6 Reasons Why Program Leaders Are a Vital Part of High School Summer Abroad

Every year, CIEE hires Program Leaders to lead participants on their Global Navigator high school summer abroad programs. While it’s easy to label Program Leaders as chaperones, the reality is they play a significant role in our participants’ learning! 

Program Leaders are mentors who accompany 10-12 of our teen participants throughout their entire program. To complement what participants learn in the classroom with their instructors, Program Leaders lead their participant cohort during community interactions, cultural activities, and excursions—enhancing the day-to-day learning experience. 

Read on to discover the six reasons Program Leaders are a core component of high school summer programs. 

1. Program Leaders Are Global Education Advocates

Though most of our Program Leaders are educators and/or have experience working with high school or middle school students, they can also be professionals in a variety of fields.  

Despite diverse backgrounds and professions, what they all have in common is that they are global education advocates (and love traveling!). They are interested in helping participants to make the most of their experience abroad.

As a fun, summer job for teachers and other professionals, it’s not surprising that approximately 40% of our Program Leaders repeat each year!  

High School Summer Abroad in Yucatan Program Leaders sit an discuss lessons

Where Are Program Leaders From? 

The majority of our Program Leaders are U.S.-based, which means they are working professionals in the U.S.  

We also hire locally-based Program Leaders, which means they are part of the community where participants live and learn. 

Locally-based Program Leaders are sometimes expats who have left the U.S. to live in a foreign country. 

"When I was a sophomore in high school, I participated in a summer abroad program in Osaka, Japan. My life was forever changed by the experience. I knew I had to show others how impactful studying abroad can be!” 

Brooke D., CIEE Global Navigator Program Leader 

2. Program Leaders Are Fully Trained in Our Program Curriculum 

CIEE high school summer abroad programs are designed with a proprietary, localized academic curriculum that aligns with U.S. high school learning standards. 

Before summer starts, Program Leaders are trained in our program curriculum! 

Once program starts, they actively help participants “connect” what they learn in the classroom with what they experience outside of class, reinforcing the day’s lessons in real-world contexts (for example, while riding public transit, ordering food at restaurants, or exploring a new area of the city).  

Curious about our program curriculum? Take a look at our Language & Culture curriculum sampler

High School Summer Abroad Program Leaders leading students to a field work activity

3. Program Leaders Support the Target Language Pledge 

Our Language & Culture programs are our most popular choice of programs. In these programs, participants experience great gains in a world language, often going up 1 whole language proficiency level in just weeks! 

Since 24/7 language immersion for our participants is the primary goal, participants sign a Global Navigator Language Pledge at the beginning of their program.  

This language pledge has them promise to only speak in the target language during their program (unless there is an emergency).  

Program Leaders are fluent or native in the target language and make sure participants remain committed to this pledge. 

“There is nothing like an immersion experience to challenge yourself linguistically, culturally, and personally. While difficult and confusing moments are to be expected, they have only made me more adaptable, resilient, humble, and curious about the world.” 

—Julie G., CIEE Global Navigator Program Leader 

High School Summer Abroad Cape Town Students and Program Leader at Table Mountain

4. Program Leaders Counsel Participants on Homesickness and Bridge Cultural Gaps 

As participants immerse themselves in a new setting, they may find it very challenging to be away from home in a place where everything is new and different.  

Our Program Leaders become their guides through the new emotions they experience and help to set expectations!  

They offer support through natural reactions like homesickness and culture shock, providing coping strategies, cultivating a sense of camaraderie among participants, and offering insights into local cultural traditions to better appreciate them.  

Program Leaders encourage participants to understand that they are all experiencing the same emotions together and shouldn’t feel alone. 

“My own experiences abroad still continue to shape who I am as a person. While the initial leap might seem daunting, participants will grow exponentially from this journey.” 

—Keira F., CIEE Global Navigator Program Leader 

High school summer abroad students at the Templars Convent in Tomar

5. Program Leaders Facilitate Thoughtful Discussion and Reflection 

By establishing trust with their participant cohort, Program Leaders create a supportive environment so that participants can openly express themselves. 

Every day, they facilitate activities that promote introspection and time to analyze their academic and cultural learnings, their connections with their peers, their gains, and their setbacks. 

The skills gained through reflection empower participants to become more self-aware and it promotes their personal growth on program. 

High School Summer Abroad in Dominican Republic Program Leaders at a daytrip

6. Program Leaders Help Participants Stay Safe and Have Fun! 

Safety is a collaborative effort, and on program, participants will find themselves surrounded by an exceptional support system! 

This support system is made up of:  

  • CIEE center staff 
  • Instructors 
  • Global Navigator peers 
  • A host family (if their program includes a homestay component) 
  • Program Leaders 

Program Leaders are available to participants 24/7 and help maintain safety protocols. On some programs, Program Leaders even live in the same housing as the participants to offer adult supervision and support for the entire group. 

The comprehensive safety measures that Program Leaders help enforce make it much easier for participants to enjoy themselves during cultural activities, workshops, and excursions.  

Ultimately, our high school summer abroad programs offer a fun learning experience, and by putting safety first, Program Leaders ensure participants have the best time of their lives. 

“CIEE gives high school students the chance to experience another country’s culture with great support through Program Leaders, on-site CIEE staff, and instructors. Students can learn and experience travel with independence but also great resources.” 

—Megan H., CIEE Global Navigator Program Leader 

High School Summer Abroad Madrid program leader and high school students

Why Should High School Students Study Abroad? 

CIEE Global Navigator high school summer abroad programs are an opportunity for high school students to gain real-world skills in a language or a topic. To learn more about the skills participants gain on program, check out our program outcomes.  

Enrolled in programs that are 3- to 8-weeks long, participants meet likeminded teens from all over the U.S. while experiencing a new culture—becoming more confident, responsible, and adaptable along the way. 

Students can apply to a high school summer abroad program throughout the fall, winter, and spring.