Switzerland, Italy, France, & Holland | Cultural Exploration

From the mountain trails and summer snowfields of the Swiss Alps and the Italian Dolomites, to the rich culture of Florence and Paris, and on to the bike paths, cheese markets, and beaches of rural Holland, join us to experience Europe as an actively engaged traveler with a group of like-minded students. This is the original Putney program, first led 64 years ago by founders George and Kitty Shumlin.

  • June 24, 2016  –  July 27, 2016
  • July 1, 2016  –  August 3, 2016
Students completing grades 9 – 12
Cultural Exploration
Typical Group:
16-18 students, 2 leaders
34 days


  • Try ziplining, glacier walking, or rock climbing with professional guides.
  • Contemplate world-renowned works of art in Paris, Florence, and Amsterdam.
  • Savor Swiss chocolate, Italian gelato, French croissants, and Dutch cheeses.
  • Delve into the life and culture of Italy by becoming part of an Italian family.


This summer Cultural Exploration program in Europe immerses high school students in the rich cultures and diverse landscapes that have fascinated travelers for centuries.  Our itinerary is a carefully structured balance of off-the-beaten-track towns and villages, cosmopolitan cities like Florence, Paris, and Amsterdam, and natural wonders like the Swiss Alps and the Italian Dolomites.

Every day is full of active and fun ways to get to know the country you are in.  Go canyoning in mountain streams or glacier hiking through dramatic, ice-covered terrain.  Ascend steep alpine slopes by téléferique to hike far above the tree line, past grazing cows, to fields of summer snow.  Swim in Lake Geneva, and visit the medieval Castle of Chillon and the cosmopolitan city of Montreux.  In Italy, take in the Renaissance atmosphere of Florence — the  Duomo, the Piazza della Signoria with Michelangelo’s “David,” the Uffizi Gallery, the Medici Chapel, and the Pitti Palace.  Relax after a hike in the high meadows of the Dolomites, or learn to rock climb with professional guides.  Discover Paris, “The City of Light.” Explore the Latin Quarter, Montmartre, and Île de la Cité, and visit museums, flea markets, theatres, restaurants, and cafés.  Ride along Holland’s rural bike paths past sand dunes, windmills, and Dutch farms and stop to explore small villages, or spend an afternoon swimming in the North Sea or sailing and windsurfing on inland lakes.  Explore the picturesque canals and bustling outdoor markets of Amsterdam, visit Anne Frank’s house, and view paintings by Rembrandt and van Gogh.

Become part of the Putney family!

Become part of the Putney family!

Mid-way through the program, a week-long homestay with an Italian family who has a child of similar age provides a rewarding taste of Italian life.  Our carefully selected host families are always eager to practice their English, so you do not need to be able to speak Italian to communicate with ease.  Ride bikes through town with your Italian family, help prepare a pasta dinner, or head out for a hike with your host sibling.  Get together with your group a few times during the week for excursions along with both leaders, who stay in town for the duration of the homestay.

“It was the walking, biking, and climbing, things like the rope course in Switzerland that made him feel he could do anything. It was Mateo’s first time in Europe so for him it was about understanding what that region is really like, the cities and the countryside.”

— Gabriela Cesarman, mother of Mateo Cesarman, American School Foundation, Mexico City, Mexico

Our accommodations in Europe are varied, ranging from comfortable old-world-style hotels to a simple dormitory in a mountain chalet.  Residences are often run by wonderful families or individuals who play a role in setting the tone for our experience and facilitate interaction with locals.  Start out each day with a breakfast at our residence and then, for other meals, eat in restaurants or enjoy putting together picnics of delicious local foods.  We travel primarily by train  the way most Europeans move from place to place.  Occasionally we use a chartered or public bus, or a subway for excursions or short transfers to and from rail stations.

What to Expect

This is a physically active program.  While you don’t need to be an athlete, you should be prepared to be on the move for most of each day — walking in cities, hiking in the mountains, biking in Holland. You should come to the program with an open mind, excited about new experiences, and willing to challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone to make the most of your time in Europe.

