Studying Abroad for High School Students: The Complete Guide for 2020

Travel can be one of the most defining experiences of life. Rather than only being able to study other cultures and countries through books and movies, you can walk through actual ruins and speak with natives face to face. The spectacular sights of Europe and Central America are a once in a lifetime opportunity to enjoy, so why not start in high school? We have all the information you need to learn about how study abroad works and the best way to prepare for it.

Why Should High School Students Study Abroad? 

Studying abroad in high school is no small investment, but what you’ll take away from the experience will last for a lifetime. Universities and colleges appreciate globally minded applicants, and having some studies completed abroad will help demonstrate your ability to learn new things in completely different environments. Not only will you be able to visit exotic locations in person, but you can also expect to:

Earn potential college credit for your studies abroad

Each of our high school study abroad programs have options for beginner to advanced students. Not only will language classes out in the world contribute immensely to your understanding of foreign language—you’ll also be preparing for AP exams that can ultimately result in college credit.

Experience cultural immersion that expands your worldview

While exotic vacations can give travelers a taste of other cultures and locations, study abroad programs allow students to live, speak and learn like a local. While enjoying completely new sights and orienting yourself in a foreign environment, you’ll be able to learn about how other people study, enjoy cuisine and interact with their community.

Meet new people and enjoy unique home stay experiences

Stepping outside of your usual high school experience also means meeting completely different people, whether that’s fellow students studying abroad or new international friends. Before even going to college, you’ll be able to build a social network far outside of your typical one and learn about how well you’ll be able to handle living abroad in the future. The best part is that you won’t have to do this alone; instructors and home stay families will be there to help and teach you along the way.

Gain confidence and independence from your new adventures abroad

After having experienced being away from your family and relying on yourself to study, travel and prepare for new activities, you’ll return from your studies abroad with a new perspective about yourself and what you’re capable of. Many students who study abroad are able to tap into their true passions and are better prepared to take their studies to the next level with colleges and universities.

Enjoy foreign cuisine, art, sports, and more through elective activities

With our high school study abroad programs, you’ll be able to choose elective courses that will complement your language studies. Learn about Basque cooking and gastronomy in France, take a photography composition course in Italy, try some Flamenco dancing in Spain, or take a look at any other of our many activities to choose from. Learning and fun truly can truly come together with a daily itinerary you can shape around your passions.

Visit historical sites and stunning landscapes in person

Each of our study abroad programs feature historical sight-seeing excursions and breathtaking natural reserves. Tour the famed Monte Urgull or Igueldo in San Sebástian, relax on the luxurious beaches of Biarritz, or enjoy an exotic walk through Monteverde’s highland cloud forest. These once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are sure to form memories that will last long after you return home.

Participate in meaningful leadership and volunteer activities

Studies abroad are about more than just fun and education. Our programs offer both leadership training and volunteer service. Make a difference in Costa Rica with our volunteer projects, which help the locals with home repair, orphanages and youth outreach, public works, and nature park preservation. Besides being a wonderful experience, you’ll also earn certified volunteer hours you can put toward your college education.

How to Study Abroad in High School

It goes without saying that studying abroad is a fantastic opportunity for your academic exploits and language acquisition, but the logistics of making it a reality can be tricky. The first step is looking into where a study abroad program will fit into your current high school education. We understand how daunting long-term programs can be to social lives and graduation requirements, so each of our programs are flexible to suit the needs of high school students.

The easiest way to implement study abroad into high school curriculum is typically through a summer or winter session. All of our program options occur during the summer, with choices that range from a two week plan to a four week plan (our San Sebástian program has the option of being extended to a six week plan as well). Each program is also scheduled during the months of June and July so you can plan accordingly.

You’ll also have to develop some travel savvy before going on a trip abroad. This means getting a passport and other appropriate documentation in order well in advance. Even after you apply for a passport, processing can take up to six or eight weeks. Expediting this at the very last minute can mean some relatively hefty fees from a passport agency, so be sure to plan accordingly.

On the plus side, having a passport will open more windows for you than a single trip abroad. If you’re sixteen when you apply, your passport will be valid for the next ten years—that’s pretty handy if you intend to travel overseas again or want to apply for universities abroad after you graduate. If you’re younger than sixteen when you apply for a passport, you’ll have to arrange for both of your parents to be present when you apply for a passport or otherwise have a notarized government form that states their approval.

Destinations to Study Abroad

Europe has long been an exotic and tourist friendly place to learn languages, make new international friends, and discover fascinating history that stretches back to ancient times. Each of the locations for our program are unique and full of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities; you’ll have the chance to visit world-class museums, walk across gorgeous beaches, and walk among historic architecture and artifacts that tell the story of humanity. We also have a Costa Rica program in Central America, where you can experience the tropical wonder of Monte Verde or Flamingo. Regardless of your travel destination, you can count on the experience to enhance your language study by being immersed in the culture and language of the locals.

