When I was growing up the only travel I did as a teenager (apart from the odd family trip to country Victoria to collect or deliver brood mares!) was year 8 camp to the coast and year 11 geography camp! How things have changed, how the World has opened for travel of all ages across the Globe!
Teen travel these days is far more sophisticated from when I was growing up. These days schools take skiing trips to the snow, partake in adventure activities from abseiling to white water rafting to orienteering. Travel abroad has also increased in popularity over the years. It is not uncommon for schools to organise 1-2 overseas trips per year for students to Africa, South East Asia and India to name a few. There is now an entire industry dedicated to teen travel specialising in providing teens with unique and totally different experiences. These specialists range from companies offering summer camp and Gap travel like Adventures Cross Country based in San Francisco to on the ground operators like us at Africa Expedition Support who connect directly with communities to provide real life enriching experiences in a safe and supportive environment. Other companies such as World Challenge link with local operators and encourage schools and students to fundraise to fund their trips.
There are a number of reasons why schools and parents encourage their teens to travel abroad. One fundamental reason are the changes in how top schools and universities assess for entry. In days gone by top schools and universities looked solely at top scoring, highly academic students; while academic performance still plays a large role in entry, these top institutions are now looking for something that makes potential entrants stand out from the rest. Overseas service, volunteering at home, dedicating time to community service and bettering the lives of others all rate high.
Let’s face it prospects for young people these days are very competitive. The competition to be accepted into the best institutions is incredibly tough. Parents and schools are constantly looking at ways to enhance their teenagers’ prospects by involving them in activities that stand out from the norm.
Future prospects are not the only reason parents and schools invest in overseas travel for teens; as the World has got smaller it has become easier to travel to other parts of the world and in particular developing countries. This travel challenges teens to think about where they have come from, where they are going and how they can apply external non-academic experiences to everyday living and succeeding in a tough competitive world through challenging current values and belief systems.
An emerging popular reason to invest in teen travel is to remove students from peer pressure to partake in risk taking behaviour. Activities like “schoolies” where teens celebrate the end of their high school by going to popular locations to party with other teens. Unfortunately “schoolies” not only attracts school leavers but also an older crowd who prey on school leavers taking advantage of the party atmosphere to sell drugs and alcohol resulting in devastating effects on young lives.
Overseas travel for teens is a very serious business; parents are prepared to invest in overseas travel as long as their teenager is going to get something of value from it. Often these overseas trips are more than just a holiday integrating cultural and community service elements. These elements provide students with a very different learning experience to what is possible within the classroom. Enabling students to immerse themselves in a cultural unfamiliar to their own, to see how other cultures live and experience other values and belief systems.
I have just returned from a few days on the shores of Lake Naivasha, Kenya overseeing a school project for a poor rural school. The school project consists of putting in a library, and assisting teachers in class. While you may think this has to be done by experts in the field, actually this project has been completed by a group of teens from Adventures Cross Country Africa Gap program with the assistance of the school librarian and several school kids. This group of teens have had to decide on the best system which will be the most beneficial to the school, they have been in charge of indexing, cataloguing, coding, and covering almost 400 books. Up until now Kongoni Primary School have not had books in their library; except for a handful of old torn text books. In addition to physically putting in the library system the group are also responsible for teacher and student training in how to use and maintain the library. This is quite a challenge for these teens, but one that has been fully embraced.
A project like this is not only rewarding for these teens but has a lasting impact on the school and community at large. The teens are trusted to take on a very serious project, with very serious outcomes, that have the potential to truly impact on the lives and academic achievements of primary school students from a poor rural community in Kenya. The teens have had to work with basic resources in basic conditions, very unlike what they are used to back home. They have had to deal with the emotional impact of being in an environment where even very basic commodities we take for granted like books simply do not exist. They have had to overcome cultural and language barriers in order to work in partnership with the school to reach a mutually beneficial outcome. In short these teens have taken on an enormously responsible role in a mature and professional manner.
This is just one example of one project this group of teens have taken in their stride throughout their 3 month trip through Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. As this particular trip is 3 months long the group partake in a variety of projects ranging from animal conservation, education programs, public health assessment and development.
Majority of teen groups don’t have the luxury of 3 months to travel East Africa, most groups opt for 2-4 weeks. Even this amount of time can have an incredible impact on the lives of these young minds.
Teen travel abroad is now being seen as an essential part of growing up and placing teens in a better position for a highly competitive world.
Deborah Thiele from Africa Expedition Support organises trips for schools and teen groups travelling through East Africa for more information email firstname.lastname@example.org