At Putney we take pride in our reputation for careful, thorough planning and attention to detail. The descriptions of our high school summer travel programs are based on our experiences in previous summers and our plans for this summer. It is inevitable that some things described here will not happen exactly as presented. To get the most out of the Putney experience, participants need to be flexible in responding to unforeseen situations, and creative in taking advantage of unexpected opportunities. We expect Putney participants to share responsibility for the success of their experience. Rules that provide a safe and structured environment, set curfews, and prohibit the use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco are in place and enforced. We expect you to behave in a mature and productive way at all times.


$9,590 plus airfare



Learn about last year’s program by reading the 2014 Cultural Exploration Europe Blog.

This program begins and ends at Newark International Airport in Newark, New Jersey.

Departure • Join your group for five of cultural exploration and adventure travel in Europe.  Gather at Newark Liberty International Airport to meet your program leaders and depart as a group for Switzerland.

Switzerland• Begin in a chalet in an idyllic Swiss village, high on an Alpine mountainside.  Spend five days getting to know one another and taking advantage of the stunning natural beauty of the Alps by hiking in  meadows,  walking atop glaciers, and canyoning in mountain streams.  Take a day trip to the nearby city of Montreux to visit the medieval Chateau de Chillon and swim in Geneva Lake.

“I believe that the homestay experience was the greatest adventure and also achieved the end goals we were looking for including: embedding herself in Italian culture, getting out of her comfort zone, independence, self-reliance, and a sense that she can overcome her fears and thrive.”

— Jill Band, mother of Ali Band, Coral Gables Senior High School, Coral Gables, FL

Florence • From Switzerland, travel by train to Florence and stay in a small hotel in the heart of the city for four days.  Visit the Duomo, the Piazza della Signoria, the Uffizi Gallery, the Medici Chapel, and the Pitti Palace.

Homestay in Italy • A small, medieval, walled village just twenty minutes from the Adriatic Sea sets the scene for our homestay.  Staying with local families for a week gives you the opportunity to experience real Italian life.  Both leaders stay in town during the homestay, and the group gets together for excursions throughout the week.

The Dolomites • After bidding arrivederci to your host family, travel by private bus and funicular to join local mountain guides for three days of spectacular trekking in the Dolomites of northern Italy, staying in a mountain rifugio.

teens biking in europe on summer program abroad

Bike at a leisurely pace through the Dutch countryside, stopping to explore beaches, markets, and small towns along the way.

Paris • An overnight train takes us to Paris, “The City of Light,” for six days of exploring monuments, museums, markets, and cafés as we walk the streets and boulevards of the Left Bank, Île de la Cité, Montmartre, and other neighborhoods.

Holland • Then travel by train through Belgium to Holland.  Take a six-day bicycle trip along rural bike paths, through sand dunes, and past windmills and Dutch farms. Along the way, stop to swim at North Sea beaches, sail or windsurf on inland lakes, and visit the towns of Noordwijk, Haarlem, and Heemskerk.  Holland is flat and biking distances are moderate.

Amsterdam • The adventure ends with two days in Amsterdam to explore its busy canals and streets, visit Anne Frank’s house, and see paintings by Rembrandt and van Gogh.

Return • On the last morning of the program, head to Amsterdam International Airport and depart as a group for Newark International Airport, accompanied by one of the program leaders.

This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule.  However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.


Background • Since its formation in the early 1990s, the European Union has provided a network for cross-cultural communication, understanding, and exchange.  Composed of 28 member states, it now includes approximately 500 million citizens, speaking 24 official languages.  Despite monetary and political unification, each country maintains the richness of its individual identity through customs, traditions, languages, regional history, and cuisine.  Join us to experience a fascinating cross-section of Europe, by exploring the incredible cultural diversity and natural beauty of Switzerland, Italy, France, and Holland.

Population • Our first stop is a village in the Swiss Alps, home to approximately 4,000 people during the summer, but whose population nearly triples in the winter during ski season.  In Italy, our time is split between the beautiful Renaissance city of Florence (population: 400,000), and a medieval-walled fortress town on the Adriatic coast (population: 32,000).  Paris is home to nearly 2.5 million of the country’s 65 million people.  While biking through the Dutch countryside, we stop to explore a number of small towns along the way.  We end in Amsterdam, Holland’s dynamic capital city of 830,000 people.

Europe’s geographic diversity boasts snow-capped peaks and warm, sandy beaches.

Europe’s geographic diversity boasts snow-capped peaks and warm, sandy beaches.

