Global Educational Concepts, a proud member of the Southwestern Family of Companies (www.southwestern.com) founded in 1855, specializes in gap year, gap semester, and high school summer programs worldwide.
The leadership team of Global Educational Concepts (www.gecexchanges.com), our sister company, founded Global Educational Concepts with the goal of helping young people develop the skills and character they need to achieve their goals in life and make a positive contribution to the world.
As a designated visa sponsor for the U.S. cultural exchange programs, GEC sponsors thousands of exchange visitors from various countries each year in six different Bridge USA program categories, which include summer work and travel, trainee, internship, high school exchange, camp counselor, and teacher.
At GEC Exchanges, we strive to provide the best possible service and support to the young people who participate in our programs, while adhering to the regulations that govern these programs.
All GEC students are subject to Essential Eligibility Requirements (EER). You can read our EER here.
Each program offered by GEC features various elements such as physical challenges, wilderness expeditions, and service learning projects. These programs are carefully crafted to expand your comfort zone and provide a deep and meaningful experience. By combining a variety of activities, our programs allow students to delve into unique topics and build a deep connection with the world around them. We encourage you to thoroughly read the program descriptions and sample programs for the programs you are considering and choose the one that excites you the most!
If you are having a hard time deciding, we encourage you to give us a call for personalized assistance in choosing the ideal semester. Feel free to schedule a call with us by following this link.
Yes, you can! We embrace cultural exchange and diversity and are always happy to work with participants from around the world. Please remember that different visa requirements may apply to non-U.S. citizens. Also, see “Do I need a passport or visa?”.
No. Prior language study is not required to join GEC programs.
Because the group experience is one of the most important components of our programs, we strongly encourage friends and siblings to enroll in separate programs. To ensure the best possible experience for all participants and to build a positive group dynamic where everyone feels welcome and included, we strongly discourage exclusive relationships between group members. Please note that accommodation will be rotated throughout the program, so you will spend an equal amount of time with each member of your group.
Our minimum group size is 8 students and our maximum group size is 14. Each program offered by GEC, consisting of 8 to 14 students, is supervised by two instructors. To ensure optimal safety and instruction, we collaborate with local guides and expert partners for service and educational programs, as well as adventure activities such as rafting, surfing, sailing, and SCUBA diving (SCUBA).
We accept applications on a first-come, first-served basis, with admission up to three weeks prior to the start of the program. Semester and summer programs are usually full 3-4 months prior to the start of the program. When programs reach capacity, participants have the option of being placed on a waiting list or, if desired, being offered a place in another program pending enrollment.
Prospective participants who wish to join the GEC program must meet the minimum Essential Eligibility Criteria, which is necessary for participation. The program’s admission policy is non-discriminatory and does not consider factors such as race, color, gender identity or expression, religion, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, age, or disability.
STEP 1: Complete the online application form
STEP 2: Pay a $500 application fee.
STEP 3: Log into your Student Account to create your student profile
STEP 4: Interview with a GEC Coordinator
STEP 5: Complete the required Student Paperwork and program payments.
To apply for the program, interested individuals must fill out an initial application form and pay a $500 application fee. This fee is not an additional charge but is deducted from the total program tuition. After completing the application form, an email will be sent to invite applicants to schedule a phone interview with an Admissions team member.
Applicants have 7 (seven) days to complete the interview process once they have submitted their program application. GEC reserves the right to request additional medical information or references to ensure safe program operation. GEC may also refuse admission for reasons not listed in the Essential Eligibility Criteria.
Accepted applicants will receive pre-program information, including a gear list and other details about the program. If an application is refused, the full application fee will be refunded. However, the application fee is non-refundable once an applicant has been accepted into the program.
