For many teenagers, high school is mostly about getting great at video games, attending dances and football games, hanging out with friends and managing acne — oh, and making sure that darned GPA doesn’t jeopardize all the fun plans for college. Yet for high school students who expect more of themselves and look for more substantial rewards from these pivotal years, volunteering for an international community service trip during a break offers a remarkable opportunity to gain unforgettable firsthand experience living and working in a non-Western culture.
In fact, high school may be the very best time to volunteer abroad and experience world travel. It’s a singular time of life, when people aren’t hampered by the need to take leave from a job, stay current on monthly bills or ensure they don’t fall behind in other areas of life.
High school summer programs that allow students to travel and volunteer internationally can provide insights and experience that may not be available through any other type of experience, and this exposure may be especially beneficial for ambitious high-school teens interested in exploring careers that center on public service and global relations for work in politics or business. Employers will no doubt take note of a candidate whose resume includes living in an authentic, non-tourist community in the developing world. Such an accomplishment can distinguish someone as having the following marketable traits:
- Demonstrated commitment: People who are truly passionate about global issues, human rights and service find a way to get involved. In other words, tackling major world issues requires far more than lip service. If you’ve been there and have the stories to prove it, you’re a stronger candidate than your peers who haven’t, particularly for employers who seek self-motivated and enthusiastic people with strong leadership potential.
- Firsthand experience: Knowledge collected from personal involvement is credible and convincing. Instead of relying on someone else’s perspective and bias, direct experience gives you the facts and familiarity to draw upon when you interpret world events and global issues. Firsthand experience also fosters conviction, which improves your ability to persuade and motivate others.
- Desirable character traits: Living far away from family, friends and your comfort zone to seek an understanding of another culture requires a certain level of confidence and open-mindedness. It also sharpens your self-awareness. Employers look for these elusive traits in new employees; they’re the attributes that no one can train for. That’s why, in many cases, proof of a person’s motivation to make a difference and an inclination to embrace learning opportunities are even more important than basic job skills for employers.
- Valuable perspective: Gaining exposure to the day-to-day lives of people living in a community and culture significantly different from your own is remarkable and rare. For students seeking a career that centers on language skills, global relations, international policy and diversity, volunteer service work abroad may be the resume item that provides the no-contest edge over other candidates. It may help a person land the job to get a foot in the door and then stay on an upward path of professional growth.
- Other perks of cultural immersion: Aside from helping students learn the colloquial language of another culture, high school volunteer abroad programs can facilitate a strong network of global contacts and like-minded peers. The experience also provides great training in leadership and resourcefulness, arguably among the most powerful tools in the modern business world. Encourage your teen to embrace everything about volunteering abroad in high school — from the chore of packing and airplane security to the foods he eats and the people she meets.
All in all, exposure to the challenges and advantages of life in other cultures can prepare people for successful careers — in every industry and line of work, including business, education, public service and environmentalism. But, of course, success means different things to different people; it’s defined by a person’s values and interests. Some people seek big money and prestige; others care more about professional freedom and flexibility. No matter what life goal teens have begun constructing, travelling internationally as part of a high school volunteer abroad program can help move them closer to achieving those goals by expanding their perspective and making them more aware of their own passions and priorities.