Frequently Asked Questions

Questions About TBB

  • September 2008 marked the launch of the first Thinking Beyond Borders program. TBB is built upon years of experience among our team, including the founders, staff, international program teams, and advisors. 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 programs.

    Our international program components are hosted in each country by local country teams that have a deep history in hosting student and volunteer groups.

  • 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.

  • 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 and are open to new experiences.

    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. At least one member of each Program Leader team has a minimum of a Master’s degree in education or a field related to international development. All of our Program Leaders have spent at least three years working with young people or teaching and has lived and worked abroad extensively. Upon joining the TBB staff, Program Leaders receive intensive training, including Wilderness First Responder certification (an 80 hour advanced first-aid course) and Wilderness First Aid certification, 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 team 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 country teams facilitate the placing of students with homestay families, as they have longstanding relationships with members of the community. All homestay families have access to purified drinking water, sanitary bathroom facilities, a separate bedroom within their home for the students they host, and are always located within the same community as our Program Leaders, often within a short walking distance. Homestay families are given specific training to ensure that they understand the dietary needs of students and are 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. Our host families are often just as curious to learn about our students and their lives back home as our students are eager to learn about local culture and lifestyles. This allows for the creation of mutually beneficial, genuine relationships.

  • 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 access to medical facilities and services in case of illness or emergency. In each country, we work directly with a local country team with extensive experience hosting student and volunteer groups from abroad. Their local knowledge and longstanding relationships with host communities ensure that 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 Responder certified (80 hours of first aid training including international medicine) 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 organization in the community working on a fieldwork project either in pairs or with several other TBB students. These projects range from assisting English teachers in local classrooms to manual labor like harvesting strawberries to more social tasks like surveying the health needs of patients with a clinic worker. Around noon you take a break for lunch with either your host family or the rest of your student cohort. Afternoons provide a bit more variety, as the group participates in seminars between two and four days per week. On non-seminar afternoons you might meet with a local leader to learn more about the development issues the community is facing, work with your small group on the media project you are creating, participate in a language lesson taught by local teachers, or check in with your mentor. You might explore a local cafe, kick the soccer ball around with the local kids, or help your host parent 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, journal and process the day.

    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 community members who can translate important information. TBB’s Global Gap Year programs include language courses taught by local instructors to give a basic introduction to all local languages. TBB’s Gap Semesters include intensive language study leading to exceptional language acquisition. These language skills allow students the independence to meet their basic needs and interact with others on their own terms and flourish in immersive environments. Applicants do not need to meet a minimum language requirement to apply to any TBB programs, though it is important that they make a commitment to learning new languages and engaging across language barriers while on program.

  • TBB's fieldwork projects are carefully chosen to give students a powerful learning opportunity while providing a useful service to the host community. Our programs are designed, above all else, to be educational. For this reason, we call our participants "students" and not "volunteers", as our programming is a far reach from the "Volun-tourism" Industry. We believe that the ethics behind short-term, international tourism, despite good intention to help others, often perpetuates existing power dynamics and assumptions when there isn't time spent building crucial relationships, trust, and an understanding of local needs. TBB students therefore participate in longer-term, hands-on fieldwork projects designed by the local partner organization directors and TBB staff to ensure the work is truly beneficial to both the community that the students are working in, and the students as learners. The local partner 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.

  • All students are provided with comprehensive travel medical insurance and emergency evacuation insurance, which is included in your TBB tuition. This insurance is provided through Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI) and covers each student for up to $50,000 of in-country medical insurance as well as medical transportation insurance and Medivac insurance. Students are responsible for their own insurance for portions of the program that occur in the United States if that is their home country.

  • Yes, TBB students will need vaccinations and on certain programs, travel visas as well. Vaccinations are an important step in protecting the health and safety of travelers. Travel visas are required by some 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.

  • TBB oversees all travel arrangements, including reserving 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. To make these arrangements smoothly and support you in your trip preparations, we encourage students to apply and enroll a minimum of 6 weeks ahead of program departure.

