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Senior Kat Lewis made many friends during her year abroad in India.

Senior Kat Lewis made many friends during her year abroad in India.

Senior Kat Lewis made many friends during her year abroad in India.

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Study abroad programs have become a staple in college education, but more and more programs are aiming at younger students. High school study abroad programs have gained popularity in recent years, yet many students are hesitant to take time out of the crucial years of high school.

Sometimes high schoolers do not take advantage of study abroad because they are worried about getting behind in school work and not being able to speak in foreign languages. Though Arlington is a diverse and cultured location to live, it wouldn’t hurt to gain a new perspective on other countries’ cultures by actually going to a new country. “I think exchange programs are really helpful in broadening a person’s mind and shape views about important things,” exchange student Chintan Mehta, who came to the US with the YES scholarship, said. “For me, the most important thing that I learned from the program was the importance of social service. I think going on an exchange program is one of the best ways to make a difference both internationally and locally.”

Studying abroad in high school allows students to practice their independence before being completely out in the world alone. The programs vary from staying with a local family to living on a campus with other exchange students. Finding a program that works for you and your level of comfort is important and easy to do. “[Past] exchange students represent the U.S. through the relationships we build,” senior Kat Lewis, who spent a year abroad in India, said. “We serve as mediators to inspire fellow Americans in small ways to take an interest in understanding other cultures.”

Colleges know that studying abroad makes you more well-rounded and dynamic, especially if applying to schools overseas. The college application process has become even more competitive, so having an edge looks good to schools.  

Other students take courses in the summer in order to catch up, but in the end, no student who has taken a year abroad has regretted it. “I had to make up a lot of credits, and I went to summer school to help my GPA,” Lewis said. “But I’m still graduating with my class. I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.”

Another worry that a lot of students who are considering studying abroad have is making friends in a foreign environment. Yet, it is important to go out of your comfort zone at a young age to learn about yourself and how to interact with people from many cultures. “I was not always close with my first host family, but I learned a lot about how to be with people I don’t agree with, and I figured out how to seek out meaningful relationships,” Lewis said. “Eventually I got to live with a family of the nicest people I have ever met.”

Often it is difficult to assimilate back into American culture after a year abroad, but students who have done so say that the memories are worth it. The moments shared in a different environment make for great stories which are unique and interesting. “My exchange year will always be defined by these small moments spent between people,” Lewis said. “I have so many stories, like the time a maid in my boarding school taught me Hindi by speaking in Gujarati, or when I taught the English alphabet to a group of children living in a slum and they were not shy to approach me to ask for help.”

Even if a full-year abroad program does not interest you, there are other ways to get a similar experience without missing any days of school. Many students decide to take the summer away at school programs or charity work overseas. This option is often a better fit for most students, where they are able to get a full experience abroad as well as an entire high school experience without having the worry of catching up. “An exchange, no matter how long or short it is, brings along a bunch of foreign worlds, habits and people,” exchange student Akshi Shah, who spent a few weeks in Japan, said. “And the best part about this is that you live your life in your home country, but a part of your heart is always in your host country.”

Going on a year long exchange program or summer program is beneficial to oneself in many ways. You become a true global citizen and are able to connect to world issues in a new way. “Everyone should, in their lifetime, go for at least, a short term exchange program,” Shah said. “To know themselves, their country, and the world in a better way”

In the end, those who spend a year in an exchange program or a summer volunteering have amazing experiences which shape their world mindsets. “People tell you to live everyday to the fullest,” Lewis said. “I believe that in your home country it is easy to take that for granted.”

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The student newspaper of Washington-Lee High School
Broaden your perspective