This week's blog post comes from Maeve L., a junior from Southwest High School in Minnesota. Maeve is spending the year at SYA China in Beijing, and had the opportunity to visit NYU Shanghai this spring.
Originally located on Zhongshan Bei road inside the campus of East China Normal University in Shanghai, NYU Shanghai is a newly established liberal arts and science research university that is quickly gaining momentum after its first school year. The student population is estimated to reach around one thousand by 2015 from less than three hundred students in 2013.
NYU Shanghai, like its portal campuses in cities Abu Dhabi and Paris, accommodates international students and the respective country’s national education system. This means that about 50 percent of the university’s students are China natives. The other 50 percent represent over 100 countries worldwide. International NYU students living on campus usually have a Chinese roommate for up to 3 years, thus emphasizing the need to use and facilitate Chinese language learning.
Created principally for students who demonstrate intellectual curiosity and yearning for a cross-cultural experience, NYU Shanghai is becoming an appealing college destination for students who have studied abroad in high school through programs such as SYA, AFS, Rotary, or the United World colleges. Recently I traveled independently to Shanghai from Beijing through SYA China and had the chance to talk to some newly enrolled NYU Shanghai students. Three of the incoming college freshmen had recently graduated from SYA China; they enthused that, “NYU is arguably the best option to continue their pursuit of mastering Chinese.” Keeping up with a foreign language is difficult when one returns to their home country because it is not required in everyday life, but these students are thankful they found a solution to maintain their high proficiency.
In addition to NYU Shanghai’s international diversity, there is a wide range of economic background among students. During my visit I met a few students who had never been outside of the United States before coming to Shanghai; NYU Shanghai’s generous financial aid system makes it possible for low-income students to attend this university. As a newly launched university, the school board is offering extensive scholarships and financial aid with the financial support of the Chinese government in the effort to enroll more students.
In NYU Shanghai’s efforts to expand facilities and class size, the university is currently transitioning campuses to Pudong district where new dorms are being built. “The campus and dorms are in the heart of what you could consider Shanghai’s Wall Street. The new dorms are actually inside of an old hotel which NYU Shanghai is renovating this year,” remarks Wesley, who will be graduating from SYA China this spring. 2014 NYU Shanghai students will have access to a new dining room, library, and science research center located on the campus. Students who are fluent in Chinese have the option to continue classes with Chinese students from East China Normal University at the old campus.
Personally, I was very impressed with the incoming freshman class of 2014. Everyone seemed excited and showed a genuine interest in learning Chinese. Some students had declined acceptance to colleges such as UC Berkeley, Claremont McKenna, and Cornell in order to attend NYU Shanghai. These students represent a new generation of cross-cultural curiosity and are brave enough to pave the path for future generations coming to study at NYU Shanghai. “NYU Shanghai is such a new school that it doesn’t have a reputation yet,” said Chloe from San Diego. “I think the incoming freshmen have the biggest responsibility in demonstrating what this school is really about. In some ways it’s up to us to shape the school and its curriculum because nothing is set in stone.”
Taking the step to study abroad in high school can seem like a big change, and it is! Our alums, however, will tell you how great it is once you've taken that first step and found yourself in your new host city. Some of the fondest memories our alums have of high school are the ones from their year studying abroad with SYA. When we asked them about their experiences, they couldn't say enough great things!
Read their quotes below, and we're sure that you'll have your bags packed and be ready for your year abroad!
