SPI STudy Abroad

Parent's Information Guide

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An investment that pays.

“The study abroad investment more than pays you back…It pays you back the rest of your life!”

-Rose Potter, SPI Founder

San Sebastian Study Abroad 109

Lifelong Benefits …

Develop Fluency in a Foreign Language
Immersion is undoubtedly the only true way to gain fluency in another language and culture. Proficiency in more than one language opens doors to a world of career opportunities, a skill that you keep for the rest of your life! Employees with the abilities to speak a foreign language and function effectively in another culture are in high demand in today’s business and professional world.
Strengthen Your Self-Esteem & Confidence
Successfully overcoming culture shock, adapting to a new family, and learning communication skills in a second language gives you a sense of self-worth, inner strength, and personal empowerment.
Excel in College Admissions
With high school study abroad experience, you stand out above your peers on college applications and resumes! SPI language immersion programs help you prepare for making high scores on the AP/IB exams and even give you an opportunity to earn additional credits before entering college.
Gain Cultural Awareness
By escaping your own cultural boundaries by living in another country, you learn firsthand how people live, think and feel. You learn to appreciate a new culture and become aware of its similarities and differences to your own. New cultural perspectives impact your daily life both at home and abroad!
Foster International Friendships
Travel abroad allows you to connect with people from all over the world and the U.S. Through travel and study abroad, lifelong friendships and potential international business connections begin to emerge.
Gain Appreciation for International Travel
Your contact with art, architecture, literature, music, theater and dance unlocks treasures from the past and gives insight into the marvels of the present.
Build Tolerance
When you study abroad, your struggle to learn a new language is the same as that of the world’s immigrants. You understand what it feels like to be “a foreigner.” This humbling experience fosters a greater acceptance of “foreigners” in your own country.
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An investment that pays …

Think of your child’s summer program as an investment in their future. Developing fluency in a foreign language, gaining international experience, and potentially earning college credits provides an investment that pays you back forever!

How Should Young Adults Spend their Travel Dollars?
Average Annual Cost of College = $25,000
Potential College Credit Earned = 2-16 Hours

8-10 Hours from AP/IB Exams +2-3* Hours – Potential Credit from SPI foreign transcript.  Credit cannot be guaranteed by SPI.

Students Have 3 Jobs…

1. Take all the foreign language you can in high school.
2. Give SPI 2-4 weeks of your summer. STUDY ABROAD.
3. Study hard and do well on the AP/IB exams.

Frequently Asked Questions by Parents

You have questions. We have answers.

When is the enrollment deadline?

SPI accepts enrollments on a rolling basis. Our regular summer programs have an early enrollment deadline in December (to lock in the lowest prices of the year) and a regular deadline of March 1st.  After the regular deadline, a late enrollment fee will be assessed, and you may still enroll (up to two weeks prior to departure) based on available space.  *Custom programs operated by SPI outside of summer months have different due dates which are listed on the custom program’s webpage.

What is the age range of the participants?
Where are they from? Boys vs. Girls?

SPI participants are high school students in grades 9-12 that come from diverse backgrounds from all over the United States, Canada, and globally. On average, there are approximately 60% girls and 40% boys per program, although this does vary year by year. As we receive a high volume of enrollments in March/April, we often do not have final enrollment estimates until then. Normally each program fills by the end of April with a total of 20-26 students (except China and Italy with around 10-16.)

Is there a payment plan?

Yes, the SPI Payment Plan is easy and flexible. Our standard payment plan requires a $1,000 deposit (which is credited toward the program price) upon enrollment. You then have the flexibility of making periodic payments or one final payment by the payment deadline listed on your invoice and in your acceptance email. After (April 1st) payment is due in full with application. For families needing an extension, we offer a deferred payment plan.

What happens after I am accepted?

You will be sent an email confirmation within 5-7 business days, as well as an Enrollment Acceptance Package in the mail. That package includes the only printed invoice you will receive from SPI. It is very important that you read all of these materials thoroughly. You will be responsible for making payments and providing SPI with the necessary supplemental documents by the deadline listed on your invoice. Throughout the year, you will receive fun pre-departure emails and updates.  You can also access all pre-departure emails, newsletters, and orientation information at any time under the Enrolled Student Login (password information provided after enrollment). Your World Traveler Pack will be sent to you in May with travel gear to help get you ready for your experience!

