GoAbroad has the scoop on summer volunteer programs for teens, and we’re here to share it.
You’re probably here because you are equally dumbfounded and in awe of your teenagers desire to do something productive and beautiful with their life this summer. To help you navigate the how’s and what’s and why’s of shipping your high schooler overseas, we’ve compiled not only a list of 8 amazing summer volunteer programs for high school students abroad, but also some advice and words of encouragement as you figure out where in the world you can volunteer abroad under 18 and stay safe!
Why your teen should spend their summer giving back
Summer volunteer programs for high school students abroad span the gamut. You can work with large nonprofits, in community development projects lead by small enterprises, on farms, in the water. But why should you let your baby boy or girl run off on teenage volunteer summer programs—especially abroad?
It will spiff up their college apps.
A nice bullet point teen summer volunteer experiences will surely give admissions officers something to be impressed (even more so when they took their community service internationally). Their experience might even trigger the start to a captivating essay. Bonus: They may also have picked up a little foreign language to add to their application.
Wi-Fi is limited during summer volunteer opportunities for teens, so volunteers can spend their downtime connecting with real human beings and being where they are. The only time they will be spending on their phone will be to call you and let you know that they are more than okay (these are safe volunteer abroad programs, after all!). And what better souvenir can you give your kid than the chance to realize their dependence on their phone is—dare we say—a tad unhealthy?
They will grow up.
When you volunteer abroad under 18, high school students are responsible for more than just themselves. This fosters intense tolerance, independence, confidence, self-resilience, and adaptability. Getting them in the door at a summer job or internship instead may seem de rigueur for teens to hold their own in a competitive economy—but what they really need is to hone their soft skills, like how to be caring and compassionate, before moving on to those technical skills. Plus, summer volunteer programs for teens often do a great job of teaching both hard and soft skills, depending on their project.
Is summer volunteering for high school students safe?
It takes some pre-planning, but there are many safe volunteer abroad programs out there. Students under 18 years old can gain immense benefits from the process of managing their health and safety while abroad. Volunteering abroad may even keep high school students much safer than if they were to stay at home partying all summer. If wanting to participate in summer community service programs for high school students is the biggest act of rebellion coming from your teenager—count your lucky stars!
Steps to ensure safety on teenage volunteer summer programs
You should absolutely vet organizations independently before you consider sending your kid abroad on one of their programs. You can do this easily with the help of not only Google, but also your direct interactions with the organization itself. Don’t be afraid to ask hard-hitting questions of your program advisor. These can range from their emergency protocols should something horrible happen while traveling (rare, but of course it’s best to be prepared!) to how often they encourage students to keep in touch with parents.
You might also request information for past participants’ parents. They have no motivation to tell you anything but the truth regarding their teen’s experience through their summer volunteer opportunities abroad. Again, continue to ask questions, and don’t settle until you’ve heard the answers that tick off all of your safety boxes.
GoAbroad’s verification system can also help you sort the bad apples and good apples. No one wants to get scammed, and lucky for you, most organizations are legit (unless they hired a bunch of teens to go on fake programs and post their favorite photos online?!). We are on your team when it comes to ensuring your kid’s safety as a teen summer volunteer.
One piece of advice for hyper-connected parents
We know you’re not quite at the stage of the trip planning process where you’re actually discussing life while your kid is abroad, but it bears repeating, even early on, that you should establish reasonable expectations for your communication while your kid is on summer volunteer programs for high school students abroad. Every time you talk to your kid, you’re taking them away from the present and pulling them towards home. This can be counterproductive to their immersion experience or learning potential.
Be conscious your expectations and how it is contributing to your kid’s overall international summer volunteer experience.
8 summer volunteer programs for high school students abroad
Alright! We now know why we should support our child’s interest in teenage volunteer summer programs abroad, and are feeling at least a little calmer the safety-factor. Now we’ve arrived to the good stuff—the go-to list of organizations that not only run international volunteer programs for teens, but run GREAT international volunteer programs for teens.