    Students are responsible for getting themselves to the airport for departure from the USA at the start of the program. If flying into the departure city the night before, they will be able to book a room in the same hotel as the Program Leaders so they can travel to the airport together the next day. Students are also responsible for arranging their own return travel from DC after the end of the program.

  • Thinking Beyond Borders program groups are designed for 18 students and 3 Program Leaders, and TBB typically offers multiple program groups each year. The minimum number of students our programs will run with is approximately 8 students. 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. We will always make an effort to notify enrolled students of any itinerary changes as soon as is possible.

  • Yes, students have access to the internet, though it may be limited in some locations. However, TBB does not permit students to have personal cell phones, laptops, or tablets with access to wifi. This policy ensures that students students are not only fully engaged in their experience, but also that they reach out to TBB Program Leaders as their primary means of support to meet health, safety, and personal needs throughout the program. Instead, TBB students use shared laptops and can usually communicate with home roughly once per week, although this varies depending on program scheduling.

  • Students may not under any circumstances purchase, use, or have in their possession drugs considered illegal under US federal laws or under the laws of the country they are visiting. TBB programs include designated events where students who are of legal age under local laws can have one alcoholic drink in the presence of TBB Program Leaders. These events are built into the program specifically to help model safe and responsible attitudes and behaviors towards alcohol. Students may not under any circumstances consume alcohol during the course of the program outside of these events designated by TBB program staff. Students who violate these rules may be dismissed immediately from the program without refund, as detailed in the TBB Student Handbook.

  • Travel insurance, three meals per day, in-country transportation, language lessons, cultural learning activities, and accommodations are all covered in program tuition. However, there are several costs which are not included in tuition, as they will vary from program to program. Students have the opportunity to plan an Independent Student Travel weekend accompanied by a Program Leader to an in-country destination of their choice. This is paid for individually and the budget is set as a group. Parents will also be asked to pay for flights through our partner travel advisor's online portal after their student enrolls.

    Tuition Includes 

    • Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance (this does not replace normal health insurance)
    • Visa and entry fees
    • Food, Accommodation, and Transportation
    • Educational components
    • Enrichment activities

    You can learn more about ways to make your TBB program possible by visiting Fundraising Tuition and Scholarships. If you have any questions or concerns about tuition and payment, please email us for more information

    What Isn’t Included

    • Airfare - All international airline tickets are reserved by TBB to ensure the lowest possible cost and all members of the group have the same itinerary. We then ask families to log into the online portal of our partner travel advisor to pay for their student's preselected tickets. Unfortunately, frequent flyer miles cannot be used for these tickets because they are purchased at group discount rates.
    • Incidentals - Students will need spending money for incidentals, expenses incurred during Independent Student Travel, and snacks. TBB recommends students budget $50 per program week for spending money. However, please note that managing this spending is the responsibility of the students. While Program Leaders can help students plan ahead, it is ultimately the responsibility of students to manage these funds throughout their program.
  • Thinking Beyond Borders offers need-based scholarships to help make our programs accessible to all students. Please take a few minutes to learn about our scholarship process below.

    Determining Need

    Once you have completed the application process and been admitted to TBB, you can apply for financial aid. TBB determines financial need the same way colleges do. Scholarship applicants share basic financial information, which we use to determine your level of financial need. We strongly recommend completing the financial aid application as soon as possible upon admission to our programs, as access to scholarships is limited by the amount in our scholarship fund.

    Initial Award

    Global Gap Year applicants who are determined to have financial need can receive up to a $5,000 scholarship, based on the level of need. Once offered, to secure this scholarship, the student must submit the $500 program deposit.

    Semester program applicants who are determined to have financial need can receive up to a $3,000 scholarship, based on the level of need. To secure this scholarship, the student must submit the $500 program deposit.

