Broaden Your Horizons: SPI Parent Blogger Post

Every month, we ask parents why they’re choosing to send their children abroad. Check out SPI Parent Blogger Ilya Burlak’s take on why he decided to send his daughter to France this summer:

In our Internet-enhanced times, it is not that difficult to learn all that you want to know about a faraway place without getting up from your chair. All the facts, all the trivia, and thousands of beautiful photographs of impressive sights are at your fingertips around the clock. You can even conceivably learn a foreign language while remaining in that same chair — there are plenty of computer programs that approximate immersion experiences these days.

And yet, experiencing that faraway location by being there makes for a much richer understanding of the place, its people, their customs, their beliefs, the roots of differences among cultures. In today’s world, being open-minded about such differences and being able to rationally analyze diverging points of view might be one of the key qualities of a successful individual in any field of work. I know of few better ways to enable and encourage open-mindedness in my child than sending her abroad to study.

Along the way, she will master a foreign language in an environment that will demand daily application of the skill, as opposed to sole classroom instruction. She will see the place and the people with her own eyes, not through the prism of someone else’s experiences. She will meet like-minded students and forge friendships with people who have similar interests. Above all, she will hopefully come back with her horizons considerably broadened.

Ilya’s eldest daughter, Becky, enjoying the beautiful sights of Siena!

I envy my children quite a bit. They are afforded opportunities that I did not have within my reach when I was a child myself. I grew up behind the Iron Curtain and had limitations of travelling even within the country of my birth, and nearly zero possibility of journeying abroad. It took emigration to the US during my college years and a lot of hard work to build a career and a level of financial security for our family to start enjoying regular international travel.

But we seized the opportunity with gusto. In the last decade, we spent several years living in London where I relocated for work. We travelled to nearly 30 countries. Since our repatriation, our eldest child alone went on 4 different study abroad programs, including one with SPI to Siena, Italy. She speaks four languages fluently and is currently taking a college semester in Brussels, focusing on European culture, economy, and European Union politics. Her younger sister is now of the high-school age and ready to follow in the same footsteps. Even our youngest, at mere 4 years of age, already has multiple border control stamps in her passport.

An average American travels significantly less in their lifetime. I know many people who are well-educated and reasonably well-to-do who take their children to Disney World every year and never go anywhere else. If they go to Paris for a week, it is a special occasion of uncommon proportions to them. They may feel that America is a big country with plenty to see and do on its soil (and I fully agree, although it should be noted that they hardly take advantage of American cultural and environmental diversity), but what they primarily cannot do without is their customary comforts — be it familiar cultural norms, expected level of customer service, recognizable cuisine, etc. Don’t get me wrong: There is nothing inherently bad about staying within your comfortable boundaries. Moreover, one can argue that there are plenty places within the USA proper that provide a window into foreign worlds and cultures (every big American city has its own Chinatown, right?) – you can visit them as if visiting a museum, retreating to your favorite food franchise at the end of the visit. But I firmly believe that it only scratches at your horizon boundaries without truly pushing them.

If someone asks us why we choose to send our child to study abroad, our answer is, Why wouldn’t we? She will learn so much by leaving her familiar surroundings and seeing something different with her own eyes — and international travel is something that every member of our family enjoys. The rewards for her will be incredible, I have no doubt.

About the Author: My name is Ilya Burlak; I am an IT Executive in Financial Services. My wife and I have three beautiful daughters and we reside in New Jersey. We love travelling, have been to many places in Europe, and I occasionally reminisce about past travels on my blog, Burlaki on the Hudson.

A Life-changing Experience!

Get ready to experience and SPI Abroad program yourself. Learn more about our programs or request more information today.

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Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

A Life-changing Experience!

Get ready to experience and SPI Abroad program yourself. Learn more about our programs or request more information today.

Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

On-Site Supervision Team Abroad

We hire bilingual high school teachers, university professors, and caring local staff who, as a team, serve as international “moms and dads” throughout the program. Directors actively participate in all aspects of the immersion experience: helping with housing adjustments, checking in on classes, and making sure students are taking advantage of the wonderful excursion and activity opportunities. All SPI staff go through extensive reference checks.

Training & Experience

Directors are selected based on their experience working with teenagers in an international setting, their ability to communicate fluently in the language of study, and their academic & professional background. All on-site staff go through an intensive training process.

Daily Supervision

Students are expected to be respectful of their directors’ guidelines and abide by the SPI standards of conduct at all times. SPI directors and program staff are available 24 hours a day. Directors check in with students on a daily basis in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings; they also frequently monitor all aspects of each student’s progress. Homestays and residence directors are contacted to learn how students are adjusting, and to handle any concerns. Daily curfews are enforced.

