promote the study of critical languages ( Korean, Mandarin, Turkish, Russian, Hindi, Arabic, and Persian), this program is perfect for any high school student who wishes to study foreign languages. Students have an option of applying for summer or year long programs, besides Persian, which only has summer, in any of these target languages. I went to South Korea in 2014 to study Korean in Seoul, and I had an amazing time! Living in a city for a change was so exciting!
The process begins in September with an application. There are usually a few required essays, the longest being a host family letter ( the family you will live with during your trip). If you make it to the next round, then you will have either a phone or in person interview to help NSLI-Y better understand your motivation for studying your chosen language. Semifinalists find out in March or April if they were chosen for a scholarship. Summer programs leave mid to late June, and year programs leave late August to early September. Summer students typically study at a university, while year students attend local high schools and have additional language lessons. Almost every single program places students in host families. Summer scholarship recipients are eligible to apply for a year program, if they fit all of the requirements.
Similar to the NSLI-Y Scholarship, this program is run by the U.S. State Department. The application process is almost the same as well. Rather than language study, which is still a component, this program aims to create U.S. youth ambassadors in the Yes Abroad countries. Students typically live with host families and receive stipends similar to those of NSLI-Y. Yes Abroad programs are year long, and require the applicant to be 15-18.5 by their start. Current country offerings include Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Macedonia, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, and Turkey.
Students will usually attend local high schools and become totally immersed in the local culture and language. No prior language study is required for participation in this program, besides Morocco which requires prior French knowledge.
I have many friends who have done YES Abroad during high school, and they can’t speak highly enough about their program and their experience abroad. These countries are not “traditional” study abroad locations, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t rich in history, culture, and hospitality!
Other State Department Programs
The U.S. State Department has a lot of other programs available to high school students and even college students! There are way too many for me to list, but on the State Department page, you can search through them! Most have fall deadlines! CBYX, one program, sends students to Germany for one year! With program locations spanning from South America, to Asia, you will surely find a program that fits your wishes. Some programs have a small program deposit fee to hold your place, but most are refundable when you complete the program.
EF Tours Global Citizen
It does not seem like they require citizenship, but just residence in the United States! EF Tours is a study abroad company that you may be familiar with! A lot of schools run programs with this company, with locations ranging from Europe to Asia to South America! Each fall EF Tours runs a Global Citizen contest which asks students to submit a video, essay or other format presentation on their yearly topic. This year it was Global Education! This year, students will head to Europe to discuss education at a conference in Switzerland! This is an opportunity you should not miss! Information is usually updated over the summer for next year’s program. Locations usually change yearly.
SPI Abroad Costa Rica
I went on this program after sophomore year! I randomly found it when I was searching for study abroad websites! I believe I was the first student to receive the scholarship, and I'm very thankful for the opportunity! The deadline is usually March 1st of every year, and the process usually requires an essay, transcript, a Spanish teacher recommendation, parent recommendation, and statement of financial need. The citizenship requirement isn't clear, but I'm sure it is open to all students residing in the United States. Contact the company for more information.
When I went, we spent two weeks in Playa Flamingo where we stayed with a host family. We would go to classes in the afternoons, and during the morning we would go to beaches or complete community service projects. We also went zip-lining, horseback riding, surfing, and on an optional sunset cruise! The school in Flamingo is right across from the beach and the views are just beautiful. The school is wonderful and you'll learn a lot of Spanish even though the program is only two weeks long ( plus college credit)!
Private Organizations, Like Youth for Understanding or Rotary
Another option available to students are local and national private organizations like Youth for Understanding and Rotary. YFU offers many partial and full scholarships to some of their programs, depending on region and where you would like to study. Typically, you have to pay for the flight. The same applies to Rotary, but depending on your local rotary, the fees that the scholarship covers will vary. Doing your own research on opportunities available in countries you would like to study in and other study abroad organizations can help you find more opportunities. Many times, embassies offer scholarships to study abroad in their country for a few weeks, but they are usually not offered every year.
Here are some photos of my travels!
Contributions made by: Juliana Ivelyz Peña (photos)
Written by: Juliana Ivelyz Peña
Published: 25 April 2015
Updated: 25 April 2015
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