9. "My SYA experience was, undoubtedly, the most life-changing year of my life." -Amanda, Spain '10
8. "SYA gave me a greater sense of confidence and increased my risk-taking ability." -Anne, France '11
7. "I daydreamed for months about what it would be like to live with a French family in Rennes. Looking back on those daydreams, none of them compare to my real host family. None of those daydreams could contain the bonds that I share with them." -Willa, France ‘13
6. "I myself have found bliss in helping at a local soup kitchen, where I meet all sorts of people: immigrants who don’t speak a word of Italian, elderly couples who are a little down on their luck, and college students who are tired of the Italian equivalent of Ramen noodles. I know that from working at the kitchen, I can get a different kind of perspective, see the Italy that gets overshadowed by fashion shows and soccer tournaments." -Waverly, Italy '14
5. "I cannot imagine this year with any other group of people, this crowd is ALWAYS full of surprises." -Sophia, China ‘13
4. “Everything for breakfast is chocolate. Everything.“ -Sarah, Spain ’14
3. "I'm so glad I got this opportunity, and I can't wait to go back and see my new friends again!" -Corynne, Italy '14
2. "The Chinese teachers I have here are the best Chinese teachers I've ever had..." -Tati, China '14
1. “The sky has now become my limit. I believe in myself enough to see things that before seemed totally impossible as totally achievable” -Daniel, Spain ‘13
Taking your year abroad by the horns is important! Once your plane lands on the tarmac, you're off and running, with only 9 months ahead of you. Not sure where to start your adventure? There are 9 things I insist you can't miss out on when you're living and studying abroad in Beijing, China.
1. Try Peking Duck. China is full of unique cuisine, and known for Peking duck. If you're feeling adventurous, Beijing also offers items like scorpions, starfish and seahorses. Not your style? You can always find less lively food options, with lots of veggies and noodles available.
2. Venture to the Forbidden City. Whether you go as part of a class or on your own, make sure the Forbidden City is on your itinerary. Some students even make multiple trips to explore the gardens, buildings and temples within its walls. If you're in the mood for boat ride, head to the Shichahai Lakes and rent a row boat to float around the lakes in!
3. Speak Mandarin all day. This isn't going to be the easiest of things to do upon arrival, so test your lanuage skills once you're settled in. Begin by picking a place to dine in a new neighborhood, and only use Mandarin to ask for directions if you get lost on your way there or on your way home. Then, speak Mandarin with your host family in the evening. Once you get through your first day speaking only Mandarin, you'll be surprised with your language skills!
4. Visit the National Stadium. Home to the 2008 Summer Olympics, the National Stadium is
quite the sight. It even has it's own train stop! Be sure to stay until sunset to watch the stadium light up with a colorful surprise!
While you're close by, don't forget to check out the aquatics center, a large square building uniquely designed for the Olympics!
5. Check out the Beijing Zoo. Sometimes living in the city can make you miss nature, especially if you haven't made time to visit the parks around Beijing (though you should!) The Beijing Zoo has animals waiting to be greeted and fed by you. Go with a group of friends from school and take photos of one another with the many different animlas you come across here. You may even encounter some animals that you've never seen in the US!
6. Get lost. Getting lost might sound stressful, but it's the best way to test your language skills and discover new parts of Beijing. Try taking a train to a new destination in the city, then wander through the shops, eat lunch at a restaurant and check out the nearby attractions. Don't use your map or phone to get back to the train until you have no idea where you are!
7. Celebrate Chinese New Year. Although the Chinese New Year is later than the one in the US, we promise you won't miss out! Beijing goes all out for the New Year with festivals, parades and colorful decorations throughout the city! This cultural event has the chance to teach you SO much about China and the people who live there. If you're going for the full immersion experience, don't miss out! Get out of the house and watch a parade or snap some photos of the beautiful decorations that are illuminating the streets! If you can't figure out where to go, ask your host parents- chances are they can direct you in the right direction if they haven't already asked you to join in on their festivities!
8. Make friends outside of SYA. An important part of immersing yourself in a new culture is getting to know those who make up the culture. Beijing is full of students your age, why not connect with one of them? You may have more in common with students in China than you think, but the only way to find out is by talking with them! SYA's school in Beijing is in the same building as a Chinese High School, so there are no excuses! Take the opportunity at lunch to meet someone new everyday. By the end of the school year you'll have met hundreds of new students, and maybe when you head off to college meeting friends won't be as difficult!
9. Keep a blog! Your time abroad is going to be full of excitement, learning, discovery and travel. Share your experiences with your friends back home by posting photos, videos and blogs about everthing you're up to so when you return they can have a long list of questions to ask you about! Nothing is more exciting then showing your friends photos of that time you got lost heading to school and met a Chinese Diplomat in a tea house while asking for directions- or even when you and your friends had the time of your life discovering the Chaoyang temple.
