Back to School and the top 5 reasons why schools are including international travel programs

Yesterday I saw the first leaves of autumn shimmering a golden reddish hue in the afternoon light.  The smell of the dry, hot concrete and the feel of the cool breeze of September air gave me the familiar thrill of “back to school.”  Although I haven’t gone “back to school” for many years, the excitement of this time of year always takes over my senses. Students are buying new notebooks, colorful pens and markers, while teachers are busy with new curricula.

In the past few years, many schools have been working hard to include an international travel component for their students.  Not only universities, but high schools and middle schools understand the importance of a global travel program. Why are schools pushing parents to spend a bit extra for their children to travel internationally?  Here are the top 5 reasons according to research done by NAFSA, Association of International Educators. 

1. Improves GPA

Studies have shown that students who have studied abroad have a higher GPA than those who have stayed on campus.  This impact is even more pronounced with minority or at risk student population

2. Improves Language Learning

“ According to the Pew Research Center only 25 percent of American adults can speak a language other than English and only 7 percent of those adults learned that language in school rather than in their childhood homes. Compared to the 90% of European high school students who are learning English, U.S. students are woefully underprepared to meaningfully interact with colleagues and competitors from around the world. Studies have shown that students who study abroad made greater gains in language proficiency than students who studied the same language domestically.”

3.Fosters Intercultural Understanding and Provides a Global Context

“Studying abroad is a unique and transformational learning experience. Students who have studied abroad are better able to work with people from other countries, understand the complexity of global issues, and have greater intercultural learning. One study found that students returned from their study abroad experiences more tolerant and less fearful of other countries, but with a greater sense of positive feelings about their home—a phenomenon they called “enlightened nationalism.””

4. Increases University Acceptance Rates,  Employability, and Career Skills

Many universities value a global experience on applications and although it is hard for any study to definitively state that one experience leads to a better job or higher income, multiple surveys have shown that the skills gained while studying abroad are the same skills that employers value and that employers recognize the importance of cross-cultural understanding in an increasingly global economic environment.

5. In Universities, studying abroad improves completion, retention, and transfer rates

“Far from the fears that studying abroad will delay a student’s graduation, multiple large-scale studies have found that students who study abroad, especially underrepresented or “at-risk” students, are more likely to complete their degrees or certificate programs than students who did not study abroad. Community college students were more likely to transfer to a 4-year institution than students who did not study abroad. First and second year retention rates for those students who study abroad are also considerably higher.”

An Update from the Frontlines

After my article “Battle of la Carolina” was posted, I was really excited and motivated by the response that we got from readers.  I even shared the article with one of my male Ecuadorian soccer friends who I met while playing in la Carolina. In response, he wrote me a short text that made my heart swell to the point of exploding that said: “Alex, I would rather play soccer with you than any man.”  And before you even think about raining on my parade, NO….it’s not like “that”. We are straight up talking about the enjoyability of playing soccer and companionship on the field here–nothing more.  

That response, combined with now being chosen before my male counterparts whenever teams are being chosen had me walking pretty tall…until last week.  Last week I came the closest I ever have to inciting physical violence. Here’s what happened….

Having recently returned from a 6 week visit to the States, I was eager to return to “la cancha” (the field).  Despite being woefully unprepared for physical exertion at high altitude, I ventured to my battlefield (soccer fields in la Carolina park) last week to play with a group of university professors who play on Thursday nights.  The guys were all excited to have me back, and I was feeling good about my warm welcome “home” and my companions’ excitement to have me back on the field. 

 About halfway through our first hour of play, this random guy wearing jeans and a red sweatshirt sauntered onto the field.  He entered the field on the far end from me, and I could see him talking to a couple of my companions, or talking at them rather, and gesticulating in an argumentative manner.  Play stopped and after a minute or so, I became impatient and walked toward the intruder. All the guys who play soccer with me call me “la princesa” –the princess– because they have all learned the very important lesson that I am the Boss.  So since this guy was holding up my game, I started to cross the field to lay down the law and tell him to beat it.  

When I got within hearing range, I stopped dead in my tracks.  At first I thought that I was misunderstanding the words I heard–he couldn’t have been saying what I thought he was saying.  I took a few more steps to listen better–heart hammering now. By the time I arrived alongside my companions who had been arguing with the man, the intruder had started to cross the field and walk away, but not before looking back at me, making eye contact, and spitting on the ground in my direction.  That was when I knew my ears hadn’t betrayed me, that I hadn’t made an error in translation–he really had said what I thought I had heard.  

