Our focus at Ciao Bambino is helping families plan leisure vacations together, but our larger brand mission is about enabling kids of all ages to grow and learn through travel. We are interested in understanding more about companies like The Experiment in International Living, who provide opportunities for teenagers to engage in meaningful immersion experiences around the world.
Maya Guzdar, age 15, is one of the lucky participants in this program and is heading to the Ethnic Minorities and Contemporary Culture Program in China this summer. Maya is one of those incredibly bright kids who jumps on every opportunity to be engaged in school, her community and life in general. I couldn’t resist inviting Maya to write a series for us about her experience with Experiment in International Living.
There are quite a few different teen-focused programs out there … this first article covers why Maya chose The Experiment in International Living for her adventure abroad this summer. Here’s what she wrote:
Deciding to Travel Abroad with The Experiment in International Living
I’ve always thought of myself as an adventurer and explorer, and I’m quick to tell people how much I enjoy traveling to new places and trying new things. But it wasn’t until recently that I began to realize that there is a whole other type of traveling out there.
Last Thanksgiving, my family vacationed in Tulum, Mexico for my grandparents’ 80th birthday celebration. I had heard that Tulum was a beautiful town, but there was no way I could know because my family was cloistered away in a villa inside of a resort. We were living inside a bubble. About halfway through our trip, I managed to escape our bubble when my mom and I tagged along with our chef, Rolando, on his trip to the local supermarket, a low-lying wooden building that boasted aisles of boxes laden with mangoes, coconuts and tropical fruits. As we shopped, kids rode by barefoot on rickety bikes and weathered cars rumbled slowly down the dirt road.
It was in that moment, standing amid the guavas and mangos, swatting away flies and watching my mom make conversation with the clerk, that I understood that there are different ways to see the world. I loved what I was experiencing, as it felt unpredictable and adventurous. I wanted more than ever to travel and become immersed in a different culture. I wanted to learn about other ways of life and then try living them. I wanted to do some authentic traveling of my own.
Seeking Deep Cultural Connections
But the question remained: how? How does one go about becoming immersed? I knew that I wanted to go abroad with an organization, but some quick research revealed that there were hundreds of programs out there. To help with my decision, I first thought about what I wanted out of the experience. I knew I wanted to experience a culture deeply, and I had been studying Mandarin for three years, so I knew I wanted to go to China and be immersed in the language. But most of all, I wanted a program that could forge connections — a program that could give me a solid foundation to connect with people and with the unknown.
A few months later I attended an informational meeting for The Experiment in International Living, a program I had discovered via Google search. The woman presenting, Ashley Langdon, seemed worldly and wise, and crafted a dynamic and engaging presentation. The Experiment was aware of the big wide world, and was making it available to me.
Living with Local Families
Unlike other programs, The Experiment focuses specifically on a homestay experience, where students actually live with a local family rather than stay in a hotel or hostel. Each of the programs has a thematic focus, zeroing in on a specific aspect of the country to connect with: environment, peace and politics, language, culture, arts and social change, leadership and human rights. The groups of students are small, ranging from 10 to 15, and The Experiment is careful to choose students from all across America and from all walks of life.
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Decades of Experience
I learned that The Experiment has decades of experience — the company has been around for more than 80 years and is extremely well-established, including in China. And unlike many other organizations, it offers financial aid to 70 percent of its participants.
My bags are packed and I’m leaving today for my adventure. I can’t wait to share my discoveries on Ciao Bambino!
The Experiment in International Living provides summer abroad programs for high school students who want to connect deeply and engage meaningfully with the richness and complexities of another country. Participants explore the host country through hands-on experiences in local communities and through the lens of a specific theme. Programs are designed to equip participants not only with essential cultural skills, college prep skills and, in many cases, language skills, but also with a deeper awareness of and sensitivity to critical global issues shaping the diverse communities and regions we visit. Each year, hundreds of Experimenters come away from their summer abroad with invaluable new skills, connections, awareness and knowledge that help them to thrive — and lead — in diverse, intercultural environments.
The Experiment is a program of World Learning, a global nonprofit working in more than 60 countries to empower people, communities and institutions to create a more peaceful and just world.
Editor’s Note: Ciao Bambino was compensated to write and publish this article. As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed on Ciao Bambino are our own. Photos by Maya Guzdar except where noted.