September 2008 marked the launch of the first Thinking Beyond Borders program. TBB is built upon years of experience among the founders, board of directors, staff, international program partners, and advisers. To learn more about their qualifications please see the About page. As an organization, we pride ourselves on offering the safest, highest quality international learning opportunities available. We are proud of our strong track record and the learning culture of our team that ensures we continue to push toward ever better gap year programs.
Our international program components are hosted in each country by local partner organizations that have a deep history in hosting student and volunteer groups. Examples of our program partners include The Ecuadorian Experiment in International Living which has hosted students in Ecuador since 1977, and the Yunnan Center for Cultural Learning and Development whose director has overseen the School for International Training’s programs in China since 1994. It is individuals and organizations like these that form an extensive and highly skilled knowledge base for TBB, and ensure that all aspects of our program are safe and powerful learning experiences.
No, TBB programs are specifically designed to provide a complete educational experience. While each component is a valuable learning experience on its own, the powerful nature of each program is the result of completing the entire itinerary and curriculum. The curriculum for each program is specifically designed to give students a snapshot of the interplay between governments, economies, social systems, and each host community. If you would like a shorter program, TBB offers 13 week gap semester programs in South America and China.
Successful applicants to TBB programs can demonstrate two things: 1) their passion for learning, and 2) their commitment to making change in their communities. As learners, many TBB students thrive in the classroom environment and are high achievers. However, some TBB students excel as learners outside of the classroom through the activities they are involved in and the experiences they pursue. We look for evidence that applicants love to learn.
We also seek signs that applicants have worked for change in their communities. TBB students have served in student government, volunteered with organizations, or taken other actions to help address challenges and needs in our world. We are seeking students who are committed to working toward change throughout their lives.
TBB’s programs are not intended to be therapeutic or rehabilitative and are therefore not suitable for court-mandated youth, or students who require regular in-field professional therapy. Download our Essential Eligibility Criteria or contact us directly if you are unsure of your suitability for our programs.
TBB Program Leaders are highly qualified educators with the experience to ensure safety and the highest quality program. Each Program Leader has a minimum of a Masters degree in education or a field related to international development, has taught for at least three years, and has lived and worked abroad extensively. Upon joining the TBB staff, they receive intensive training, including Wilderness First Responder certification (an 80 hour advanced first-aid course), a full review of TBB’s health and safety policies, and an in-depth examination of the TBB curriculum and program. Program Leaders also receive consistent support from TBB’s Program Director in the US and periodic professional development sessions. To learn more about this year’s Program Leaders, please read their bios.
In each country, our local program partners facilitate the placing of students with homestay families. Each of our partners has extensive experience placing students with safe, conscientious, and reliable homestay families. All homestay families have access to clean drinking water and sanitary bathroom facilities. Additionally, all of our program partners work with a collection of veteran homestay families that have successfully hosted students previously. Homestay families are given specific instructions to ensure that they understand the dietary needs of students. They are also compensated for food provided to the students each day. Finally, it is important to know that every community and culture that hosts TBB students places a high value on welcoming and caring for visitors and travelers. More often than not, students will struggle with receiving too much positive and supportive attention from their host communities, rather than not enough.
Maintaining the health and safety of TBB students and staff is our highest priority. Our efforts begin with the original program design. Host countries and communities are assessed for stability, key infrastructure including the ability to provide clean water and adequate sanitation, and medical facilities and services in case of illness or emergency. In each country, we work directly with a partner organization with extensive experience hosting student groups from abroad. Their local knowledge ensures students and staff are made aware of local safety concerns and that all ground transportation arrangements are made with safe providers. TBB Program Leaders are all Wilderness First Responders (80 hours of first aid training) and coordinate with our Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance provider to assess any symptoms of illness. When concern arises that a student or staff member may be ill, the individual is taken to the nearest health facility offering the proper standard of care (as assessed by our Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance provider and confirmed by our local partners) immediately to be seen by medical professionals. Once any immediate danger is addressed, the Program Leaders contact TBB’s US staff via our 24 hour emergency phone line. The US staff then contacts the family of the patient directly to provide detailed information on the prognosis and treatment. Health and safety remain the highest priority for TBB Program Leaders and the students throughout the program, from the first trainings in travel health and safety during the student orientation until long after graduation.