He had come onto our field and stopped our game to say that I had to leave.  He said that no women were allowed to play and demanded that I exit the field immediately.  He remained on the field arguing with my friends, stating that he would not leave until I was off the field because it is “against the rules” that women play–that it is “prohibited”.  He was adamant–hence why it took so long to get him to leave. When it finally hit me that I really was hearing him correctly, that it wasn’t a misunderstanding, he was already walking off the other side of the field.  I tasted blood in my mouth and moved to go after him. It was a primal rage. I never understood why people fight–it always seemed so barbaric and immature to me, but in that moment, that was my instinct. Henry, my friend who had led the argument against the intruder, caught me as I moved toward the man and spoke calmly to me to let it go.  I didn’t need to say anything–he knew what I was thinking, even if he couldn’t imagine the depth and heat of what I was feeling. My other friends had their eyes on me and almost seemed to be holding their breath, waiting to see what would happen.  

Henry didn’t actually have to physically restrain me–it was more of an avuncular embrace meant to soothe; and I didn’t really try to pursue the man, it was just a flash of instinct.  Within a second (or maybe 2), my logic and rationale kicked in, overpowering that initial primal surge of emotion. I remembered who I am, what my values are (violence not being one of them), and the wise words of my bestie, Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.”  I was better than the brawling men I so often rolled my eyes at who felt the need to physically prove their masculinity and physical dominance. No, that wasn’t, isn’t, me. I realized that my best defence and most powerful weapon was to keep playing–day after day after day; to continue to stake my claim on the field.  

So the game restarted, I promptly scored 2 goals in quick succession, and I came back the next night to play again, and the night after that–daring anyone to try to tell me again that it’s not my place.  

Just writing this got my hackles up again, anger pounding through my veins.  So I have to remind myself to go back and reread the beginning of this post and remember that, slowly but surely, I am indeed winning both battles and respect in my ongoing war on machismo.  La Princesa de la cancha triunfarà.

Only Love

Posted on January 24, 2019by thelinkschool

by Emily Oubre , The Link School

It feels fitting and timely that Colombia seems to perfectly embody MLK’s quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Over and over, I have seen examples of Colombians who – after years of hatred and darkness – have chosen to respond with light and love.

Rafa is the perfect example.

Rafa was one of those guys who chuckled when he greeted you. He said, “Hola, Emily” with a gleeful amusement that made me feel like just my presence brought him excitement. I wasn’t sure what it was about my “Buenos dias” or my “Hola, Rafa” that made him laugh every time—maybe my smile looked funny—but it sure made me happy to greet him.

In fact, Rafa chuckled just about every minute. His quickness to laugh made it seem like he had never had a care in the world. He was the one guide who did not speak any English, but he looked at everyone and smiled, anyway. He just seemed to be daring you to give him a reason to smile. Actually, he seemed to just know you would. I remember when we got stopped and searched by the police, he was just looking at each of us the whole time, smiling, almost laughing – wanting us to know it was okay and also waiting for us to make him laugh. He had a knack for making light of any situation.


He also was the best climber of them all. One night, I was sitting outside our hotel, recovering from a rough bus ride through the mountain roads, and Rafa came over and sat next to me with that playful sparkle in his eye and crooked smile. He didn’t say anything or expect anything from me. He was just happy to smile and sit next to me. I knew he had to have a story, as he was probably close to my age, which meant he lived through the violent years in Colombia, and I knew this was my chance.

I asked him how he found climbing. He chuckled, paused, and told me it was a good question. For the next 20 minutes, I sat in awe, as he told me how climbing had transformed his life.

He told me he used to work for the paramilitary, hiding and transporting drugs and weapons. He shared a few details of the risky work he did, all within blocks of where we were sitting. He knew he could be killed at any second, so his life did not seem to be of much value. In his free time, he just partied and numbed himself. He didn’t feel much worth.

Then, a friend took him climbing. As he was climbing, he was scared, realizing that only that rope was keeping him alive. This fear for his life seemed to open him up to the idea that he did, in fact, value his life. He was also part of a healthy community, where every person truly mattered – not for their ability to deceive or kill or conform to what was being asked, but for what they had to offer, just as they were. Gradually, he started associating less and less with the para-militarists and more and more with his climbing friends. The problem was that the para-militarists threatened to kill him if he left because he knew too much.