The program tuition includes shared lodging, meals as specified, ground transportation, group activities, and internal flights as indicated (excluding flights to the PROGRAM starting point and from the ending point). The advertised tuition is inclusive of taxes. The payment also covers the various services provided by GEC throughout the year and before departure to prepare for the program, such as itinerary research, planning, scouting, reservation, hiring, and training of summer staff, as well as providing information to participants and their parents. We strive to keep the program as published, but arranging travel requires flexibility, and the final itinerary may vary due to availability and other factors beyond our control. We reserve the right to adjust routes, schedules, and substitute services such as hotels, destinations, or activities of similar quality at our sole discretion. In case of missed or unused activities after departure due to no fault of GEC, we will try to provide a replacement of similar quality, but we do not issue refunds for such missed activities. Please note that we do not provide a breakdown of the program tuition or its components.
The quoted tuition rates for the program do not cover expenses such as airfare to and from the program, internal flights within the program (unless stated otherwise), travel insurance, passport or visa costs, required testing (including COVID-19 tests) before, during, or after the program, airport departure taxes, baggage fees, meals not specified as included, additional course fees, personal snacks, laundry services, and activities not listed in the program itinerary.
No, the program tuition doesn’t cover airfare to and from the program.
Due to GEC making commitments and financial decisions in advance based on enrollment, there are financial penalties in place for participant cancellations. The specific penalties vary depending on the timing of the cancellation.
At GEC, safety is our top priority. Our safety policy serves as a framework to guide our operations and ensure the well-being of every participant. We continuously monitor and update our practices to adapt to changing circumstances and emerging best practices, guaranteeing a secure and fulfilling travel experience for all. Please click here to read our Safety Standards.
The health and well-being of our participants are of utmost importance. We have established robust emergency response plans that outline procedures for handling various scenarios. Our participants have access to 24/7 emergency support and are provided with emergency contact numbers. GEC maintains a team of pediatricians, orthopedic surgeons, and infectious disease specialists who are readily available to provide assistance to families in case of necessity. If a medical situation arises that necessitates a visit to a clinic or hospital, we maintain constant communication with participants and their families, ensuring timely updates and support throughout the program.
We provide guidance on necessary vaccinations, travel insurance, and access to medical facilities. We also promote healthy practices and offer resources for mental well-being, ensuring a holistic approach to participant safety. Please click here to read our Health Protocols.
Yes, we are able to accommodate students with dietary restrictions. If you have medical or dietary requirements that may pose a higher risk during a program, such as a severe allergy, our risk management team will work with you to find the most appropriate program and develop a comprehensive risk management plan tailored to your needs. We invite you to contact us to begin a conversation about your specific needs.
Our instructors are highly qualified professionals for whom safety is paramount and who have the necessary skills and knowledge to deal with emergency situations. They undergo a rigorous training program that includes first aid, emergency response, and risk management to effectively respond to unforeseen situations. Most importantly, they have the interpersonal skills to relate to each student and foster a positive group dynamic. They’re organized, practical, friendly, and proceed with caution to avoid unnecessary risk.
We have access to real-time risk alerts from around the world. This keeps us one step ahead of threats and gives us access to all the information we need to improve our response efforts and ensure the safety of our participants in a crisis. If we identify an elevated risk in an area, we don’t hesitate to reroute, curtail, postpone or cancel the program. Please click here to find out more about our Safety Standards.
We have access to real-time risk alerts from around the world. This keeps us one step ahead of threats and gives us access to all the information we need to improve our response efforts and ensure the safety of our participants in a crisis. If we identify an elevated risk in an area, we don’t hesitate to reroute, curtail, postpone, or cancel the program. Please click here to find out more about our Safety Standards.
Throughout the program, you’re responsible for handling and administering your own medications. In the event that the loss of your medication could lead to complications, your program instructors will have the option of carrying a spare supply.
All program participants are required to have travel insurance. The travel insurance must include coverage for emergency medical evacuation, medical care, COVID-19-related expenses, and emergency repatriation. We also strongly recommend that the insurance policy covers trip cancellation, trip curtailment, loss of luggage, and personal belongings.
For international travel, it’s mandatory for all students to have a valid passport. It’s important that the expiration date of your passport is at least six months beyond the end of your trip. If you don’t already have a passport, we strongly advise you to apply for it immediately. Passport applications usually take about six weeks to process.
