5 Lessons in Giving Back We’ve Learned Running Summer Service Programs Abroad

Here at ARCC we offer unique and collaborative summer service programs abroad for high school students. These range from improving access to clean water for Cambodian villagers by building bio-sand water filters to bringing solar light to homes in Tanzania. No matter the project, the goal is common: to form connections between our students and local communities, working together to create long-lasting change and maximize a positive impact.

With 35 years of summer service programs abroad under our belt, these are a few lessons we’ve learned along the way:

1. Language is more than just words.

Before our programs start, students are often nervous about their limited (or lacking) language ability. We’ve learned that sometimes actions bring people together more than words, and service is the perfect way to create a lasting bond. Finding common ground through communication is always possible, and studies have repeatedly shown that 93% of communication is actually non-verbal!1

2. Dirt is your friend.

Yes you read that right. We love dirt! The world we live in can often feel so sanitized that it’s easy to forget sometimes about the benefits of playing outdoors and getting a little dirty. The more you dive into your summer service project – whether it is building a suspension footbridge in Costa Rica or feeding a rescued elephant lunch in the jungles of Thailand, the more pride you’ll feel in really taking advantage of the ARCC experience. Outdoor play has been shown to notably improve mental health issues ranging from anxiety and depression to hyperactivity, along with improving overall physical health and even encouraging creativity.2 Thanks, dirt!

3. It’s the journey, not the destination.

You’ve probably heard this one before, but service is all about the process. It’s no different when you are a student participating in an ARCC summer service program abroad. The joy of it comes from seeing something be built from square one, and the memories you make along the way. A clean cement floor in the highlands of Ecuador takes on a new meaning when you are a part of building it and you know that you’ve helped to transform it from the the mud floor it once was. Achieving an end result is always our goal, but the significance of a project comes from seeing it’s evolution step-by-step.

4. We can accomplish more together than we can apart.

High school is often focused on the individual – achieving high grades, scoring the best SAT possible, or being accepted into the best colleges you’ve applied to. Working in a small community helps our groups get back to the basics of what people can accomplish when they come together with a plan, necessary materials and a common purpose.

5. The world is small.

Despite the distance that divides us around the world, travel teaches us that friendships can be formed across continents and service bridges us together in a way that we did not often realize was possible before embarking on our journey. Summer service programs like ours connect our students with communities in a unique way, whether it be through laughter, practicing English, or sharing a meal together that we’ve harvested in Peru at the end of a tiring day. The central lesson we leave with is that there is always something that can bring people together to create long-lasting change and uplifting memories.


ARCC Programs has offered Summer Service Programs Abroad for over 30 years. With travel programs for teens on six continents, there is something for everyone. Find a summer program on our website or request a catalog today.