Still, the people in that group saw how much climbing meant to him and started encouraging him to go more and more. Eventually, they decided they trusted him, and he was able to leave the group with their blessing. As he started climbing more, he said, he started thinking more about what his grandparents had taught him about valuing the land, building houses, and building community.


Now, he has built and opened his own “refugio” – a little hostel for climbers—where he meets interesting people from all over the world. He has biked from Bogota to Quito, he built his own house where he grows coffee, and he dreams of visiting Yosemite. He smiles and laughs every minute of every day – genuine smiles and laughter – not induced by mind-altering drugs.

Climbing saved his life.

It has been weeks since I met Rafa, but my mind keeps going back to him. I don’t think this is an uncommon story, but it meant a lot to me that he was willing to share it with me after knowing me for just a couple of hours.

His willingness to be vulnerable and trust me with his story is something I will never forget. In fact, it had an impact the very next day, when we went climbing. Lately, I have felt extremely vulnerable with climbing, since I have one leg that is not really working. I have not been willing to climb much at all, knowing I would inconvenience others by taking a long time, I would not look very good, and I would be at risk of getting hurt more. But when we were climbing the next day, Rafa was belaying, and he looked over and offered to belay me. In the past, I would have contemplated the offer for 10 minutes before saying, “No thanks.” Before I knew it, though, when Rafa offered, I had said yes and was tying in to his rope. I realized that his willingness to be vulnerable with me the night before had made me so much more open with climbing that day. This is the power of vulnerability. If he could share that story, I could look like a fool at the crag. I struggled through the climb, with Rafa shouting carefree encouragement the whole time. When I got back down, I thanked him and told him he had a lot of patience. He laughed, like he always did, and said if he didn’t love it, he wouldn’t be there.

After everything he had experienced, having to belay a little longer really probably was no big deal.


I am so grateful for this lesson in vulnerability. I have spent most of my life trying (and of course failing miserably) to appear perfect. I have avoided vulnerability and been hesitant to show my real self or true, messy insides. Being willing to climb with Rafa was a very minor thing, but for me, it represented a big change. I have seen the power of vulnerability – the way it connects people, opens people up, puts them at ease, makes them okay with their own imperfections. Vulnerability makes our interactions less calculated. It builds community by showing trust. It allows us all to be seen and heard, just for who we are. It seems to me, now, that the rewards of vulnerability far outweigh the risks.

Rafa seemed so free, and he was so lovable and easy to be around. I realized that if he could be so open, I, too, could let go of being stifled by the image I’m trying to present and just be me. Next time I’m trying to hide my mistakes or my shortcomings, I will remember how grateful I was that Rafa shared his so openly and joyfully.

I will remember how he responded to darkness with light; how he responded to hatred with love; how he allowed himself to be softened and opened by hardship, rather than hardened and closed off.

Thank you, Rafa.

A Letter Home from Ecuador

Tsachila friends playing music

To mom from Catcher

Hi mother, it’s Catcher.  I knew you wanted me to call you and say I love you but what I have to say is I’m having the time of my life!

The Tsachila community is most definitely a culture shock.  The people here are really nice and they respect our own beliefs. They take really good care of us. The food is traditional but also non-traditional. A mix of both. We built houses (1 bathroom). It’s no done yet but we are making progress.

The leader of the Tsachila community (Alfonso) is super nice and caring. He told us many stories of his community and how it started. It was very inspirational. I have learned to embrace the fun and not watch my watch. The hard work will be over soon enough.

Madonna’s Medellin

Song Medellin by Madonna

Madonna’s recent song “Medellin” is not so far off from the truth with videos of horse riding.  Medellin, Colombia’s 2nd largest city after the capital of Bogota is in the department of Antioquia which is well known for the Paso Fino horse.  After living here for one year, I continually find myself surprised when we are driving to a near-by town and a very well dressed Colombian cowboy passes us by on a horse that looks as if it is dancing in place. 

These famous Colombian horses are the pride and joy of many ranch owners in Antioquia, Colombia.   According to Equisearch, an online magazine for people who love horses, these horses made their way to Latin America from Europe on Columbus’ ship.  Several breads evolved and mated in Latin America to become different breeds of horses that have incredible stamina, chrisma and elegance and a smooth gait.  These horses are today known as “Paso Fino”.  

When my Colombian boyfriend’s aunt told me about the recent Madonna song, I promptly watched the video and felt as if I were in the country-side of Antioquia.  The fact that she named the song, “Medellin”, a very bustling city in the valley of the great Andean mountains, perplexed me. The video did not show Medellin nor did the lyrics elude to the city.  However, the countryside of the horses did feel very Anitioquia-like.  

