Westcoast Connection Targets Teens for Tours

Westcoast Connection Targets Teens for Tours

This summer, teens can tour, volunteer, or learn in programs throughout the world.

Whitewater rafting on the Hawaii and Alaska Teen Tour.
Whitewater rafting on the Hawaii and Alaska Teen Tour.

Whether hiking the Grand Canyon during a western adventure, volunteering with the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation, or spending three weeks at UCLA immersed in a favorite course or two, teens participating in a Westcoast Connection summer trip will likely have the experience of a lifetime.

For 42 years, the travel organization has created what the company terms “life-changing programs” for teens completing grades 7-12. There are middle school options for teens completing seventh and eighth grades, as well as programs designed exclusively for juniors and seniors. For 2024, Westcoast Connection is offering more than 75 programs in 24 different countries. The programs fall into one of three categories – Travel, Learn or Volunteer, and range in length from eight to 40 days.

Active Teen Tours and Global Adventures offers travel to destinations throughout Europe, Hawaii, the East and West coasts of the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Peru, Ecuador, and the Galapagos. For Active Teen Tours, the most popular tour type, groups typically number from 28 to 48 participants. The group size for Global Adventures is smaller, with 26 teens traveling together for each program.

Another travel experience popular with older teens is the pre-college enrichment program, which provides students with an opportunity to gain independence, pursue interests, and prepare for college on campuses in the United States, Europe, and Canada. Designed specifically for high school students completing grades 9-12, participants live in university dormitories and eat many of their meals in the dining halls and student cafes. Students may explore unique career paths, taking courses such as business entrepreneurship, digital photography, and crime scene investigation, as well as participating in workshops about the college application process, finding the college with the best fit, and how to write a top-notch college essay.

Students in the pre-college enrichment program at UCLA in Los Angeles.

Zach Notte, a junior at The Weber School, spent several weeks on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles last summer as a Westcoast Connection attendee.

“Zach is very interested in potentially attending UCLA, so this experience enabled him to learn more about the university and the city,” said his mother, Lesli Greenberg. “He loved the program so much that on the second night, he called me to see if he could extend his stay by another week,” she added.

According to Greenberg, “Attendees last summer came from all over the world, including Spain and Japan. It’s great because the students learn about other cultures. They also become much more self-reliant and independent while still having the support of a dedicated group of trip leaders.”

The pre-college enrichment programs provide free time each day and an opportunity for participants to select from a myriad of options for exploration. In Los Angeles, for example, participants can visit Universal Studios, learn to surf at a Santa Monica surfing school, and spend an evening at an improv comedy club. In Montreal, the participants enjoy the jazz and comedy festivals, which are held at the same time as the program. There is also jet boating, a visit to Mont Tremblant, and a thrilling zip line high above the urban cityscape.

The third type of program offered by Westcoast Connection takes students on volunteer missions to work alongside experienced local non-profit organizations. Participants are able to interact with local people, broadening their perspective and cultural awareness of the world. At the same time, they receive service hours and letters of completion for their respective schools.

Programs for this summer include marine and wildlife conservation in the Florida Keys, leadership and planning at a day camp for local children in Arenal, Costa Rica, and a variety of community service projects in the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador.

Rachel Sailor on the volunteer program in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

Last summer, Rachel Sailor went on the Ecuador & the Galapagos Service & Adventure program with 19 other teens. Among their many adventures, the group traveled by canoe to reach their lodge deep in the Amazon rainforest. They partnered with a local organization to paint a school, build a house, plant greenery and work with local children. While there, they went whitewater rafting, snorkeling, hiking, and zip lining.

Rachel’s mother, Stephanie Sailor, said, “Although Rachel did not know anyone else going into the trip, she made great new friends throughout the United States, from California to New York, and including Canada.” Sailor emphasized that the trip was very well organized with a large staff-to-participant ratio.

What sets Westcoast Connection apart from many other teen tours is the variety and scope of its programs throughout the world, as well as the company’s attention to details. There is an extensive planning team that begins organizing the trips 10 months in advance of each summer.

According to Mitchell Lerner, one of the company’s directors, since there is a team devoted exclusively to planning and organizing the trips, the summer chaperones are free to focus solely on the well-being of participants, fostering camaraderie and social connections on each trip. He pointed out that the senior program director on every experience is a teacher, guidance counselor, coach, or other professional with many years of working with teens. Along with the director, there are several program leaders, aged 21-27, who are also on the trips to work with and support the teens each summer. And the company directors stop in on most trips throughout the summer to observe and lend support as needed.

“Westcoast Connection’s mission is to create life-changing experiences that teens remember as some of the best moments of their lives,” Lerner emphasized. “Last summer, more than 2,700 people participated in our programs and left with incredible memories and new friends from all over the world. Our Atlanta families, in particular, love that there is a geographic mix with participants from throughout the United States,” he added.

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