What if we need to cancel participation?

In the unfortunate situation that you must cancel participation, please notify SPI as soon as possible. You will be subject to the refund terms as listed under our Cancellation & Refund Policy.  Airfare is non-refundable by SPI for any reason.

How do the flights work?

Every SPI traveler is required to book and manage their own flights within the specific arrival and departure guidelines found on our Flight Booking page. You have the flexibility to book using miles/points, directly through the airline, or through a travel agency of your choice. Before you book your flight, please be sure to read our booking guidelines and ensure you arrive and depart the program site (ie: Santander, Biarritz, Guilin) within the designated time window. All students arriving to the program site within the designated arrival window are met at in the baggage claim area by an SPI director.

Can I arrive and depart outside of the guidelines?

We understand that families like to make additional summer travel plans before and/or after SPI program participation that would require a student to not arrive or depart within our designated time windows. We are happy to accommodate most flight/program deviations. For details on permitted arrival & departure deviations, please visit our Flight Booking page.

Do I need a passport?

Yes. Please visit U.S State Dept. Website Passport Canada UK Passport Services or your country’s passport issuing agency for current information on applying for your passport. It normally takes 2-6 weeks to process regular passport applications, but you can get rush service if necessary. Your passport should have an expiration date no earlier than six months from the end date of the program. EXAMPLE: If the program ends on June 30, your passport should not expire before December 30. Parents: it is also a good idea to get a passport for yourself! Also, please make color copies to leave at home and to bring abroad.

Do I need a visa & special immunizations?

A visa is not required for American, Canadian, or British citizens for stays shorter than 90 days in all countries where SPI has programs (except China, where a visa is required). If you are not a U.S. citizen, please contact your embassy/consulate for visa and immunization requirements. Unfortunately, SPI cannot be a liaison for non-US citizens requiring visas or special documentation; you must contact the embassy/consulate and apply directly.

Should I get travel insurance?

You may elect to purchase basic medical & travel insurance in case you must cancel your trip for medical or family reasons, though this is not a requirement for participation.

Can parents visit students abroad?

Yes. Parents are welcome to visit their child abroad, although we encourage you to wait until the program is over to meet in order to not disrupt from the immersion experience.

What are the classes like?

Classes are taught by native speakers that have advanced degrees in teaching languages to foreign students. Students are broken up by level (after taking a placement test) into small class sizes of 5-15 students. Our SPI language courses focus on practical acquisition of the language – our goal is to increase fluency and confidence in a short period of time!

Are the classes difficult?

While some courses may involve a grammar quiz or two, the course focus will not be homework and tests, but rather participation and in-the-moment use of the language, vocabulary, and grammar concepts. Instructors encourage practical use of the language through interactive and engaging activities and cultural discussions.

When will I get my transcript?

It can take up to 6 months for the foreign school or university to provide official transcripts to SPI. Once we receive them, we will send you an official copy of your transcript in a sealed envelope to petition for college credit AFTER you have been accepted to a university. Do not use the transcript to petition credit prior to entering a university.

Receiving High School Credit

Most high schools do not grant high school level credit from unaffiliated international summer programs. The AP/IB exams are the most assured way and offer the greatest amount of college credit for high school students. You may contact your school to see if they will award any high school credit for your coursework overseas.

What is the location of my housing arrangements within my host city?

All SPI programs are located in small cities, normally only 2-3 miles long. 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 to get around in our host cities. The majority of our housing options are located in the same areas as other students where they will be close to each other.

Can I request my friend to be my roommate?

Yes, you are welcome to request a friend to be your roommate, and you can do so on the housing section of our online enrollment form. Please note- both participants must request each other for roommate requests to be honored. In the unlikely event that a roommate request cannot be honored, SPI will notify you to determine alternative arrangements.