To Madonna I say, please come join us in Antioquia and experience the authentic life of these people.  She seems to be interested in Medellin, and for good reason.

Battle of the Carolina

This is the story of a war…of one woman’s war against sexism and machismo culture.  The woman is me; the battlefield: Carolina Park, Quito Ecuador.

I cross the street from my apartment and make the 10 minute trek to the North East corner of “La Carolina”, Quito’s Central Park, almost every day.  My mission: play soccer. I am happy to play soccer with anyone, anytime, anywhere, and there is no better place to get in on a casual game of pick up soccer than one of the dozens of fields in La Carolina.  Correction: there is no better place to get in on a casual game of pick up soccer than one of the dozens of fields in La Carolina….if you are a man.  

Now, I have been playing soccer since I could walk, and can reasonably claim to have been good at the sport when I was in my prime.  Granted, my prime was about 15 years ago; however, I am still able to hold my own on the field and am by no means the “weakest link” on any team.  Thank you to Title IX and having awesome, supportive, and active parents.  

Ecuador, like all of latin America and most of the developing world, does not have Title IX.  Instead we have a long history of “machismo” culture where it is reinforced throughout society that men are strong and women are pretty.  That is, of course, a generalization, and there are exceptions–but this is a noticeable cultural difference between the United States, where we still have a LONG way to go, but at least make an effort to promote gender equality, and here in Ecuador.  Thus, my personal war.  

This is how it goes.  Every day around 4pm I start mentally preparing myself up to do battle.  I turn on some pump up music–usually including some Beyonce (“Who run the world?  GIRLS!”), fill up my water bottle, lace up my shoes, grab my ball and head to the battlefield.  I arrive at the soccer portion of the park to find 20 fields (not full size) full of men playing the world’s greatest game.   I walk by each field and count how many players they have. If they have an odd number–perfect, that’s my in, as they should obviously welcome the arrival of a single player to even out their teams….right?  

Wrong.  I can’t tell you how many times I have been waiting to jump into a game when the players have called out to the spectators “we need one more player!  Anyone want to join?”, and when I immediately jump up to volunteer flat out and to my face say “no, not you.”, and then continue calling out for players.  Rage. I feel rage–there is no other word for it. Just writing this I have steam starting to billow from my ears.  

I can’t force them to play with me and I’m not about to pick a fight with a dozen grown men, so I move on–their loss.  There are, of course, some kind and reasonable men in this country who will allow me to join their teams. When they do, I am proud to report, they are unanimously surprised by my ability to play and glad that they let me on their team.  That is when I win–usually the game I’m playing in, but also a battle. When I go to play, get on a field, and prove myself and my sex worthy. On nights that this happens I always end up exchanging contact information and have invitations to play again.  #winning.  

On nights that no one lets me on a team, I look for an open field, which are not easy to come by, and I juggle my soccer ball (with my feet–duh).  I juggle and shoot and work on my footwork. Sometimes this results in some guys taking notice and we end up with enough people to start a game. Another win.  Sometimes, I spend 3 hours in the park and no one wants to play with me. Sometimes I am rejected by 30 teams in one night. Rejection sucks, and I go home feeling defeated and very very angry.  

My partner, A, hears a lot about my nightly warfare.  He usually listens to my angry tirades with a slight rolling of his eyes and not much commentary.  One night, I convinced A to go to the fields with me to play. He hates soccer, but agreed for my sake.  Most of the fields were full, but there was one group trying to get enough players to start a game. I approached the field and asked if they needed players, tall, muscular A at my side.  They said yes, so A and I walked onto the field. That’s when they said, “no, not you, just him”. My inner Mount Doom of Fury started erupting immediately, but A stepped in smoothly and said, “no, both of us.  She’s the soccer player, I’m just along for company.”. The guys insisted that they only wanted A, and I was not welcome. A persisted and eventually I was allowed to play. 

I scored 2 goals that night–not anything to write home about, but the immense satisfaction I get when I hear the men that refused to play with a girl shout at each other “Hey, mark the girl, she knows how to play!” is what keeps me coming back night after night, despite the rejection, fury, and frustration.  And each night I go to the park, there’s one more guy that recognizes me, one more that will vouch for me, and one more opportunity to prove that girls are not just here to be delicate and pretty, that we are strong and capable and equal as teammates and as human beings.

