Assessing the American Trend of Teen Vacations Abroad without Parents

The air may be soft and supple, silky flowing into your lungs, it may be harsh and smoky. It may smell like sewage, it may smell like the freshest flowers you’ve ever smelled. The ground beneath your feet is not connected to any land you’ve ever walked, and the people around you all grew up with a different set of laws and rituals and practices from you and maybe anyone you’ve ever met. You are eighteen years old, fresh in the eyes of the world, the world fresh in your eyes. High school is finally over; everyone you grew up with, learned with, loved and hated is now beginning the next great journey of their lives: college, adulthood, entrance into society as a contributing member. In the eyes of the law, you are now an entity unto yourself, no longer belonging to an institution or to a set of adults who raised you.

For the last twelve or more years you’ve been in this cycle: school for ten months, vacation for two, and again. Every vacation for these twelve years you’ve spent alongside your parents, your extended family, your friend’s parents, or camp counselors. The day you graduated from high school the reality became: I have completed this, a project which took many hours, many tears, many laughs, and, sometimes it seemed, everything I had left in me. Now it is over. What now?

For a great many American students, senior summer is “the” summer for taking a big trip. For years preceding this two-month period, all the way through school, students talk about and plan this, which is both their final vacation as kids, and first as adults. Many wish to drive or even hitchhike cross-country. Many others dream of setting foot in foreign soil. Whether their compasses are set for France, Ireland, India, Australia, back to their roots or somewhere completely unfamiliar, the desire to experience another culture can be satisfied by nothing less than a full fledged adventure out in the practically endless expanses of civilization and, or wilderness on this planet.

So the idea is present, the reality is set in motion, and the problem for many of these teens becomes, “But what will my parents say? Can they keep me from this? I am an adult now, after all.” Many teens have the luxury of parents who wish for all the experiences available to happen to their children. Many do not. Parents concerned about the danger in the world, evils of man, natural disasters, and, of course, accidents, all of which happen out of their control, may try to keep their child from this experience.

Is it natural and necessary for parents to try and protect their offspring for as long as possible? Is it natural and necessary for parents to worry that their child may make a mistake, or that some harm may come to them? Of course. Is it also natural and necessary for a child, when grown and socially accepted as an adult, to make a change, to gain some insight, and become more worldly? I believe it is.

The next time you walk on the ground in bare feet, or swim in a natural spring, or visit a new place, meet a new person, hear a new song, read a new book, you think about this. Is this moment worth the troubles you’ve seen, the accidents you’ve had, the mistakes you’ve made? I think you’ll come to find that it is. Every person on this planet is searching for one thing: understanding; and the only way to gain understanding is to keep moving, keep changing, keep learning. These teens, these young adults, these future parents of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, are doing just that: moving, changing, and learning. With this on their minds and in their hearts for the rest of their lives, they will bring a brightness into this world, a piece of understanding which becomes a part of the whole of humanity’s understanding, which we are all searching for.