Student Behavior Expectations

Since 1996, we have proudly attracted an academically-minded student body focused on improving their language skills and growing from cultural experiences. At SPI, we take our role as teachers seriously — we recognize that we are responsible for guiding students through one of their most life-changing experiences. We expect students not only to abide by our standards of conduct at all times, but also to serve as ambassadors of their local communities, schools, and cities.

No Alcohol Policy

SPI maintains a strict policy against the use of alcohol. Directors check in with students in the evenings; however, parents are expected to review our standards of conduct with their children and set clear family expectations prior to the start of the program with regards to their behavior abroad.

Afternoon Elective Activities

Our meaningful afternoon elective activities make local culture, art, architecture, museums, sports, and attractions come to life! Each program offers a variety of engaging activities designed to combine serious fun with truly inspiring “once in a lifetime” experiences. Electives are not included in the program price, and we suggest students budget $100 per week for participation in these incredible learning experiences.

Common Afternoon Electives

CULTURAL: Cooking, Dance, Art & Architecture, Museum & Theater Visits, Local Sporting & Cultural Events

SPORTS: Surfing, Volleyball, Soccer, Kayaking, Snorkeling, Hikes & Walks

ENRICHMENT: Photography, College Prep (Essay Writing, Admissions Prep), Photography, Guest Speakers

Sample Travel Excursions

SPAIN: Bilbao, Pamplona, Santander, San Sebastian, Guernika, Biarritz (France), Comillas, Picos de Europa

FRANCE: Bordeaux, Bayonne, Anglet, San Sebastian (Spain), St. Jean de Luz, Pyrenees Mountains

COSTA RICA: Liberia, Cloud Forest, Puntarenas, Rincon de la Vieja, Tamarindo Beach

ITALY: Florence, Orvieto, San Gimignano, San Vincezo, Castiglione della Pescaia

Our Screening & Selection Process

Students live with roommates in a local homestay or student residence that is experienced in hosting foreign students. SPI has worked with most participating homestays and student residences for a number of years, and they understand students are there to learn the language and experience the culture. SPI diligently screens each homestay and student residence facility with the following in mind: safety, location, cleanliness, and previous experience hosting students.


Most homestays have hosted students for many years and take their jobs and duties as cultural ambassadors very seriously. Our foreign schools also work with each family on a year-round basis to ensure a positive experience is had by each student. It is critical to understand that most homestays come from humble means and different dynamics.

Location of Housing

All housing options are located within a 10-30 minute commute from the school. Students will walk or take the local bus, which is a safe and normal way for students their age to get around in our host cities. The majority of our housing options are located in the same areas where students will be close to each other.

Evening Curfews

Student curfews are set based on what a culturally appropriate weekday and weekend curfew would be for teenagers in the country of study. This is normally between 10 PM – 11 PM on weekdays and a little later on the weekends depending on location and group dynamic. As an important safety measure, program staff diligently monitor student curfews. Specific curfews are listed on each program page for your reference. 

Typical Housing Dynamics

Students are well supported in all housing options and are provided with: meals, a living and study space, laundry service or facilities, linens and towels. It is fundamental that students have an open mind to trying new foods and living in an environment different than “home” to benefit from this transformative experience!

Although SPI homestays come in all shapes and sizes, the majority are older couples or single/widowed women in their 50s – 60s who have extra room in their home and are eager to host students. We have found this dynamic provides the best support, the most interaction, and the most culturally rich experience. Some homestays do have children, but students should keep in mind that homestays with children are busier and often offer less interaction — much like a busy American family.

Language Course Overview

The language courses focus on developing communication skills by simulating real-life situations through interactive class activities that include writing, oral expression, film, music, food, and literature.

> 2 Hours – Grammatical Concepts

> 1-2 Hours – Conversation, Culture, Literature, Film, etc.

> Small class sizes with levels 1 through AP/IB

College Credit Opportunity

SPI uses foreign universities and accredited language institutes for coursework abroad. These institutions provide high school students, upon successful completion of their courses, with an official transcript that they may use to petition college credit from their future university or college. Official transcripts are first sent to SPI in September, and then we will mail an official copy of the transcript in a sealed envelope to each participant. You will mail the official transcript packet directly to your U.S. university once you are enrolled.

Credit Hours vs. Credit Granted

Most SPI language immersion programs give 30-80 contact hours, or classroom hours, enabling for a potential of up to 1-6 semester college credit hours by your university. Contact hours are treated differently at every school. Some schools will grant specific class credit for the hours (e.g., Spanish), although most give a general foreign language or elective credit. Normally, 15 Contact/Class Hours = 1 College Credit Hour.

IMPORTANT:  Due to the nature of college credit granting by each individual U.S. university, it is impossible for SPI to guarantee credit for any student.