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This summer, up to 400 D.C. Public Schools students and staff will travel across 12 countries as part of the system’s first-ever study abroad initiative.

DCPS Global Education is organizing short-term language-immersion, service, and leadership trips for 8th and 11th grade students that will last from eight to 19 days. The trips, which run from June to July, are open to students who take a World Language course; they cover South America, Europe, and China, emphasizing global citizenship.

“Our first priority was content,” says Kayla Gatalica, a specialist for global programs and studies at DCPS. “We want this to be a deep experience and not to undervalue travel where students are just tourists, but [participate in] something that builds upon what they’re learning… and prepares you for a future career path or studies in college.”

The nonprofit D.C. Public Education Fund has provided the money for the program, which will cover flights, lodging, meals, supplies, and passport and visa fees. DCPS partnered with three vendors that work to prepare students for study-abroad trips, including by offering cultural-communication and general-safety training. Teacher “ambassadors” will lead the trips in addition to pre- and post-departure activities to help students gear up for and ultimately reflect on their experiences; moreover, DCPS Global Ed will host monthly meetings with ambassadors.

The program is designed to develop students’ linguistic and cultural knowledge. On a trip to Peru, for example, 11th graders will examine art in Lima and in Machu Picchu, and do service work with locals in the Sacred Valley to learn about archeological preservation. In China, 8th graders taking Mandarin Chinese will explore Beijing’s history.

Student applications are due Feb. 15. They entail standard essay questions, ranking trip preferences, and providing one non-family reference. Once accepted, students must RSVP by Feb. 24. Gatalica says in evaluating applications, DCPS will consider “equity” among schools and wards, students’ demonstrated “grit” and extracurricular activities, and their commitment to the program’s requirements, like a post-trip “Making Global Local” project due next year.

“It’s a chance for students to reflect and share: ‘What did I learn from this trip, and how does it relate to my school and community?'” Gatalica says. “We want students to be flexible and creative… ready for the first week of school.”

Below is a complete list of the trips:

Photo by Darrow Montgomery; chart via DCPS