Expanding Student Horizons - Roommates

Another culturally enriching aspect to the housing is the opportunity to interact with other international students. Occasionally homestays and student residences will host other international students who are also there to study at the foreign language school or university. This cultural exchange can be one of the most rewarding parts of the housing experience for students. Our orientation information discusses living with your housing arrangements in depth.

Can dietary restrictions be accommodated?

Yes, most dietary restrictions can be accommodated. A $50 surcharge per two weeks is assessed for gluten-free diets to offset increased food costs. Please list all allergies and/or dietary information on your application. You will still need to remind your homestay or resident director of your dietary restrictions or allergies when you arrive (your on-site directors are there to help!). It is crucial that you keep an open mind to trying new foods and understand that you will probably not like everything that your homestay or the student residence serves.

What if I have a housing or roommate concern during the program?

While we are confident that you will find your housing arrangements to be very welcoming and comfortable, please bring any housing or roommate issues or concerns directly to your on-site directors. Your directors are available 24/7 to help resolve any concerns and/or help guide you through interacting with each other to make your stay more comfortable and rewarding.


What are the homestays like?

An essential part of the immersion experience, homestays provide SPI participants with an authentic cultural experience. You will room with one or two other SPI participants in your ‘home away from home’ during the  program (single rooms available for an additional fee) and, just like at home, homestays come in all shapes and sizes. While some may be families with children living at home, most SPI homestays are elderly couples or women (in their 50s – 60s). We prefer this dynamic as they typically have more time to spend with students, provide excellent support and interaction, and are perfect for helping students improve their language skills and have a culturally rich experience. Additionally, some homestays may have other international students living with them. This is an excellent way to make friends from around the world!

How are the homestays screened?

While many of our homestays have hosted foreign students for years and have developed a close, long-term working relationship with SPI and our partner language schools, all homestays are screened annually through an interview and home visit process. Some of the most important factors the homestays screened for include: safety, location, cleanliness, desire to be cultural ambassadors to students, and previous experience. Homestays, like on-site directors, serve as international ‘moms and dads’. They provide an extra set of caring eyes for students in the evenings to ensure their safety. It is important to understand that most homestays come from humble means and different dynamics that reflect their culture and personal life experience.

When will I find out who my homestay and roommate(s) are?

You will receive information on your homestay family and roommates 7 – 10 days prior to departure. Please be understanding that your roommates may not have all the exact qualities you request on your application. As SPI programs are geared to prepare students for college, it is important to have an open mind about both your homestay and roommates.

Will the homestay speak English?

As the goal of our programs is authentic language immersion, homestays will only speak the language of study to participants.


What are the student residences like?

SPI’s student residence in China varies and is either a private residence hall on the campus of the language school or a boutique hotel next to the school. Students will share bathroom and shower facilities with 1-3 other students of the same gender, most often their roommates. Laundry facilities will also be available. Air conditioning is uncommon in all of our program locations, regardless of housing option.

How are students supervised in the student residences?

A resident director “mom” will live in the student residences along side the students. They will provide support, create a sense of community, enforce SPI’s standards of conduct and curfew, and help students engage in their experience. RDs are an essential part of the program experience as they consistently interact with the students and are always available as a resource to answer questions or address concerns.

When will I find out who my roommates are?

You will receive information about your roommates 7 – 10 days prior to departure. Please be understanding that your roommates may not have all the exact qualities you request on your application. As SPI programs are geared to prepare students for college, it is important to have an open mind about both your roommates.

How does SPI monitor student well-being abroad?

Safety is our number one concern, consideration, and priority. We have carefully chosen our program sites based population size, low crime rates, ease of navigating the city, and cultural richness.

We require all parents and participants to review and sign SPI’s Standards of Conduct upon enrollment which detail our behavioral expectations and consequences. Abiding by these rules and guidelines is essential to ensuring participant health and safety during the program, and they are strictly enforced. On-site directors are there to help students through every step of the program. They provide supervision during most activities and will be available to assist 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Students can call them any time, day or night, to help resolve an issue or concern.