Every day with TBB is different. The most common daily structure on the itinerary is that of work project days (see the sample calendar). These days begin with breakfast with your host family. You’re then off to spend the first half of the day with our partner NGO in the community working on a fieldwork project. These projects range from manual labor like tree-planting to more social tasks like surveying the needs of HIV/AIDS patients. Your group takes a break together for lunch and an hour to rest or catch up on the reading for seminar. During the afternoon, the group participates in the daily seminar. This 1 1/2 hour period could include meeting with a local leader to learn more about the development issues the community is facing, a group discussion or activity to explore the topic deeper and process the reading, or a chance to work with your small group on the media project you are creating for that unit. After seminar, you might grab the Frisbee for a game of ultimate, kick the soccer ball around with the local kids, or help your host mom prepare the evening meal. After dinner with your host family, you may play a game with your host family, meet up with a few other students, or take some time to read and journal.
Other days on the itinerary include the adventures of free weekend days and enrichment weeks, formal meetings with policy makers in the US, and structured reflection activities as part of your final retreat in the US. No matter the structure of any given day, there are always new things to see and do, new people to meet and befriend, and new perspectives to find and explore.
In each country, TBB works with local individuals who can translate important information. TBB’s Global Gap Year programs include language courses to give a basic introduction to local languages. TBB’s Gap Semesters include intensive language study leading to exceptional language acquisition. These skills allow students the independence to meet their basic needs and interact with others to learn more of the local language. Applicants do not need to meet a minimum language requirement, though it is important that they make a commitment to learning new languages and engaging across language barriers.
The fieldwork projects are carefully chosen to give students a powerful learning opportunity while providing a useful service to the host community. TBB programs are designed, above all else, to be educational. Students participate in hands-on fieldwork projects designed by the host organization directors and TBB staff to ensure the service is truly beneficial to both the community being served and the students as learners. The development organization’s expert staff provides seminars building understanding of the specific needs of the community, the methodology of the organization, and the successes and challenges of their work.
Thinking Beyond Borders requires each student to have international medical insurance. Contact your insurance provider and confirm that you will be covered in each country where your program will be traveling. If your insurance provider does not cover you internationally, please contact TBB, and we will suggest an affordable policy for the duration of your program.
Yes, TBB students will need vaccinations and travel visas. Vaccinations are an important step in protecting the health and safety of travelers. Travel visas are required by many of the countries visited during TBB programs. Upon acceptance, students and families receive the TBB Departure Preparation Packet which provides instructions for obtaining vaccinations and applying for visas.
The TBB staff oversees all travel arrangements, including booking airline tickets, acquiring visas, and arranging accommodations and internal transportation. As a team, the staff is experienced in arranging student travel, paying exceptional attention to detail, and acting quickly when those plans are unforeseeably altered.
Thinking Beyond Borders program groups are designed for 18 students and 3 staff members, and TBB typically offers multiple program groups each year. If for some reason TBB cancels a program due to low enrollment or for any other reason, TBB will reimburse all monies paid to the individual and family. Cancellation due to low enrollment is extremely unlikely.
Yes, the itineraries are always subject to change. The health and safety of TBB students and staff are our primary concern. In the event that any destination becomes unsafe or unstable, TBB will change the program itinerary to provide an alternative destination that is safe and offers great opportunities to learn.
Yes, students have access to the internet, though it may be limited in some countries. Email and web-based calling make communicating with family and friends at home both easy and affordable. However, TBB does not permit students to have personal cell phones, laptops, or tablets. This policy ensures that students reach out to TBB Program Leaders as their primary means of support to meet health, safety, and personal needs throughout the program.
