Teen Service Programs can be Rewarding Right Here at Home 

An annual rite for many teens—as much as learning how to drive or taking final exams—is a question kids ask each other this time of year: “What are you doing this summer?”

For many teenagers, a summer youth camp abroad is expected and encouraged, has even become de rigueur. The preponderance of opportunities from which to choose proves the point—from language immersion to improving math and science aptitudes to outdoor travel adventures to community service and cross-cultural immersion.

More than ever, high school and middle school youth have the means and curiosity to go abroad. Traveling to a foreign country and a different culture impacts young people positively, without question. The “Shock of the New” that is, in effect, a summer abroad, educates and inspires youth in visceral ways that the regular classroom simply cannot.

At the same time, it is just as true that there are experiences to be had in the U.S. that are as rewarding as any overseas. In our quest to be globally aware, we may err in believing that somewhere overseas lies the purest, most substantive fodder for growth, that a summer abroad is the doorway to igniting self-awareness, self-confidence, new perspectives, and deep learning.

There are subcultures in the U.S. that offer new perspectives and riveting knowledge as rewarding as anywhere overseas: Native American reservations; indigenous Alaskan villages; Southern Gullah communities; inner-city neighborhoods anywhere; remote, rural enclaves throughout the country.

In 1851 Horace Greeley wrote, “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country.” This sentence reverberated throughout America. The West was then a vast new and poorly understood territory for most Americans. The American West was a provocative “abroad” that existed inside America and in Americans’ imaginations.

Today, in the U.S. are undiscovered and poorly understood places where time-honored cultures and traditions survive, where the realities of a unique culture, historic traditions and everyday life influence and define people’s lives.

Teenagers with summers free and the means to choose where to go and what to do, might well consider a summer camp or program in the U.S.  It can be argued that spending intentional time in your own country offers important perspective and knowledge as penetrating for personal potential to be realized, as a summer abroad program.

VISIONS in The New York Times