A visa may also be required for certain destinations. GEC provides you with comprehensive advice and information to help you apply for the required visas. If you have a passport from a country other than the United States, please contact GEC Exchanges to discuss the specific visa requirements for your situation.
All activities, lodging, and meals are included in your tuition. However, we suggest bringing a minimum of $10-$15 per day for meals not included, laundry, Wi-Fi, snacks, souvenirs, gifts etc.
The requirement for a visa depends on both your country of citizenship and the destination you plan to visit. GEC will offer guidelines to assist US citizens in cases where a visa is needed. However, it is important to note that the responsibility of fulfilling visa requirements ultimately lies with you, and GEC Exchanges cannot guarantee the issuance of a visa. Students who are not US citizens must independently conduct research and adhere to the visa regulations of both their country of origin and their destination country.
Participants are welcome to bring their cell phones, which, among other things, will enhance security, facilitate communication, and serve as cameras, alarm clocks, flashlights, and music libraries. However, we ask that participants refrain from using their cell phones during group activities, meals, volunteering, and other designated times so that they can fully engage in the social experience and make the most of their interactions.
The Limited Technology Use Policy is designed to establish guidelines and expectations regarding the use of technology for participants in the GEC programs. The purpose of this policy is to ensure that participants engage in meaningful experiences, personal growth, and cultural immersion during their gap year. By limiting technology use, we aim to foster face-to-face interactions, encourage self-reflection, and facilitate a deeper connection with the world around us.
You’re expected to come to the program with a positive attitude, be enthusiastic about a group experience (you must work closely with your group mates), be willing to step out of your comfort zone and be challenged physically and mentally, and be open to new experiences. You must also abide by the
GEC has a strict policy against drug use, which includes illegal drugs, narcotics, recreational use of prescription drugs, and substances that aren’t illegal in the home or host country. This policy also applies to tobacco, marijuana, and herbal highs. In addition, the recreational use of alcohol is strictly prohibited anywhere during the program as it poses a high risk to student safety and can disrupt the group experience. Any student caught using, purchasing, or possessing any of these substances will be sent home immediately at their own expense. In such an event, no refunds will be granted.
GEC strictly prohibits the purchase, possession, or consumption of tobacco products by students participating in any GEC program, in accordance with the “Tobacco 21” legislation. This includes cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and vape pens/e-cigarettes. Marijuana use is also prohibited, and violations will result in immediate expulsion. Violators will be responsible for all costs incurred to return home, and no refunds will be granted. The policy is communicated to students during enrollment, and compliance is monitored and enforced by GEC staff.
At GEC, we prioritize the comfort, cleanliness, and safety of our accommodations. The type of accommodation we provide may range from basic guesthouses with shared facilities to cozy hotels, village lodges, hostels, or bungalows. In certain GEC programs, students may even spend their nights in tents at established campgrounds that offer toilets and showers.
Our students have numerous opportunities to communicate with their friends and families. However, we have established guidelines for the use of technology to ensure maximum presence and engagement. Students are allowed to use their personal electronic devices during specific times, which will be announced in advance by the instructors. Students are expected to adhere to these guidelines and limit their use accordingly.
WiFi is available in most accommodations when we aren’t on expeditions or service projects. In the evenings, you can go online to stay in touch with friends and family. Outside of these times, you should only use your device to take photos so that you can fully engage and actively participate in the trip.
Please note that some placements may be located in remote areas with limited or no WiFi access. In such cases, there may be extended periods, usually up to 7-10 days, where direct communication with friends and family isn’t possible. If problems arise during the time abroad, program leaders will contact families through GEC headquarters. Families may also contact GEC if they need to provide urgent information to their students on-site.
The transportation to and from each destination is an integral part of the experience. We utilize various modes of transportation such as buses, vans, trains, planes, ferries, and occasionally smaller vehicles or boats, especially when reaching remote locations. All transportation services are provided by reliable local partners who have been carefully selected and vetted for their professionalism.