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How to Count Your Summer Student Travel Towards a Degree!

Have you ever thought about taking the summer to travel?

Guest Author : Hannah Miller, Queens University, Ontario, Canada.

Have you ever thought about taking the summer to travel? Maybe “do” Europe, hitchhiking around with nothing but your boots, your backpack, and a couple of buddies? Or take a road trip across the States, sightseeing along the way? If you have, you’re not alone. International summer travel and Gap Year travel are growing ever more popular, particularly among the university crowd. Students are taking off every chance they can get, hoping to travel the world before the long slog towards graduation and the professional world pick up again in the fall.

But is it possible to combine the two? It’s become common to hear educators talk about travel as an important part of a well-rounded education. But how does a broke university student, not only make travel possible on a meager budget, but also use it to get closer to graduation and the future beyond?


 First and foremost, is it really worth it? We’ll have to work hard and spend some extra cash if we’re going to pull off a summer of international travel. So why go? The list of benefits related to traveling internationally is practically endless, especially for students. From personal experience, I’ve found the following to be both the most important and the most impactful:

•  Traveling internationally allows you to gain firsthand experience in your field as well as in general life knowledge.
•  Experiences abroad can influence the rest of your life in terms of career goals. You may discover passions you never knew you had.
•  Continuing your higher education overseas is a proven way to up your chances of landing that dream job. Employers are starting to look for international experience as we move into a more globalized society.
•  Travel will allow you to challenge yourself and learn from new experiences. You will discover new strengths and grow as an individual.
•  Expertise in cross-cultural and interpersonal communication learned on your adventures will come in handy when working with any multi-cultural team in the professional world.

 Seek out activities that fit your academic program.

The number one way to use your summer holiday to further your academic status is kind of a no-brainer: Be intentional.

•  Make a list of goals for yourself before you leave.
•  What are you hoping to get out of this trip?
•  What experiences are available to you now that will help you at school or at a future workplace?
•  Check online ahead of time for opportunities that will directly correlate to your major, and consider talking to your campus counselor about other opportunities he/she may know of.
•  Look for mailing lists through your department and sign up.

Set yourself up for success by doing your research. You may be surprised by what you find! As a Geography student through Queen’s University in Canada, I’ve found that my department keeps an eye out for unique international opportunities and sends them along to anyone who intentionally stays in the loop. Take the first step, and put yourself out there. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Teach English Abroad

Look into getting your TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification and spend your summer working with English language schools almost anywhere in the world. This opportunity can be especially applicable to English, teaching, linguistics, or international development students. The skills learned in these programs allow students to communicate across the language barrier and contract with international businesses. You’ll be paid for your time, travel the world, and beef up your resume nicely.

Farm in France

Ever heard of WWOOFing? World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms (WWOOF) connects travelers interested in spending a summer on a farm with organic farmers in need of a helping hand. There are WWOOF properties in over 90 countries around the world. Students interested in agriculture, environmentalism, or culinary arts should check it out, as well as anyone else who wants to travel on the cheap. In exchange for 4-6 hours of work, volunteers receive room and board and experience to add to their resume. (This is a great way to reduce the cost of your travels and gain that valuable resume experience.)

Volunteer Abroad

Many wildlife organizations, environmental programs, arts programs, and more are continually looking for volunteer help. Some will offer some kind of compensation, while others (more tourist program than true volunteer program) will actually require a donation. You’ll want to thoroughly research “voluntourism” before you go, and carefully seek out qualified organizations to work with. That said, working abroad with a trusted organization can be a great way to travel cheaply and give back to the location you’re visiting. Additionally, graduate admissions boards look very highly on any kind of volunteering or “real world” experience. Wondering where to start?  Omprakash is an organization dedicated to high standards in service learning and a great source of organizations looking for volunteers.

Study Internationally, Get Credits!

Many universities offer international summer exchange programs or internships. This is a great way to earn some credits while enjoying a summer overseas! The workload for these programs is generally about half what you’d do in a normal semester, giving you the time to explore your surroundings and learn about a new culture. Keep in mind that this method is going to be more expensive than your average backpacking trip, and acting as a student, or intern, means a little less freedom to cover a lot of ground. My advice for this kind of travel: consider it going deep, not wide. Spend the time to really get to know the area you’re in, and do day trips from there. You’ll have the summer of a lifetime, and you’ll receive credits towards your degree. It’s the best of both worlds!

Study a Foreign Language

No matter what your major is, this is a sure-fire way to get closer to graduation. Why study a language on campus when you can fully immerse yourself in it where it originated? I have a friend who decided to study Italian over the summer. She flew to Italy and combined a work-stay on a farm with local language lessons. Aside from the flights, it was fairly inexpensive, it was the experience of a lifetime, and she had an incredible time. At the end of the summer, she flew home and quickly tested through levels 1 and 2 of university level Italian. Presto, credits!

Upper year students may have their travel opportunity funded by their university.

Sounds too good to be true? For once, it’s not. This is a completely viable option, if you sell it right. While it’s very difficult for first and second year students to pull this off, upper year students at most universities have the (mostly unadvertised) option to come up with an incredible project directly related to their major, present it professionally to their department, and possibly get their entire trip paid for by the university. A few years ago, a friend of mine spent a few weeks traveling Guatemala on her university’s dime using this method. Run it by your uni advisor and check your school’s policies. For a little extra effort, you could travel internationally for free!

You could be working on a vineyard in Italy. Volunteering with howler monkeys in Borneo. Teaching English in a beautiful Japanese city. You could even be paid for your time! At the very least, you’ll be learning skills that will help you in the workforce, gaining credits that will get you closer to graduation, and building confidence in your ability to do incredible things. Feel like getting started now? Remember step one: start researching. The biggest adventures start with a simple dream. Where do you think you’ll end up? And… go!

Taken a trip that furthered your education somehow? Share in the comments below!

Guest Author:
Hannah Miller, a student at Queen’s University, in Ontario, Canada, majoring in Geography. She has traveled to all fifty states and 28 countries on six continents combining education and adventure. Her favourite bag, whether hopping trains in Europe or buses across the USA, in the jungles of Peru or the highlands of Guatemala is the Tortuga Air. Tortuga Backpacks produces gear for urban travel encouraging a life lived on your terms.

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