Students may not under any circumstances purchase, use, or have in their possession drugs considered illegal under US laws. Students may not consume alcohol during the course of the program unless given specific permission at special cultural events by TBB program staff. Students who violate these rules may be dismissed immediately from the program without refund. You can learn more by reading TBB’s Expectations of Conduct.
Please see the Tuition page for all current program prices. Tuition is all inclusive except airfare. This includes emergency medical evacuation insurance, visa and entry fees, food, accommodation, transportation, educational components, and enrichment activities. All international airline tickets are purchased by TBB to ensure the lowest possible cost and all group members have the same itinerary. A separate invoice for airfare will be sent to you in the summer preceding your program. Please see the Tuition page for estimates of airfare for each program. Unfortunately, frequent flyer miles cannot be used for tickets because they are purchased at group discount rates. A limited amount of need based financial aid is available.
Yes, there is a limited amount of financial aid available for students who qualify. Aid awards are granted based on need. Like most universities and independent high schools, each family’s financial standing is determined using TBB’s Financial Aid Application.
There are countless ways that students and families can raise funds to help meet the cost of tuition. TBB is committed to assisting students in these endeavors. We can provide program materials, assistance contacting local organizations, or even a conversation to brainstorm fundraising ideas. Please also visit our Financial Aid webpage for suggestions of how you can raise funds for your trip.
Once accepted, students pay a $500 deposit to secure their spot. The balance of the tuition is paid in equal monthly installments up to 60 days prior to the departure. Our cancellation policy with regard to payments is:
“Thinking Beyond Borders (TBB) reserves the right to cancel, alter, reschedule or amend any or all programs offered at any time. If a program is cancelled by TBB prior to departure, TBB will refund all payments made by the applicant. If a program is cancelled by TBB once it has begun, a portion of the applicants’ total payments will be refunded. Once you have accepted admission, cancellation by you results in a penalty. If you cancel your enrollment up to ninety (90) days before the starting date of your program, you forfeit 35% of the total tuition. If you cancel your enrollment between eighty-nine (89) to sixty (60) days before the starting date of your program, you forfeit 50% of the total tuition. If you cancel your enrollment less than sixty (60) days prior to the starting date of your program, you forfeit 100% of your total tuition.” Extra cancellation insurance can be purchased.
Our application process is thorough and specific to ensure Thinking Beyond Borders is the right program for you. The process begins when a student completes and submits the TBB application available on the website. TBB will then send reference forms to the academic and community references designated by the applicant. Once we have received all application materials, including one academic reference, one community reference and official transcripts, our admissions committee will review the application. The applicant will then be contacted by TBB within six weeks for an update on their status or to schedule an in person interview. A TBB Staff Member will interview the applicant and a parent/guardian. This interview is mandatory for admission to Thinking Beyond Borders. Offers of admission will be made within three weeks of the interview. The accepted applicant will then have three weeks to reserve a space in the program with a $500 deposit. After TBB receives the deposit the applicant will be sent the Departure Preparation Packet. This will include visa materials, a TBB Student Medical Form, and other items specific to the program. TBB uses a rolling admission process. Therefore, students interested in participating in a TBB program are strongly encouraged to apply early.
Yes, any student is eligible who is between 17 and 20 years old and has not passed more than one academic year between high school graduation and enrollment in a TBB program.
Upon acceptance, students and families will receive the TBB Departure Preparation Packet. This includes a detailed packing list. Students are encouraged to bring only a mid-sized backpack and a small carry-on bag.
While TBB certainly respects vegetarianism as a cultural practice, political statement, or personal preference, TBB suggests that program participants consider eating meat at certain moments during the program. TBB will try to accommodate the dietary needs and preferences of students. However, host communities and families around the world sometimes choose to honor guests by offering the most valuable food they own. Guests who refuse the offer of an animal prepared by the host are often seen as ungrateful and insulting, no matter how apologetic the guest may be. TBB expects vegetarians to consider that there may be a handful of occasions over the course of the program when they will need to eat meat out of respect for their hosts.