    Matching Scholarships

    Students with financial need are also eligible for Matching Scholarships. These scholarships will match the funds a student raises through their online campaign with TBB's fundraising partner YouCaring.com up to a set limit. You will be notified of your potential scholarship match limit at the time you receive your scholarship award notification. The match is only available as long as there are funds available in the TBB Scholarship Fund. Once these funds have been exhausted for the program year, we are unable to match any additional funds you raise. We strongly recommend students begin their fundraising campaigns as soon as possible to ensure they can take advantage of the full matching funds.

    Additional Scholarship Opportunities

    The American Gap Association offers listings of additional scholarship opportunities available to gap year students. Check them out!

  • 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. Additionally, we have created an online fundraising resource guide to walk you through the necessary steps to create your fundraising page and to engage potential donors. Please also visit our Financial Aid webpage for suggestions of how you can raise funds for your trip.

  • Once accepted, students pay a $500 non-refundable deposit to secure their spot.  The balance of the tuition is paid in equal monthly installments up to 60 days prior to the departure. Airfare is due 30 days prior to the departure. Our cancellation policy with regard to payments is as follows:

    "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."

  • 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 our brief, online TBB application available on the website. Once you submit your application, you will be invited to schedule a phone or video chat interview. A TBB staff member will interview you and your parent or guardian. After we complete your interviews, our admissions committee will review your application. Offers of admission will be made within one week of completing the interviews. You will then have 10 days to reserve your space in the program with a non-refundable $500 deposit and the completion of your Student Enrollment Contract in your online myTBB profile. TBB uses a rolling admission process. Therefore, students interested in participating in a TBB program are strongly encouraged to apply early.
  • TBB welcomes all applicants who fit the following three requirements: 1) you must be between 17 and 20 years old and 2) you must have graduated from high school and 3) no more than one full academic year can pass between your high school graduation and your enrollment in a TBB program.  This means that our student cohorts are comprised of both high school graduates as well as students who have completed either one or two semesters of higher education.  Our programs are designed specifically for this age group and stage in personal development.
  • Upon acceptance, students and families will receive access to a packing list online as part of their myTBB profile. This includes a detailed packing list which varies depending on where your program will travel to.  Students are encouraged to bring only a mid-sized backpack and a small carry-on bag.
  • Applicants with dietary restrictions are welcome on TBB programming and we will work to accommodate the dietary needs and preferences of our students. We are able to train host families to accommodate a variety of dietary restrictions including gluten free diets, nut allergies, lactose intolerance, vegetarianism, and veganism. While TBB respects these diets as cultural or religious practice, political statements, personal preference or serious health necessities, we acknowledge that it can be challenging to maintain balanced nutrition while on any kind of restrictive diet in parts of the world with fewer food varieties present. TBB suggests that program participants consider keeping an open mind to new foods or dishes they might not usually choose to eat at home in order to maintain a balanced diet while abroad.
  • 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 or parents to visit their students during their program. Our programs include an informal reception the night before graduation for parents to reunite with their students and go out for dinner together. 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 in Washington DC 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.
  • Yes, although TBB does not independently award college credit, we have partnered with Western Colorado University to offer college credit beginning with our 2019/20 programs.  For more information on this opportunity please reach out to [email protected]  The primary 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. However, our curriculums provide valuable, college level academic rigor, so we'd like our students to get credit for the learning they are already engaging in on our programs. Students should contact the college where they have deferred BEFORE PROGRAM DEPARTURE to inquire about the potential for attaining credit.  If a student chooses to enroll in TBB through WCU and receive credit for the program, they may also be able to use 529 education funds for their gap year tuition.  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 addition to their college application, which demonstrates their commitment and investment in education.
  • Absolutely. Please contact us at [email protected] or 203-993-0236. We'd be happy to provide you contact information for alumni references who can share their experiences with TBB.
  • We work with educational and gap year consultants around the world, and believe that a gap year program should be an option on every student's college choices. We would be happy to work with you or schedule a meeting to talk about our programs in more detail. Please contact us at [email protected] to schedule an individual meeting. Please note that Thinking Beyond Borders does not provide compensation for gap year program referrals.
  • We are happy to answer any other questions you may have. Please reach out to us at [email protected] and we will get right back to you.
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