Check out what our current campus reporters had to say about their year studying abroad in Beijing here.
At SYA, we frequently receive notes and letters from students once they've graduated and gone back to their home school or off to college. On less frequent occasions, we receive letters from parents of SYA alums. The email below was an unsolicited email from the parent of an SYA France alum who wrote to our Resident Director, Denis Brochu. She gave us permission to use her letter, which we are pleased to share with you below.
As always, if you are an alum or the parent of an alum and would like to share your thoughts or stories with us, please reach out to email@example.com.
Thank you for sending such a delightful email, brimming with stories of the current year in Rennes -- some familiar, others new and exciting! You may or may not remember my son, Robert, who spent the year abroad with you in Rennes not too long ago. He lived right near the school with the Toulemont family, with whom he is still in touch. Please pardon the length of this email as I share with you some of my SYA thoughts since Robert's year with you.
Denis, although I have always known that SYA was a life changing experience for Robert, as the years go by, I become increasingly grateful that SYA was Robert's first intensive international experience. Robert now speaks Spanish and Portuguese in addition to French, but it was his deep, well-structured immersion into the French language with SYA that created a framework for his learning the other two languages with ease and accuracy. In his first semester in Spanish, he was actually accused of cheating because he was excelling so rapidly. What was he doing? He was reading ahead in the textbook, making comparisons between Spanish grammar and vocabulary and the French grammar and vocabulary he knew so well, and watching Spanish movies! Robert's learning Portuguese contributed to his now having a Brazilian girlfriend whom he met in Spain -- but who lives in Brazil, unfortunately. Ah, the downside of world travel!
Beyond language acquisition, what Robert learned with SYA was how to fully live into another culture, to become one or blend himself into a different way of living and thinking. He learned what immersion really means, why one would want to immerse, and what the benefits are. Although I know there were some growing pains for him during his year in France, he has come to not only appreciate but to pursue opportunities to expand his mind through living within other cultures. Robert has had successful immersion experiences in Turkey, Spain, Brazil and Colombia so far, and the list continues to grow. I could even add rural Mississippi (where he spent two weeks working with Habitat for Humanity) to the list of cultural experiences he has had; there is no end to the possibilities, even right in one's own town.
Last spring my husband and I were visiting Florence, Italy, when we met a gaggle of American college girls in a shop. We stopped to ask them how their semester had been for them in Florence, how was their Italian coming along, were they studying Renaissance art or architecture, or even Italian fashion design? They giggled and said their Italian was terrible, and that they had been taking business courses and the same kinds of courses they would have taken at home. We felt so sad for these girls! Here they were in Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, but they might as well have been at home in the U.S. These international experiences that colleges so often brag about requiring for graduation seem to have become extended vacations -- superficial and touristy. Needless to say, SYA was on our minds that night; we were so appreciative that Robert had learned how to do it right the first time -- because of SYA he will never in a million years be a superficial tourist -- anywhere!
All of this is to say, once again, thank you for what you gave our son. SYA sent him home with new habits and perceptions, questions and confidence -- a truly functional toolkit -- for becoming a global citizen. Thank you.
Taking your year abroad by the horns is important! Once your plane lands on the tarmac, you're off and running, with only 9 months ahead of you. Not sure where to start your adventure? There are 10 things I insist you can't miss out on when you're living and studying abroad in Rennes, France.
1. Grab some brie and a baguette and have a little picnic lunch amongst the rose bushes in the Thabor Garden. We'd be lying if we said France wasn't full of delicious food, and you should try it all! You'll also find that there are gardens and parks throughout Rennes, so you'd be missing out if you didn't pair a delicious picnic with a trip to a beautiful park.
2. Read a collection of French poetry like Rimbaud or Baudelaire in the Haricot Rouge while sipping their amazing chocolate chaud. I know, poetry may not be your cup of tea, or chocolate chaud even, but remember that you're immersing yourself in a new culture, so why not embrace some of it's great literature? Who knows, you may enjoy it! (It wouldn't be on this list if we thought you wouldn't, so give it a try!)
