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BITTEN BY THE TRAVEL BUG

It's fun to be a young American, especially a young American in Paris.

Or London.

Or Spain.

Or Australia.

Many teens say that visiting another country is the best experience they ever had, especially because they meet tons of students from different countries and from other parts of America.

The way many high school students go abroad is through their schools, often their foreign language departments.

The Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts, for example, sent six students to Russia for three weeks this fall.

While meeting other students is one perk, educational opportunities also abound.

Anne Szczesny, who chaired foreign language at Frontier Central High School in Hamburg, said that going abroad is a great way for high school students to prepare for the new Regents exam requirements because it teaches them about different cultures.

For the past 20 years, this foreign language teacher took her high school students around the world.

"I think taking students and having them experience other cultures is the most authentic approach to teaching," said Mrs. Szczesny, who recently retired. "There's nothing as authentic as standing there."

Mrs. Szczesny said that even though the trips are cheaper than your average vacation, coming up with the money can still be difficult for students.

Trips are announced a year in advance at Frontier Central to give students time to save the money.

Last year, Lucas Czechowicz, now a junior, went to Spain, France and Italy. He paid for more than half of his trip by selling $800 worth of M&Ms.

Another junior, Christopher Gollnau, worked a part-time job at a country club to pay for his trip to Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic last year.

This year, Frontier Central is offering trips to Spain, the British Isles, France and Italy, New York City and possibly Quebec.

Samantha Schwab, a senior, went to Quebec last year.

"It was so much fun!" she said. "You don't realize the differences in the school systems. The kids were so cool, and we exchanged addresses and phone numbers."

Lucas said that the work it took to sell all those M&Ms was worth it, because he learned a lot about the countries he visited, and how the people live. His favorite part of the trip was when the students explored the cities in groups.

"It was the best, because we wanted to explore the city and see how the people live," he said. "And I got to try having a conversation in Spanish with a cabdriver."

There are many companies that put together student trips. Mrs. Szczesny said Frontier Central uses EF Educational Tours, a widely known firm.

Brian Dill, an EF representative, said that more than 75,000 students in the United States traveled with EF last year, including 500 from Buffalo. EF, based in Cambridge, Mass., has helped high schoolers travel since 1983.

Dill said that EF usually works with teachers, but the company also allows parents to lead tours. That means you could organize your own group (six or seven people are needed) and ask your parents to be chaperones.

Another option is to apply to EF as an independent traveler, and the company will hook you up with a group of students from a different school who are taking a trip.

EF offers 115 different trips, and there is no average price for a trip because it is determined by where you go, when you go and how long you travel.

For teens who can't afford the trips, EF awards some scholarships, too.

A less expensive way to experience another culture is to bring it to your own home.

"I encourage hosting a foreign student," said Mrs. Szczesny. "They're there to learn as much as they can about our culture, and since you'll spend a lot of time together, you'll learn about theirs."

Or you can apply to be a foreign exchange student yourself. This year, two girls from Frontier Central are going to school in Japan.

Some foreign exchange groups include American Field Service, AYUSA, the American Intercultural Student Exchange, Connections Inc. and Youth for Understanding.

Check with your foreign language teacher for information on these programs.

Dan Scanlon's high school trip will be to France and Belgium. He said that he likes traveling because it gives him the chance to learn about teens in other countries.

"Nobody else wears Aussie T's," says Dan.

For information on EF Educational Tours, check out its Web site at www.eftours.com or call (800) 637-8222.

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