Sending Alex Abroad: Important Questions to Ask Program Providers

High School Study Abroad Summer Programs in Salamanca, Spain - Plaza Mayor

The group celebrates the Fourth of July in Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor

In this series, Aspire by API’s very own Jill Denton writes about preparing for this summer’s Salamanca program from her unique perspective as a mom.

Once Alex and I reviewed program websites, we narrowed down the program options to two or three.  Honestly this was more my research than Alex’s.  Like many high schoolers today, Alex was very involved in academics and extracurriculars and she was not able to dedicate time towards this.

I should remind you that as thorough as I was in investigating all programs, I was naturally inclined to go with one of the programs Aspire by API offers (I work at this organization and no, it’s by no means free and I get a very small employee discount, I still paid approximately $6,000 all inclusively for a 4-week summer program). That being said, my goal of sharing this information with other like-minded parents is to give you an objective framework for deciding on the right program with your teen. Also, my goal is to make you an informed parent as far as the questions which should be asked about any program.  As much as I would like your teen to go on an Aspire by API program, I realize that teens and teen goals vary and these programs may not be the right match.

Once the program options are narrowed down to two or three, it’s time to pick up the phone and begin to ask the program provider questions such as these:

  • How many other teens are going on the same program my teen is interested in? Are all the teens on the program staying for the same length of time, attending the same school, living in the same dorm, going on the same excursions?
  • Who is leading the group? Do they speak the foreign country’s language? Is there at least one local who works full time for the organization who will be in the country at the time of the trip who will be available in case of emergencies such as illness, etc.?
  • What is the age range of teens are going on the program?  (I feel strongly that 14-15 year olds should be strongly segregated from graduating seniors and 18 year olds – preferably the two shouldn’t be in the same program)
  • Will someone be on the same flight abroad as my teen, and/or will they be meeting my teen upon arrival at the airport?
  • Can I talk with the person leading the group and ask them a few questions about their goals for the group?
  • What happens if my teen gets ill? What kind of emergency plans are in place? Is there a written emergency manual that group leaders have or are trained on?
  • Will my teen be walking alone to and from their residence? Exactly when and how often will my teen have complete free time in which they are allowed to walk around town or travel on their own or with just teens and no adult?
  • What are the living choices (dorm or family living or some of each)? (I feel strongly that teens on language and culture immersion programs should live with host families rather than live in a dorm-type environment).  If it is a dorm-type environment, will girls and boys be living on the same floor, or allowed to go into each other’s rooms? If it is a dorm-type environment, will there be students from other programs living there as well? Will there be any college age or adult students also living in the same dorm-like environment?
  • Is there a daily itinerary available for the upcoming trip?
  • Are all daily afternoon and activities and weekend excursions mandatory? What exceptions are made to students attending any of the activities and excursions? Will I be notified if my teen does not attend one of the activities or excursions?
  • How do you screen your host families?  Can I make special requests regarding my child’s host family?
  • Does the program come with insurance? Exactly what does the insurance cover/not cover?
  • What if my teen has to withdraw close to the program start date due to an emergency at home? Will we get any of our money back?
  • What is the program’s stated policy regarding drugs and alcohol, opposite sexes going into dorm rooms, rated r movies, topless beaches, nightclubs, curfews, going outside alone, or sexual contact?  What is your procedure – do you warn the student first, and call his/her parent(s)?  Or what do you do if the student breaks the rules the first time, second time, third time?
  • How do you ensure that policies are enforced (in dorms for instance, do you have periodic/sporadic checks during the middle of the night to ensure polices are abided by, are there video cameras at the exits)?
  • Will I be notified if my student skips a day of school?
  • Will I be notified if my student breaks any of the program rules? Will I be notified if my child becomes injured or ill (even with a cold)?



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