3. Eat a gallette and a crepe in the same day from two different cafes and compare. From the moment your plane's wheels hit the tarmac to your first trip to Paris and throughout your year abroad there's one thing you won't be able to say no to: crepes. If they're going to become a staple in your life, why not have a local spot you and your friends can go and enjoy delicious crepes? Make sure it's in close proximity to the SYA school, rumor has it studying abroad in a new country makes you hungry for more than just education!
4. Hang out in place de la republique, there is always something exciting happening! Rennes is an exciting place to live. There's no reason you should ever be bored, and if you are, head over to place de la republique and find the fun! On any day of the week there's something to do here, even if you're just hanging out with your friends. If you don't believe me, check out this live video of what's happening there right now!
5. Walk along La Vilaine, the river that runs through the middle of Rennes. You see the photos of tourists in Rennes standing by the river, there's a reason everyone visits. If you're interested in getting some fresh air, this is the place to be! It's easy to walk along the river after class, and if you're lucky it may be on your route home from school when returning to your host family's house!
6. Go see a soccer match at Le Stade Rennais, learn the cheer and make sure you wear the right colors! If you've never been to a professional soccer game back home, or if you've attended every game, you're still in for a treat! Soccer takes on a whole new meaning in France, and you're gauranteed to enjoy every moment of it!
7. Visit l’insitut Franco-Americain and attend a exhibit or presentation, introduce yourself to the speaker. Being abroad means taking chances and putting yourself outside of your comfort zone. Sure, maybe your French isn't the best when you arrive in Rennes, but you'll see leaps and bounds of improvement if you take a chance and speak to new people in French!
8. Dance at a traditional Breton party and make sure you exercise your pinkies before and stretch them afterwards. Some French traditions are more well-known than others. The best way to explain this one? Watch this video!
9. Spend a Sunday afternoon reading French comics in a book store. If you're looking to unwind, grab a French comic and test your language skills. Unlike your text books, comic books can provide you with a good laugh, and even a better story. Be sure to talk to your local friends about the comics you read, it could be a great conversation starter.
10. Go shopping at the weekly open air market in Place des Lices with a host parent. Spending time with your host family is important, so don't just limit it just to home. The open air market is amazing, and unlike anything you've seen in the US. Don't worry, if you're not sure how to vocalize that you want to buy a certain item, you'll have your host parent with you to ease the transaction.
Learn more about things to do and see in Rennes, France here.
Taking your year abroad by the horns is important! Once your plane lands on the tarmac, you're off and running, with only 9 months ahead of you. Not sure where to start your adventure? There are 10 things I insist you can't miss out on when you're living and studying abroad in Viterbo, Italy.
1. Eat at Il Monastero where the pizzas take up two full plates. It's Italy, you can't pass up a good pizza. The portions are huge and your stomach will be full! Be sure to be adventurous and throw on some toppings that you wouldn't have tried at home. Pile your pizza high! If you haven't packed already, I'd advise adding some stretchy pants into your bag in preparation of all the pizza you'll consume in Viterbo.
2. Eat gelato from every single gelateria in Viterbo. Gelato, gelato, gelato. If you've never had gelato, get ready for your taste buds to be on cloud 9! It's delicious, creamy and gelaterias are all over Viterbo. To ensure you're eating the best gelato in the city, we recommend trying them all! While you're out testing the gelato, you'll be learning what else Viterbo has to offer- be sure to keep a map with you and mark down the places that you enjoyed visiting or want to return to; it will come in handy later on in your year abroad!
3. Go to Happiness Café before school starts, drink a cappuccino while reading the paper and chat with the morning crowd. Immersion means more than just physically being in a new country, it means being involved and engaged in your new country. You'll find that Italy is full of people who would love to talk to you, so take the first step and say hello.
4. Find a new shortcut to the SYA school (there are many). Viterbo is an old city. This means the roads wind, combine and split off in many different ways. It's always great to have a way you know to get to school, but if there's a morning you're up for an adventure, try cutting down a small side street or use a main road you've never been on. Eventually you'll have a preferred method of getting to and from school, which may not be the way you began with!