1. Global Vision International (GVI)
These summer volunteer programs for high school students abroad tackle critical local and global issues through education and training programs on sustainable development projects around the world. GVI programs even run in in partnership with acclaimed international partners like Save The Children, WWF, The Red Cross, and PADI.
- Popular countries: South Africa, Laos, Thailand
- Popular projects: Teaching, Wildlife Research, Marine Conservation
- Read GVI reviews |
2. Study Programs International (SPI)
High school students can combine an authentic language immersion experience and leadership skills that will set them up for an advantage in college admissions and future job opportunities. These summer volunteer programs abroad focus on developing lifelong skills while gaining global perspectives and learning another language.
- Popular countries: Spain, Costa Rica, Mexico
- Popular projects: Public Works Projects, Orphanage Work, Construction
- Read SPI reviews |
3. Youth For Understanding (YFU)
Full cultural immersion is the best way for high school students to gain skills needed to thrive in an increasingly multicultural, interconnected, and competitive world. These high school summer volunteer programs abroad promote the type of intercultural understanding, mutual respect, and social responsibility necessary for future success.
- Popular countries: Ecuador, Thailand
- Popular projects: Teaching English, Working with Disabled Children
- Read YFU reviews |
High school students can volunteer abroad in incredibly meaningful and worthwhile projects in developing (and safe!) countries with topnotch in-country support from program staff to ensure a safe and fun experience.
- Popular countries: Fiji, Philippines, Belize
- Popular projects: Teaching Sports, Conservation, Public Health Projects
- Read Projects Abroad reviews |
These high school summer volunteer abroad programs equip students not only with essential cultural skills, but also with a deeper awareness of and sensitivity to global issues. Students will walk away with invaluable new skills, connections, awareness, and knowledge that help them to thrive in diverse environments.
- Popular countries: Argentina, Nicaragua, Costa Rica
- Popular projects: Sustainability, Community Service and Development
- Read The Experiment in International Living reviews |
Authentic high school summer volunteer abroad experiences unfold when students are immersed in local living with the communities they are serving. These programs focus on building relationships, showing the value of personal growth, and seeing how strong real life learning comes through volunteering abroad in high school.
- Popular countries: Nepal, India, Sri Lanka
- Popular projects: Sports Coaching, Sea Turtle Conservation
- Read Volunteering Journeys reviews |
7. Academic Programs International (API Study Abroad)
These affordable, high-quality summer volunteer abroad programs for students are designed to offer students meaningful travel opportunities that allow them to transform their lives while transforming the lives of others.
- Popular countries: Costa Rica, Ecuador
- Popular projects: Conservation, Farming, Sustainability
- Read Academic Programs International reviews |
Responsible, hands-on volunteer abroad experience helps students gain a new perspective on the world and learn more themselves. These programs also help students earn relevant certifications (scuba, sailing, first aid, etc.) as hard proof (and another impressive line on their resume) of their achievements.
- Popular countries: Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Bahamas
- Popular projects: Marine Conservation, Community Service and Development
- Read Broadreach reviews |
Now what? Next steps towards summer volunteering for high school students
When you and your teenage are ready to talk logistics, check out these helpful resources to get the ball rolling:
Finding summer volunteer programs for teens:
- GoAbroad Online Advisor—Get 5+ recommended programs based on your expressed interests and preferences
- MyGoAbroad—Hook your kid up with a “MyG” account so they can bookmark and compare teenage volunteer summer programs abroad more easily
Advice for summer volunteering for high school students:
These great articles are must-reads for your teen—
- 12 Reasons to Volunteer Abroad in High School
- What Do You Get Out of Volunteering Abroad
- First Time Volunteers Abroad eBook
Teenagers desperately want to connect deeply and engage meaningfully with the world and high school summer volunteer abroad programs are the perfect way for them to do so. It may seem scary at first and you may think the world is going to eat your teenager for breakfast, but resist the temptation to hold them back. See how they shine. You will definitely be left having a #proudparentmoment.