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By Erik Martinez
Curie

Teens often want to study abroad but they’re too scared to leave home. But with endless possibilities, your home for the next six months could be in Egypt, China, Brazil, Spain or just about anywhere in the world.

Selina Ruhnke, a German exchange student studying at Rock Falls Township for a year, said that stepping outside of your comfort zone helps with independence. “You … gain confidence because you do everything on your own,” she said.

If homesickness is holding you back, Ruhnke said that being a part of a host family abroad can be a good substitute to your own family back home. “Studying abroad also creates friendships across the world and you can keep in touch via the Internet or as pen pals,” she said.

According to NAFSA, a nonprofit association dedicated to international education, only slightly more than 1 percent of American high schoolers study abroad each year. With the Study Abroad Act, an initiative that encourages students to participate in study abroad programs, NAFSA hopes to send at least a million teens abroad each year within the next 10 years.

But studying abroad is not just about going to a high school in another country; it also allows you to immerse yourself in a new culture.

Miguel Mendez, a senior at Roycemore in Evanston who studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador, this summer, said that he learned a lot about cultural differences. “Here in the U.S., we worry about when the next iPod is coming out, and over there people worry about food,” he said. “It truly was an eye-opening experience.”

But how do you prepare to live in another country? Ruhnke, who is traveling with Rotary International, said that her group hosted an orientation to familiarize her with the program.

Mendez has different advice, though. “You also have to prepare mentally,” he said. “You have to approach everything with an open mind when you get there to experience it to the fullest.”

To Sharon Yu, a history teacher at Curie, talking to your parents about the process and getting them involved should be the first step. “Parents will become a support system … so make sure you let them know ahead of time,” she said. “Don’t give them breaking news the day before that you’re going to Africa.”

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About The Mash

The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free each Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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