5. Walk through the San Pellegrino quarter really slowly, once during the day, and again in the evening. There's so much to see, and you only have 9 MONTHS to do it. Sure, that seems like a long time now, but once you're there it will FLY by! It's great to take your camera, grab photos, eat gelato with friends and try to find the best pizza in the city, but don't forget to stop and appreciate the simple things. Viterbo is beautiful, so ditch the camera and phone and just take in the San Pellegrino quarter for what it is; beautiful.
6. Walk down the Corso only speaking only in Italian. You may arrive in Viterbo with little to no prior knowledge of the Italian language or culture. Scary, right? Don't let it rule you. Speak to everyone you meet in Italian on your walk; sure you're going to mess up a few words, but you can bet that someone will correct you and your language skills will improve because of it. Too scared to talk to strangers? Grab a friend from school or a host parent and talk a stroll; working together to improve your language skills is a fantastic bonding experience!
7. Read Dante at Villa Lante. You may not find yourself sitting in a garden back home reading, but in Italy? It's common. Students love Villa Lante, with its flowers and beautiful greenery. Be sure to bring a camera in case you don't fancy Dante. If you do, find a nice spot atop a hill so you can view the beauty of Villa Lante. Be careful, though, you might not get as much reading as you had planned due to the overwhelming beauty you'll discover there.
8. Watch the local soccer team play and chant with the crowd. We may not pay as much attention to soccer as we do football in the US, but be prepared for that to change when you're abroad. Soccer is huge, and there are local teams everywhere! If you want to head to a game, ask your host parents or teachers at SYA where to go! Be sure to test your language skills by talking to whoever is seated around you and your friends at the game!
9. Learn to dance a traditional Italian folk dance like the Pizzica. Learning to dance while abroad is great, especially if you're still new and your language skills aren't refined and polished yet. Learn to move by following the instructor, no need to worry about understanding everything s/he is saying. The Pizzica is a fun dance to learn, and an important piece of your new culture to embrace. Wondering what the dance looks like? Watch this video.
10. Shop at the open air market at Piazza Dei Caduti. Open air markets are a neat event that we don't see often in the US. Your host family will probably shop here every now and again, so why not ask to go with them? You can practice your language skills as you try to purchase items at different stands. Don't worry, your host parent will help you if you can't seal the deal yourself!
Learn more about what to see and do in Viterbo, Italy.
Zaragoza, Spain is a city where you should never find yourself wondering what to do. From eating tapas after school with your friends to visiting one of the many museums with your host family, your year studying abroad will never be a bore.
While you're navigating the new streets of this city that is more than two-thousand years old, be sure to keep the list below handy! You don't want to miss out on what our alums say they enjoyed the most while in Zaragoza with SYA!
1. Learn how to make tortilla de patata, a delicious recipe that you can dazzle your friends back home with!
2. Read Don Quixote in Parque Grande. Even if you're familiar with this novel, reading it in your new home might bring those far fetched details into reality when you're in Spain.
3. Find a new shortcut to the SYA school. The sooner you try a new route to school, the
sooner you will begin to explore your new city. Even if you find yourself lost, you'll eventually get back to school and maybe even find a new cafe or meet a new friend along the way!
4. Take a picture at La Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. Close to the holidays you can find lights covering the building and concerts being held out front. (This is the perfect backdrop for your photo, if you ask me!)
5. Visit El Ayuntamiento (City Hall) to admire the architecture. You don't have to stop here, though. Zaragoza, as we mentioned, is over two-thousand years old. You can bet everything within the old city walls has a flare of classic Spanish and Moorish architecture.
6. Spend the entire day speaking Spanish. Though this may seem like a daunting task now, by the time you've settled in with your host family and new city, it will seem much easier, and maybe even fun! Start by ordering your breakfast in Spainish and continue to talk with your friends the same way. With your classes in Spanish as well, it will become second nature by the time you sit down for dinner with your host family.
7. Go to a Real Zaragoza soccer game. Don't get confused- there's no such thing as a 'fake Zaragoza' soccer team...that's their team name! If you've never experienced a soccer game, don't miss the chance while you're in Zaragoza!
