Spotlight on Grad Student Side-gigs: Working as a Trip Leader and Curriculum Developer for High School Study Abroad Programs

November 28, 2018

No matter how dead the civilization or period we study is, all of us have regional expertise of some variety. Our careful work in the archives, languages, and cultures of different places enables us to be especially good guides to students seeking to understand those places, as well as to practice the more abstract and increasingly popular skill of “global citizenry."

Study abroad is a huge and competitive industry, and I find that a lot of it is pretty lousy. The criticisms aren’t hard to list. But while at Berkeley, I’ve also worked with high school study abroad programs that are sincerely committed to good pedagogy, respectful and responsible travel, and grappling with the challenging questions raised by globalization and one’s privilege within it. Teaching high school students through experiential, rather than classroom, learning can be particularly hard and fulfilling. The architecture of a city can be a much more compelling resource than a powerpoint slide; the way people behave on a bus more engaging than a PDF. And working with students in real time as they encounter and process these experiences can be very rewarding. I got involved in these programs because it’s fun to be paid to travel and teach, but also because one can make a meaningful and lasting impact on how students perceive and engage with the world. That is, to the extent that one thinks of a liberal arts education as a type of civics training, intensive study abroad can be a more influential way to mentor students in that spirit.

Our time in the seminar room and our experience outside of it make us well-suited for this kind of work. In return, the experience writing curricula for study abroad programs is fun and, I think, a marketable skill for those of us applying to academic jobs in high schools (especially elite private ones, which often encourage global programs) or colleges where we might participate in global studies or internship programs. It pays well too, often in one or two-week clusters. The pedagogical and ethical quality of study abroad varies widely. I have been a trip leader and curricular developer for Envoys ( is external)) for the past five years, since a friend of mine launched the company. I would strongly recommend checking out their programs. In general, such companies always need talented people, and I would suggest reaching out directly.  I would be very happy to talk more or make specific recommendations about this, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Derek Kane O'Leary is an advanced PhD candidate in U.S. History at UC Berkeley. Before attending graduate school, he worked for the European Parliament and received an MA in International Relations from the Fletcher School at Tufts University.