Of course, enforcement of our standards of conduct is impossible without the support of the parents and commitment from the student. On-site directors are not able to supervise students 24 hours a day, and it is ultimately up to the student to respect the rules and exercise caution and good judgment. One of our core values is to treat our student participants like young adults, and we ask that families have a serious conversation about behavioral expectations prior to departure.

Monitoring Safety Abroad

Our company directors have designed our programs, pre-departure preparation, and excursions based on the Standards of Good Practice set forth by the NAFSA: Association for International Educators and the Forum on Education Abroad (both the leading organizations for education abroad policies and standards).

We maintain year-round contact with our partner schools, homestays, on-site staff, and tour providers with monthly conversations and in-person site visits. All on-site directors go through our SPI training course and are equipped to handle major concerns and problems. Our crisis management plan is also updated regularly based on firsthand knowledge from our foreign schools, our academic board, and our executive team.

What if I have a medical-related issue or emergency during the program?

Exceptional medical services are available in all of our program sites. On-site directors are very knowledgeable about all medical services and the process required to obtain them in each site. Participants should list any prior and/or current health-related information (including all prescriptions) on their application so SPI can ensure program directors are well-informed about the needs of each participant. Homestays will also assist in monitoring the students’ well-being and are available to the students for guidance and assistance. Students should notify their directors and/or homestay immediately if a health concern arises.

Who supervises the participants during the program?

We have an exceptional team of on-site directors in each program site who are fundamental in ensuring a safe, culturally enriching, and life-changing experience for our participants. They check-in with the students at various times each day, facilitate many of the program activities and excursions, and are available 24/7 to assist students.  Meet our on-site directors abroad here.

How should I prepare?

Upon enrollment, we will mail you an acceptance packet with complete orientation information. It is very important that each parent and student read this thoroughly. All SPI orientation & pre-departure information is also located online on the Enrolled Student Login page of our website (password information provided after enrollment).

What should I pack?

Detailed packing lists are provided in our orientation information. For U.S.-based students, check the TSA Website for current restrictions. It is a good idea to contact your airline for baggage restrictions and regulations. As the duration of your stay is not of great length, we DO NOT allow bringing large items such as surf boards and bikes (once you arrive you can rent them). These items are a great inconvenience to the homestay, the directors, and the entire group.

Should I bring a cell phone? Laptop?

Although not required, you are allowed to bring a cell phone and a laptop. Please remember that all communication outside of the language of study hinders from your experience abroad. Our orientation information discusses at length technology and communications abroad as well as specific providers that rent international cell phones.

How much spending money do I need?

We have specific recommendations for each program with regards to getting money while abroad listed in our orientation information. We encourage budgeting $250-$300 per week for spending money. It is required to bring a debit card with 4-digit PIN (6-digit PIN is recommended for China) linked to a checking account (you can order this through your bank).

What activities and excursions are offered?

Each language immersion program has a different set of required and elective activities and excursions that range from cooking classes to sports events and everything in between. Students are not required to participate in all of the activities offered, although participation in 2-3 activities per week is expected. Please review the detailed itineraries for more information on activities and excursions.

How will I get around the city?

All of our program sites are in small, manageable cities and areas. In our European and Chinese programs, students will walk and/or take public buses to and from school and activities. This will be one of first cultural differences that students will experience abroad as walking and public buses are the most common modes of transportation in Europe. They are safe, reliable, and convenient ways to explore your new city! In Costa Rica, our partner language schools and on-site directors arrange transportation to and from activities and school.

How do I communicate with my child?

Our orientation information gives specific details for keeping in touch while abroad along with some important guidelines for students and parents to make the most of the program. Students will have the option to rent a cell with a local phone number as well as bring their mobile device from home.

How do I communicate with SPI while my child is abroad?

SPI maintains a 24-hour emergency line and e-mail during summer program operations. We encourage parents to e-mail your director with any non-emergency concerns as we dedicate our time to your child during the programs. You will be contacted as soon as possible if any emergency is to arise. Our dedicated staff are there for your child 24 hours a day.

We know you are excited to know how your child’s program is going, so our on-site directors update the program blogs 2-3 times weekly with pictures and information about the progress of the program.

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.