#StudyAbroadBecause the world gets smaller each time you do!

by Dr. Jessie Voigts / Feb 14, 2015 /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Amy Whitley is an outdoors and family travel writer making her home in Southern Oregon. An avid traveler, backpacker, skier, and hiker, Amy has written about family and outdoors travel experiences ranging from yurt camping to hut-to-hut skiing to city touring for family travel site Pit Stops for Kids and national publications. Passionate about families getting outdoors together, Amy authors the NWKids column in OutdoorsNW Magazine, and spends her free time trying to keep up with her three school-aged sons in the backcountry and abroad. Amy studied a summer abroad in France and Spain with EF Tours. 22 years later, her son Nate studied and taught English in Costa Rica with Adventures Cross Country. She answers the questions in two parts - first as a teen, based on her own experiences 20+ years ago, then as a parent, based on her son's experience last summer.

 

Surfing in Costa Rica. #StudyAbroadBecause the world gets smaller each time you do!

 

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?

For myself, I don't remember a lot of thought going into my destination decision. I'm not sure whether I simply didn't have many options then (in the early 1990s), or if I simply didn't see 'beyond' Europe. But I chose to go to France and Spain. I simply knew I wanted to travel...without my parents! I had confidence to do so because my family had always traveled as I grew up. I'd already been abroad with my parents more than once.

For my son, we poured over many more options in terms of destinations. He knew he wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country, since he studies Spanish in school. He also knew he wanted outdoor adventure. Because of these factors, he chose Costa Rica, on a program with Adventures Cross Country. Like me, he's always traveled as a younger child, and is comfortable with outdoor expeditions.

 

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?

The basics in international travel stuck with me: I clearly remember how jet-lagged I felt the first few days. I fell asleep in the Louvre, and was asked to leave by security! I remember the sense of freedom: I could stop at street vendors and eat chocolate crepes whenever I wanted, and did so way too often. I remember learning public transit ins and outs by trial and error, and coming into the hotel after curfew after getting lost in Paris. My favorite memory, however, is of spending a beach day on Costa del Sol, Spain, and having locals mistake me for German. To this day, I have no idea why I appeared to be German, but I was just so glad not to be assumed to be American, I felt very European and travel-savvy that day!

For my son Nate, his experience was much more adventurous, in many ways. While I traveled with a few friends from school (also on the same program), he departed without knowing a soul. He's quick to make friends, and told me one of his most 'a ha' moments was when he realized teens are the same everywhere. He made Costa Rican friends, as well as friends from the program from other parts of the US. His favorite memory: standing outside a Costa Rican farmhouse and watching the biggest lightning storm he's ever seen.

 

Drying laundry in Costa Rica. #StudyAbroadBecause the world gets smaller each time you do!

 

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad?

For both my son and myself (at his age), we developed confidence and perspective. I may have bumbled around Paris, usually lost, and he may have stumbled over his Spanish, but when he returned, it was as though he could tackle anything. When I returned from Europe, I remember thinking the world was no longer so mysterious (i.e., scary). It felt smaller, which made me feel more confident about my place in it.

 

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today?

Certainly, my love of travel has only grown, and while I loved travel before my first trip abroad on my own, the experience only strengthened this. The fact that I (and my husband) both traveled as teens set a precedent: our son knew it was an option. We didn't require him to go, but the idea wasn't as foreign (no pun intended) as it is to some of his friends who travel less or not at all.

 

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?

Traveling abroad, and especially teen programs, are expensive, no doubt about it. It's a cliche to say you can't put a price on travel experiences, but you really can't. If you can swing it, send your kids abroad. And if you can't, let them fundraise to earn their way. This is how I went to Europe, back in the '90s. I remember a lot of jog-a-thons and service projects to pay for it.

 

School kids in Costa Rica. #StudyAbroadBecause the world gets smaller each time you do!

 

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

This is a tough one, because I believe international education both broadened my viewpoint as an American, but also felt disheartening for my cultural identity. As an American child growing up in the '80s, I was taught the 'America is the best country in the world...we're #1' mentality. When I traveled abroad, I realized very quickly that 1. other countries have as much to give and offer and 2. they don't appreciate this US viewpoint! So was this a positive realization? Absolutely. But a tough one to learn at age 16. For my son, I believe he's growing up in a 'smaller' world. Thanks to the internet and ease of global communication, I don't think he sees his own country as 'isolated' as I did. He has a better perspective than I did at his age. Still, his realization that 'people are the same everywhere' was priceless, and worth every bit of time and effort it took to get him to Costa Rica.

 

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

ANY type of travel, foreign or domestic, broadens kids' minds and fosters learning. Parents shouldn't think that if they can't send their kids abroad, traveling locally is pointless. It can be very eye-opening, and always enriching, even if you're only going one state away!

 

 

#StudyAbroadBecause the world gets smaller each time you do!

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Amy Whitley