Beyond your comfort zone: why students should travel abroad

Signe Stroming, Editor-In-Chief

The night air is full of conversation. The grass in front of a whitewashed Methodist church hosts a scattered crowd: Samoans age three to fifty, dressed in impeccably white pula tasis and lava-lavas, talking quietly in small groups. It’s Christmas Eve—or more likely Christmas itself, based on the late hour and bright stars above—but the warm, humid ocean breeze contrasts with the icy, rainy Christmases my senses are used to. Right now, my family is cozy in bed after a long day of skiing in the Cascades, but I am thousands of miles across the Pacific in the midst of a three week host stay in Samoa through the American Youth Leadership Program.

Later, we will serenade Faleatiu, our small coastal village. For now, we wait. I stand in a group of girls talking about our Christmas Eve choir performance earlier that night. I ask, “May I teach a song? A pese?

“Ioe! Ioe!” the girls cry. Drawing on memories of hot summers in in my hometown  shaded by Tiger Mountain evergreens, I remember an old camp favorite.

“Me first, then you.” I gesture to myself, then to the group of pretty brown faces carefully watching me. “The Princess Pat!” I sing out.

The Preencess Pat!” They sing back, fascinated.

Lived in a tree!” My hands rise to a point above my head, forming a tree.

Leeved een a tree!” We sing on, shouting and dancing when we get to the final lines, then fall about in peals of laughter. We sing it again. Then again. Then once more. I ask if they want to learn another, but they are determined to master this strange and amusing American song.


I had a chance to travel to Samoa in December of 2013 through the American Youth Leadership Program. I learned bits and pieces of a language that lilts and bubbles off the tongue like sweet candy. I navigated a city and island alone with my host-sister. I saw bioluminescent microorganisms in a sea as wide and dark as the star-filled sky above. I made a fool of myself with my lack of rhythm performing in the village church choir. The late nights conversations I had with people, the foods I tried, the experiences I was a part of shifted me onto a different path than the one I was on before the exchange. Cliché as it sounds, it was life-changing.

I sincerely believe that every high school student should have the opportunity to travel abroad. The problem that most students face—myself included—can seem insurmountable: money. Plane tickets, food, board, and insurance all cost significantly more than most of us can spend. But opportunities are still there!

Scholarships are out there. Ask the Career Center for guidance or simply search Youth Travel Exchanges; many have scholarship opportunities for lower income students. American Youth Leadership Program is funded by the Department of State’s Bureau for Culture and Education—it fully funded my three week exchange program. The following summer, I had caught the travel bug full on. After finding a scholarship from the Student Diplomacy Corps, I was soon on my way to study Mayan history and stay with a host-family in Mexico for the month of July.

Scholarships are hard work, often involving long applications or interview processes, but trust me—stepping off the plane in a new country, heart thumping in nervousness and excitement for what the next few weeks may hold make all of it worth it.