Language • If you have studied French, Italian, or Dutch, you will have lots of opportunities to practice!  Throughout Europe, and particularly in Holland, many people are able to communicate in English.  Homestays in Italy are with families who are conversant in English.

“This trip really enabled me to explore European culture and to understand how different and how similar European culture is to American culture. One of the many highlights for me was the Holland bike trip. I thought that getting to travel around Holland the same way that the locals do was a very interesting experience and I was able to see a lot of Holland that I otherwise never would have been able to see.”

— Maxwell Seltzer, Scarsdale Senior High School, Scarsdale, NY

Climate • Summer in Europe is pleasant and warm.  Afternoon temperatures range from the low 80s to the mid 90s, though it is cooler in the mountains, where it can be quite chilly at night.

Cuisine • Europe is a cornucopia of diverse culinary styles and regional specialties  reflections of the history, climate, customs, and geography of each place.  Delve into homemade pasta, pizza, and gelato in Italy, and the famous cheeses and pastries of Holland.  Enjoy fresh baguettes and croissants in France, and sample raclette and chocolate fondue in Switzerland.

Try your hand at making authentic pasta in Italy.

Try your hand at making authentic pasta in Italy.

Currency • In 2002, France, Italy, and Holland converted to the Euro (€) from the French Franc, the Italian Lira, and the Dutch Guilder, respectively. Switzerland is not part of the European Union and maintains its own currency  the Swiss Franc (CHF).  An ATM card is the best way to access cash in Europe.  ATMs are readily available in all four countries.

Voltage • When traveling in Europe, remember to bring a voltage converter and plug adapters.  All four countries we travel to use 230V/50Hz current, although each uses a different type of plug.  Switzerland uses type J plugs (three round pins in a triangular formation), France and Holland both use type C plugs (two round pins), and Italy uses type C and type L plugs (three round pins in a row).

Visa  U.S. citizens are not currently required to have a visa to enter the European Union.  Non-U.S. citizens must check local visa requirements.


The Cultural Exploration Switzerland, Italy, France, & Holland program is directed by Annie Agnone. If you have questions, are interested in receiving more detailed information, or would like to talk further about the program or any of our high school summer programs abroad, please get in touch!

Annie Agnone

Annie Agnone: Ohio University, B.S., Visual Communication, B.A., Psychology; The University of Alabama, M.F.A., Creative Writing. Before joining Putney, Annie taught English composition and creative writing to undergraduates, written and visual storytelling to high school students from Alabama’s Black Belt region, and creative writing to inmates at a medium-security prison. While at The University of Alabama, Annie also worked as a design and web editor for Black Warrior Review. Annie has led programs in Ireland and Prague, and in Tuscany for National Geographic Student Expeditions. In 2013, Annie was awarded a National Geographic Young Explorer’s Grant to document nocturnal culture in America on a 20,000-mile road trip across the United States. She specializes in writing and Italian programming at Putney, and coordinates photo technology. She enjoys cooking and practicing yoga, as well as hiking and road-tripping with her partner and two dogs.


How To Apply


If you are new to Putney Student Travel, visit our Online Application.  
If you are a Putney Student Travel alumni family, 
use your existing account information to Log In.


You can hold a space in a program by completing the Online Application Form, submitting a signed Agreement Form, and providing the $700 Application Deposit by Mastercard, Visa, or Discover Card through our secure online system or by sending a check to our office. Our admissions staff is also available to take credit card information over the phone.  We will hold a space in a program for a reasonable time, pending completion of the full application process. See Step 3.

After March 15, we will hold a space temporarily as above, but we must receive full payment by check or wire transfer within three days to continue to hold a space in the program.


Before we can make a final admissions decision, an application must be complete.  In addition to the Application Form and Application Deposit described above, a complete application includes:

  • Applicant Statement – Attach a statement explaining why you would like to join a Putney program and what you feel you can contribute to it. Your application cannot be processed without this statement. Approximately 150–300 words is sufficient. Global Action applicants’ statements must be 300-500 words addressing these questions, and detailing their interest and/or experience in the country and issues on which they wish to focus.
  • Two Teacher Reference Forms

These documents are available as part of our Online Application.  We review a completed application within a few days, and notify families of our admissions decision by e-mail.