High school is a trying time for many people. It’s full of social challenges—fitting in, finding yourself, handling bullies, and exploring young love. On top of navigating a complex social life (even more complex and non-stop now that kids have cell phones!) many kids play sports or are active in clubs. They participate in student government or act in school plays. Of course, through all of this they are constantly challenged academically. After a long day at school, they have homework. They have dinner with their families, continuing to develop social skills and coping mechanisms on all fronts. High school kids have very full lives. It’s an easy time to put on blinders—to get so immersed in the jam-packed day-to-day that you forget about the larger world. And yet, teenagehood is perhaps the most perfect time to break out of your routine, to be exposed to bright new places, new people, and new cultures. It’s a time of such rapid interpersonal growth that every experience becomes formative.
Global Leadership Adventures is a volunteer/community service organization that focuses on high school kids, ages 14-18. Kids from all over the world are eligible. Headquartered in the United States, GLA has hosted hundreds of students from over 50 countries. Clearly, they understand the unique challenges of serving this demographic. They offer a 6:1 student to staff ratio with a staff comprised of teachers and mentors from elite schools across the world. The students are closely supervised but they are also challenged to adapt to their new environments. They work on community projects; learn via cultural workshops, seminars, and speakers; and explore historic and local sites. The programs are all focused on safety, service learning, and cultural immersion. And, in many cases, students can get high school or college credit for participation.
The mission of GLA is to create tomorrow’s leaders by inspiring bright, young students through experience. They offer a variety of programs in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Students can choose a program based on location or based on the program’s focus (i.e. conservation, community service, ecology, international relations, leadership, and sustainability, to name a few). Past volunteers have gone on to continue their service work, inspired by their experiences with GLA.
I think this age group is underserved in the volunteering universe. I understand why: it requires a lot of experience with kids, the right staff, great organization, and many contingency plans if things go awry. The only downside I see here is the cost. They don’t explicitly state their tuition rates on the website and I expect, given the quality of the programs, that they are quite high. Also, while the tuition does cover meals, lodging, medical insurance, entrance fees, classes, speakers, workshops and excursions, it doesn’t cover airfare. Still, for many parents, giving their children such an outstanding international experience will be well worth the cost.