TBB recognizes the importance of providing gap year students with the opportunity and challenge of independence during this important learning experience. As such, TBB does not allow students to visit home during their program. Global Gap Year programs include a Parents’ Weekend when the students return to the US. Families will be notified of the specific dates well in advance of that weekend to allow for travel planning. Families are also encouraged to attend Graduation Weekend as an opportunity to meet the TBB students and program staff, learn about their incredible work, and celebrate their accomplishments.
In the unlikely event that a TBB program were cancelled, every effort would be made to inform students and families immediately and all monies would be refunded. Additionally, TBB staff would make every effort to assist students and families in their search and applications to other programs.
No, TBB pays for most program associated costs before the program begins. Many of our program partners are unable to offer refunds, and as a result TBB is unable to offer students or families a refund if the student leaves the program early. However, you can purchase outside insurance to cover situations such as these. TBB is happy to help you find the right insurance agency for this purpose.
Colleges are supportive of students pursuing quality Gap Year programs. They recognize the important role a Gap Year plays in developing the focus and maturity needed to prepare students for a successful college career. Harvard’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions William Fitzsimmons, a supporter of gap year, shared his views on the potential benefit of Gap Year programs in this article.
Every college has its own policy regarding deferrals. Most colleges and universities will approve requested deferrals. In their acceptance letter, some schools, such as Harvard University, Princeton University, and NYU, actually encourage students to defer a year. However, some public universities do not allow for deferrals, though admitted students can re-apply the following year without penalty. In those cases, TBB program staff will work with any student on the TBB program to ensure they are able to complete the application process. Once students are accepted to their college/university of choice, TBB STRONGLY RECOMMENDS they contact the admissions office to inquire about their deferral policy.
Earning college credit during your gap year is risky. It can affect college enrollment status, financial aid awards, and more, even if you’ve already been accepted and deferred. You can learn more about college credit from gap years here. TBB does not independently award college credits. The purpose of TBB programs is to develop the skills necessary to investigate issues of international development and to grow personally as an agent of change. Some colleges may award credit to students for completing a TBB program. Students should contact the college where they have deferred BEFORE PROGRAM DEPARTURE to inquire about the potential for attaining credit. TBB staff will assist students in any way possible to ensure they earn any credits available to them.
International education is more important than ever as our world becomes increasingly interdependent. Today, the economic, political, social, and environmental challenges of humanity demand global solutions. TBB prepares students for a lifetime of proactive learning and leadership. The rigorous curriculum pushes students to examine each issue with breadth and depth, while encouraging the introspection that makes clear their potential to impact the world. By developing emotional and intellectual understanding of communities and the issues they face daily, students internalize the true human cost of development challenges. TBB challenges students to balance and critically analyze those emotional and intellectual understandings, synthesizing them into powerful conclusions. Throughout the program, students learn to articulate these conclusions to various audiences and with multiple forms of media. Ultimately, these are the skills that empower TBB alumni as powerful leaders with a global vision, the skills to develop further understanding, and the ability to articulate powerful conclusions. TBB alumni approach college with focus, purpose, maturity, and direction. Additionally, they find greater depth and meaning in their future studies and the college experience.
Yes. Many students have applied or reapplied to colleges during their program. While advanced planning is strongly recommended to ensure letters of recommendation and other materials are available before departure, it is relatively easy to apply while traveling. The TBB Program Leaders are happy to assist students with applications and essays. Additionally, students find that highlighting their TBB experience is a strong improvement to their application.
Absolutely. Please contact Scott Ingram at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 203-993-0236. We’d be happy to provide you contact information for alumni references who can share their experiences with TBB.
A TBB staff member will be happy to answer any additional questions. Please contact Scott Ingram at email@example.com or call us at 203-993-0236.