What to Expect from Spain

Our travel abroad destinations, San Sebástian and Santander, both offer very different experiences despite being Spanish focused studies. Part of this is due to Spain being so diverse—it’s made up of seventeen autonomous regions, and each one has its own unique food, culture and festivities. What makes the immersion experience so unique is that you’ll come across local dialects and different forms of the language you’re learning, which no local classroom can replicate with nearly the same level of authenticity. San Sebástian, for example, is on the coast of Basque country, incorporating genuine Basque dialect and cuisine that isn’t the same anywhere else.


Besides having beautiful beaches you can swim at with our program, Santander also has a uniquely preserved history dating back to the Upper Palaeolithic period. The Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria features artefacts from Roman and medieval periods that tell the unique history of Spain’s past. The city is home to the Palacio de la Magdalena as well, a magnificent palace once owned by King Alfonso XIII and now refurbished into a political and community center visitors can also enjoy. You’ll have the opportunity to enjoy unique cuisine and learning experiences galore when you visit Santander.

San Sebástian

San Sebástian boasts a lush, hilly countryside and a pristine ocean front. The city is well known for its historic churches, and is a popular tourist destination both for its art displays and its architecture. Not unlike Santander, much of its history is also defined by royalty who visited the location for holiday. The area is also famous for its pintxo, the Basque refinement on tapas. Visiting this location for your study abroad will allow you to enjoy the new-meets-old city of Basque culture.

Getting the Most Out of Italy

Another popular tourist destination, Italy is as well known for its food as it is for its historic monuments and tourist vistas. Much of the cuisine itself is regional, so you get a different flavor of pesto, spaghetti, and other such dishes everywhere you visit. This tradition is only solidified by a long break, or midday siesta called riposo, where many businesses close from 1pm – 4pm. Having strong Italian language skills will help you greatly in connecting with the locals as you enjoy a mild summer in Italy.


Nestled in the heart of Italy is Siena, a beautiful town built on medieval roots. Our summer program for Siena is the perfect time to participate in a host of unique activities, including the opportunity to enjoy the ancient Palio Festival. The area is a popular tourist destination easy to navigate because of its smaller size, and you’ll be able to visit a wealth of historic sites, such as the Plazz del Camp. One of the most famous medieval squares in Europe. Other famous landmarks like the Duomo of Siena, a gorgeous cathedral, and the Torre del Mangia, a public palace, are once-in-a-lifetime sights you’ll be able to see with your own eyes. With the town surrounded by lush, rolling hills, it’s a gorgeous destination to truly immerse yourself in Italian language and culture.

What You can Find in France

The most popular tourist destination in the world belongs to France. High school study abroad here is a truly unique experience where you can make new friends and acquaintances with your language skills: part of this is due to France’s proud culture where going the extra effort to speak French in and of itself is a compliment. Besides incredible views and vistas, you might also be surprised to know that France has over 400 different kinds of cheese to enjoy. You’ll be able to enjoy great cuisine and have the opportunity to learn about French gastronomy among many different activities and opportunities.


Biarritz is a historic coastal city often referred to as the “Pearl of the Basque Coast.” Once a small city of whalers, it grew into a tourist destination for French nobility when the wife of Napoleon III built a palace there. It still retains a wealth of historic sights, and there are many opportunities to enjoy both the beach and Biarritz’s famous aquarium. Along with being able to learn about Basque dialects and culture in person, you can also opt for surfing or artisan workshops (among a variety of other available activities) to fully round out your French immersion experience.

Opportunities in Costa Rica

You don’t have to travel across the ocean to find a tropical paradise. Costa Rica is full of lush rainforest terrain and dedicated national parks where you can experience pura vida, or “pure life,” as the locals call it. As you visit, you’ll be able to familiarize yourself with colloquial language, delicious tropical fruits like papaya and cas, and the stunning nature of both the Guanacaste Coast and the Puntarenas highlands.

Monteverde & Playa Flamingo

The cloud forest of Monteverde is one of the most exotic natural destinations you can visit in Costa Rica. Covered in epiphytes and shrouded in mists, areas like the cloud forest are responsible for 5% of the whole world’s biodiversity, which means you’ll see no shortage of exotic plants and animals. Flamingo has a similar small town feel embedded in nature, sporting gorgeous tropical beaches and a unique “tico” culture. While studying Spanish in either Monteverde or Playa Flamingo (or both!), you’ll be able to make a meaningful difference with volunteer efforts with the opportunity to learn more about everything from Latin dancing to Costa Rican cooking.

