As you or your teen students near high school graduation, and therefore summer vacation once more, perhaps it's time to start thinking about pre-college programs. Let's broaden that scope, however, and say "learning vacations" which ready high school students or recent graduates for the competitive academic life of college. Though it may sound daunting, learning vacations are an excellent way to bridge that gap while having a blast.
Many of the best learning vacations for teens are in the top tourism centers in the United States. New York University has dozens of teen camps, summer programs on a variety of concentrations, as well as a number of fabulous pre-college programs and internships. Imagine going to New York City and interning with Central Park or the Bronx Zoo, or even the Natural History Museum! Take a pre-college program in the Garment District or with the Rhode Island School of Design, learn how to write about art at the Guggenheim, or spend all your time at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. Several of these programs are not limited to 11th or 12th grade students but can go as young as fifth grade.
New York City isn't the only place you can find excellent learning vacation opportunities. There's a variety of summer camp experiences that teens can sample all across the United States and beyond. First of all, if you have the opportunity to learn abroad, do it. Immersion camps and language programs overseas are an excellent way to learn about new cultures, meet new people, and gain a broader understanding of the world. However, if that isn't feasible, no worries. The U.S. is vast and varied with opportunities for everyone on any budget.
One such beauty of a program comes from the San Diego Zoo and their InternQuest program. While this is exclusively for high school juniors and seniors in the San Diego area, it gives you an idea of what you can find out there. InternQuest lets students interested in pursuing careers in zoology, biology, conservation, and other science related fields shadow and learn from trained professionals who care daily for the plants and animals at the San Diego Zoo. This is a seven-week internship experience or students can participate in the Virtual InternQuest.
Like I said earlier, if you don't live in the San Diego area, there are hundreds of summer camps around the country on a variety of topics. Colorado, Virginia, South Carolina, Texas, and pretty much every state has its own version of exciting, learning camps that only take a little digging to find.
But if you don't want to stay in a place for seven or eight weeks, there's an alternative. Have you ever thought about voluntourism? Recently gaining popularity across the globe, some of the top tourism centers are instituting volunteering programs in exchange for free or discounted lodging. Anyone can volunteer and the major plus side is that you get to help people, animals, and the planet while you enjoy vacation.
The Hawaiian islands are a huge supporter of voluntourism and offer up several opportunities for work from the Maui Nui Botanical Garden to the Leilani Farm Sanctuary and even the Pacific Whale Foundation. Some of the programs are only a few hours while others ask for a few days - it's very dependent on what type of work you agree to. You can pick up trash along the Maui coast, removing invasive plants from Haleakala National Park, or farm chores at O'o Farm among others. But Hawaii isn't the only destination to support voluntourism efforts. The continental U.S. has hundreds of opportunities in wildlife refuges, national parks, farms, or with organizations like Habitat for Humanity or the Red Cross.
Another option utilizes the help and support of family and friends. While this may sound cheesy, they are your biggest resource and although you can't list them on your college transcript or resume, they can help you learn. Go on a family vacation and put yourself or the teens in your group in charge of budgeting, scheduling, making plans and reservations, etc. to gain experience in the real world. The same goes for friend vacations and student based trips. Putting yourself out there is in itself an education and it teaches more than academics. Traveling opens the mind and when you do it successfully, which you will, it helps build confidence and self-assurance that you were able to handle unfamiliar territory. Traveling in itself is an absolutely fantastic avenue for learning but...if you want it listed on your resume, it's probably best if your learning vacation is certified.