Students traveling with Learning AFAR pose for a photo with local children in the Yucatan state of Mexico.
High-school student Deisy Cedeno had never ventured far from her home in South Bronx, New York, before embarking on a journey to the Amazon rainforest.
"I had not traveled at all — the farthest I had gone was New Jersey," she said.
Cedeno didn't feel the limitation just geographically, either. "I didn't think much into the future," she said, "I didn't know how much I could change."
She knows now, though, and she credits her change in perspective to the trip organized by Learning AFAR, a nonprofit foundation that also provided her with a scholarship to cover the costs of the 10-day journey to Peru.
"When I came back from Peru, I just wanted to take over the world," Cedeno said.
Learning AFAR, launched in 2008 by the same people who make AFAR magazine, is one foundation that wants to give high school students in low-income communities an opportunity to see another part of the world. The foundation has funded trips for 270 students since it began.
"AFAR is a brand that's really dedicated to inspiring and enabling richer travel experiences," CEO and cofounder Joe Diaz told Mashable. "We launched Learning AFAR because
we believed from the very beginning that the power of travel will change people's liveswe believed from the very beginning that the power of travel will change people's lives."
"Travel is the best form of education," he added.
Student travel is, of course, not a new concept. And study abroad programs, especially at institutions of higher education, have a long history.
The number of U.S. college students studying abroad has more than tripled over the past two decades, according to Inside Higher Ed. But low-income and minority students are not proportionally represented in the growing trend.
The Association of International Educators reported that in the 2011-2012 school year, black students were 14.6% of U.S. student enrollment, but they made up just 5.3% of students who studied abroad. For Latinos, the numbers were similar: While making up 13.8% of enrolled students, they were only 7.6% of the study abroad students.
Travel abroad before college is usually entirely dependent on the disposable income of a student's family. Learning AFAR's focus on low-income communities shows what a difference even a relatively small travel program can make.
"I was talking to a principal in New York the other day and he said, 'We ask our students to dream but they've never been given an example of why it's worth dreaming,'" said Jordan Robbins, program officer of the AFAR Foundation. "You tell them to think bigger, but that's a hard thing to believe."
In Oakland, where students have been participating since 2008, Robbins said that the effect of the trips is spreading. More students are applying to extracurricular opportunities, and parents are asking what other opportunities are available to their families.
Cedeno, who is eyeing college and who plans to make travel a regular part of her future, agreed.
"Not only did I discover that travel was important, but what makes travel life changing is you're exposed to a different culture," she said.
Earlier this month, AFAR announced the schools that would participate this year, including Chicago Academy High School in Chicago, Illinois; Williamsburg Charter High School in New York City, New York; Coliseum College Prep Academy in Oakland, California; and TAF Academy in Seattle, Washington. The students will travel to China, Costa Rica and Mexico.
Tags: AFAR, JOE DIAZ, LEARNING AFAR, LIFESTYLE, TRAVEL, TRAVEL & LEISURE, U.S