International Student Volunteer Opportunities
Please welcome my guest author, Elizabeth Leonard, founder of Blue Bridge Project. Her organization helps high school students get placed in international hands-on service projects to help them with future endeavors like getting into the college of their dreams.
When I was 16, I spent four weeks living in rural Costa Rica. I lived with a family, helped out on their farm, learned how to make tortillas and spent weekends visiting their relatives in nearby towns. I left as a different person. I had a greater understanding of the world and saw a space for myself in it. I developed self-confidence knowing that I survived (and thrived!) in a small home with no running water. I practiced my Spanish daily with my host family and even started to dream in Spanish! Inspired by that trip, I led students around the world on similar programs and started my own organization to ensure that more students have access to these types of programs.
I am convinced that volunteering abroad as a teenager provides rich and irreplaceable opportunities for personal growth. Students gain 3 key qualities when they travel abroad:
The lives of high school students are hectic and often stressful. Between school assignments, extracurricular events and the college admissions process, many students feel overwhelmed. Traveling abroad to live in a community where none of these concerns are apparent is a healthy break. On trips that I’ve led, students adapt to their new environment after just a few days and are fully immersed in the communities where they live for the duration of the trip. They return home with a new perspective and a fresh start.
Students are forced to confront some uncomfortable situations while they are abroad and this pushes them towards a greater self-awareness. The transportation is slower, the food is different and shower water comes from a bucket instead of a tub! In a group setting, it’s important to stay positive and embrace all these new experiences. As a result, participants leave these experiences with more tolerance for trying situations and have honed their ability to manage expectations. Students learn to be more tolerant when plans don’t go exactly according to their expectations and they carry this quality home with them!
When I read applications at both Dartmouth and Penn Law, it became clear to me that one of the most important attributes students should demonstrate on their application is self-awareness. A student who clearly communicates who she is, what excites her and what her dreams are will excel in the college application process. Traveling abroad allows a student to explore a different side of her personality. For example, a student who struggles with time management during the school year may realize that he excels at an impromptu organization of a baseball game for local youth. This student can use his successes at quickly planning games and activities as an example of his particular strengths. Getting a student out of his environment allows him to really explore other facets of his personality.
These are just a few of the many positive qualities that students explore within themselves when they travel abroad. We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get students out of their regular environment. That’s where the magic happens.
Elizabeth is the Founder and President of Blue Bridge Project. BBP is the first international travel program to partner with local non-profits and offer post-trip guidance to help high school students apply their summer experience to their individual goals and future endeavors.
Elizabeth has worked in high school student travel for over 8 years and has led students on trips around the world. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College, where she majored in International Relations and Spanish, and Penn Law School where she pursued public interest law. Elizabeth was the first recipient of the Penn Public Interest Fellowship and used her funding to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities as an attorney at Disability Rights Advocates.
In her spare time, Elizabeth can be found on her yoga mat, experimenting in the kitchen, or romping with her Labradoodle Walter.