Charles Participant Testimonial


Rating: 10/10

Yes, I recommend this program

Connect and Explore

Jun 27, 2018

My experience in the village we stayed in was so moving and fulfilling. The ability to see new things, meet new people, practice a new language, all the while making a difference was really special. The staff were very professional, informative, and attuned to the needs of our group. This made for a great experience for our school group, and had many of the participants looking to return to this community to be of more service in the future. I think the best part of the whole experience were the connections that were made with the local people we met. I would certainly do it again!

What would you improve about this program?

More awesome downhill biking experiences:)

Prince Student Testimonial


18, Male

Fullerton CA

Rating: 10/10

Yes, I recommend this program

Greatest experience of my life

Jun 27, 2018

I had one of the most incredible expierences traveling to the cloud forests and witnessing the incredible beauty the country had to offer. It truely was one of the best trips of my life, one that I will never forget. Getting the opportunity to live with villagers and interact with them taught me a lot about overcoming language barriers and allowed me to expirence the authenticity of Ecuadorian culture. The best meals I had were probably with the families we stayed with. I would recommend this program to anyone with full confidence that they will fall in love with Ecuador.

Ashley and more Student Testimonial


Age: 18, Female,Colorado

Rating: 10/10

Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing Experience in the Mountains of Ecuador

Jul 6, 2018

From the bustling town of Quito to the quiet village Yunguilla, it is safe to say that no matter where we were, the leaders had tons of awesome activities in every location. I went to Ecuador last spring (school trip) with this organization, and can honestly say that this was one of the best trips I have been on. The food was amazing, the people were so genuine and kind, and the culture was so welcoming!

What would you improve about this program?

Awesome trip- not much to improve on, however, maybe less time biking and more time spent in the towns.


Female , Cypress Califorina

Rating: 9/10

Yes, I recommend this program

Immersed in culture

Jun 29, 2018

I went to the cloud forest with 15 students for an educational abroad program and through this experience, we were all touched by the kind hospitality of our host families. Everyone was friendly and we enjoyed the home made Ecuadorian dinner. The village is in a beautiful location of hills and full of lush vegetation. Initially, it was hard to acclimate to the elevation. Especially since we started our trip with planting trees up in the hills, but once our bodies stabilized, it was just taking in the breathtaking views. The best part was riding in the back of pick up truck’s to the forest planting sites. Perhaps it was a bit dangerous but honestly the fresh air, the wind blowing through your hair, the feeling of being one with nature, and the slight roller-coaster effect made for the best memories.

What would you improve about this program?

Don’t have the groups go during their party nights. There was loud, booming music all night into the morning hours.


18 , Male, United States

Rating: 10/10

Yes, I recommend this program

An Authentic Travel Experience

Jun 27, 2018

I have traveled to many different countries and experienced them both as a native and a tourist. I can confidently say that this program provides you a genuine experience when traveling. The guides on our trip had real human connections with the people in the community we stayed in which shows the work they put into providing a genuine adventure travelling abroad, as their name states. They were committed to making our time in the Nimbo Cloud Forest enjoyable and prepared us well for our time with our home stay, helping us learn about the local community.

Indigenous People’s Day

59671823_650238402069733_5577196260001054720_oIn case you didn’t know October 8th, is Indigenous People’s Day–Hooray!  This is a fairly new holiday that has gained notoriety in the past few years, but still has a ways to go before it is a mainstream day of recognition.  In case you have never heard of it, or are confused as to what exactly it is, I did a (very) little research for you all. Here’s what I dug up.

Indigenous People’s Day started in 1989 as a counter celebration to Columbus Day, both recognized the second Monday of October.  Columbus Day is a federal holiday in the United States that celebrates Christopher Columbus’ historic landing in the Americas. Since socially sensitive folks have come to see Columbus’ arrival in America as an invasion as opposed to a discovery, the idea started 30ish years ago to instead celebrate the history and culture of America’s indigenous people instead of the explorer who marked the beginning of centuries of oppression and annihilation of these peoples.

Indigenous People’s Day has been adopted by various local governments in the United States since 1990, however the federal government and most citizens still know the day as Columbus Day.  To confuse matters more, in 1994, the United Nations declared August 9th as International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. I have never heard of this before today, so clearly I either live under a rock, or the UN’s day never caught on in the mainstream.  The UN’s August 9th day is specifically for all indigenous people of the world, while the October day is geared more towards the recognition of Native Americans as it’s correlation with Columbus Day.