How Much Does it Cost to Study Abroad in High School?

The cost of high school study abroad programs varies depending on the length of time and location you want to visit. The pricing for each one of our programs is as follows:


Siena, Italy

Two Week Session: $3,795

Immersion Extension: +$2,995


Biarritz, France

Two Week Session: $3,795

Four Week Session: $7,095


Monteverde/Flamingo, Costa Rica

Two Week Session: $3,695

Four Week Session: $6,995


Santander, Spain

Two Week Session: $3,795

Four Week Session: $7,095


San Sebástian, Spain

Two Week Session: $3,795

Four Week Session: $7,095

Six Week Session: (Inquire for pricing)


After settling on the location and duration of your study abroad session, you’re ready to apply! Each program requires a deposit of $1,000, which is counted toward the final price of the program you select. Both parents and the student should complete the application together to ensure the most accurate information. From there, you’ll be able to choose a payment plan best suited to your needs.

What Are the Requirements to Study Abroad in High School?

Once you have a strong idea of where you’d like to travel, you do need to meet the minimum language requirement for the location. Experience with at least one year of foreign language is required, so you’ll naturally need French to study in France, Spanish to study in Spain and Costa Rica, and Italian to study in Italy. Each of our programs are tailored to your level of language experience so you can get the most your of your time abroad. Regardless of skill, a strong willingness to speak in a foreign language abroad will help you learn much more about the locals and their language while fully immersing yourself in their culture.

As mentioned earlier, you’ll also need a passport in order to travel abroad. Fortunately, you won’t need a student visa for the majority of our programs, as American, Canadian, or British citizens do not require them for stays shorter than 90 days (China is the only exception for our programs).

What to Expect?

Once your application is accepted, you will receive an orientation package with all the details you’ll need for the program. You can expect to have program advising and references, pre-departure newsletters, detailed orientation guides, and much more to assist you before you travel abroad. We also have available orientation videos and an online student portal so you can access the information you need from just about anywhere. 

Program fees cover your tuition and books as well as room and board. Guest speakers, outings, and full day excursions are also covered under the program price (click here for a comprehensive list of everything that’s paid for with your payment plan). What you’ll need to pay for separately falls into a simple list:


Airfare: You are responsible for purchasing tickets that fall within the appropriate booking guidelines and appropriate dates for arrival and departures.

Travel Insurance: We do not require or provide travel insurance, so you will need to purchase the appropriate plan for yourself if you want insurance while travelling abroad.

Optional Elective Course Fees: If you would like to participate in elective activities abroad, you will need to have the appropriate fees to pay for them.

Spending Cash: We recommend $250-$300 a week to cover transportation, elective activities, and personal spending.

Flight Information

You will be responsible for purchasing your own plane ticket, so it’s often best to start planning your flight itinerary as soon as possible. Not only will this help you save money—it will also give you enough time to make sure your itinerary meets all of the requirements for your program. When looking for plane tickets, be sure to keep these tips in mind:


  • Make sure you book flights that fall within the appropriate arrival and departure windows (you can find this information here). Failure to do so will incur a $300 fee.
  • If you arrive outside of the arrival window and independently travel to the designated meeting point, you are free to do so, but your family must provide complete deviation details and sign a release form.
  • Give yourself enough time between flights so you don’t miss a connecting one. The recommended connection time is two or more hours.
  • Don’t neglect your arrival instructions document provided to each student. This will have all the specific contact information you need to ensure a smooth arrival.
  • If you’re a nervous flyer or under 16 years of age, we recommend that parents accompany their child to the airport of their international flight.

Safety & Supervision Protocols

Safety is our highest consideration for participants. All parents and students must review and sign our Standards of Conduct during enrollment, which contains details about rules and consequences for behavior abroad. Commiting to these rules and practices will help keep students safe and healthy during their time abroad.

On-site directors will also be present to provide direction and assist with any questions or problems abroad. While they will be available 24/7 to offer assistance, they are not able to supervise students during all hours of the day. Because one of our core values is to treat student participants like young adults, we ask that parents discuss behavioral expectations before departure so that students can exercise caution and good judgment during their time abroad.

Be sure to list any prior or current health-related information when you apply so our program directors can accomodate students accordingly. Both homestay families and program should be alerted immediately if there are any health concerns abroad.

Study with SPI this Summer

Ultimately, your summer abroad can be an incredible language learning experience where you make new friends, see incredible sights, and find your passions in life. We are dedicated to providing a safe and educational experience so you can enjoy the exotic places you visit to the fullest. Enroll today or speak with an advisor for more information so you can make your next summer an unforgettable one.

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.

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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.