8. Make a meal with your host family. Sure, you'll probably eat with your host family every night, but that doesn't mean you'll learn how to cook in the way they do. Spaniards use different spices and meats that you are sure to love! When you return from your year abroad you'll want to know how to create all of these dishes.
9. Find your favorite tapas in Casco Viejo. You bet we're telling you to try and eat as many tapas as your can while you're abroad. With more than a few places to grab tapas and enjoy, why wouldn't you? Keep track of each place you go and of what you eat in a journal. At the end of the year look back and decide where you had the best tapas and bring your friends from school.
10. Keep a blog of your adventures! Your time abroad is going to be full of excitement, learning, discovery and travel. Share your experiences with your friends back home by posting photos, videos and blogs about everthing you're up to so when you return they can have a long list of questions to ask you about! Nothing is more exciting then showing your friends photos of that time you got lost heading to school and met a Spanish superstar in a cafe while asking for directions- or when you and your friends traveled independently and had the time of your life discovering Spain. Check out what our campus reporters had to say about their year abroad in Spain.
If there's one thing you MUST do while in Spain, it's to enjoy your experience to the fullest! For more information on the city of Zaragoza, visit their website.
Tarah T., is a student from Deerfield Academy who is very excited about her high school year abroad in Spain. In this post, Tarah writes about how she feels comfortable in her new city, Zaragoza, even though she's only been abroad for a few months.
The more days pass, the more amazed I am that I have been abroad and living in a foreign country for 5 months. These few months have been the most eye opening and intricate and difficult and rewarding months of my life. There is nothing that could compare and I am so happy with my decision to be here. The sights, the memories and the love I have here is incomparable. I have learned so much about myself and continue to do so. As my time comes to a speedy close I can only focus on the loss of the environment of this country I have come to love. I will miss el ambiente and the quirks of Spanish culture and the amazing host family that has shown it to me all.
Now allow me to brainwash the new students as they enter this year of absolute craziness. Some of the reasons I would propose for doing this wonderful year is the independence, freedom and the ability to explore one of the most beautiful countries in the world. What is offered abroad is nowhere near attainable back home in the States. In the states, it is understood what is going to happen during the week and weekends: school, sports homework, sleep and repeat. Abroad in Spain, the days are more unpredictable and the schedule is absolutely organized chaos. We have less class time and school time during the year because our schedule is stuffed with trips to various parts of Spain or special holidays specific to Spanish culture. Our days are longer with 50 minute classes and 1 hour and a half for lunch, but we take weeks off to go to the South of Spain or Paris. This program is a cultural immersion program and we really swim in the culture.
During the weekends back at my home school, it is usually always the same thing. We go hang around the café, try to come up with something fun to do, eat and then end up watching movies and talking until curfew. The weekends are never extraordinary. Here in Spain, the opposite is true. It is fast paced and exciting and constantly different. On the weekends, the school breaks up into various groups and goes on exciting trips to different parts of the country. We all embark independently to see the beautiful architecture of Barcelona or the rich flamenco culture of Seville. My mind swirls as I contemplate all the beautiful places I want to see. Spain is such a fun and amazing country. I am desperate to see it all and to do it all. The weekends of aimless meandering are gone replaced with self-sustainability and adventure. The weeks go by fast and are filled with challenging and interesting classes. You are constantly being pushed to do something you have never done before or did not think you would ever be doing. The rarity of this experience is the main reason why you students should do this program. It is unlike any other and why, as my time here comes to a close, I get so absolutely sad about the end.
Wondering what a year studying abroad with SYA will do for your high school experience? Maybe you’re wondering how studying abroad in high school can benefit your future? Or your acceptance to college? Maybe you’re even wondering how you’ll be able to fund a year abroad?
These are questions that we hear every day at the School Year Abroad headquarters. Each year, over 200 students embark on a year-long journey with SYA for their junior or senior year of high school - a big step to take.
As the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, heads abroad to China, she is extending the opportunity for U.S. student to ask her questions about the study abroad experience. Whether you’re heading abroad with SYA in China, France, Italy or Spain next year, take the chance to ask Mrs. Obama about her perspective on the importance of studying abroad!
Read more about her trip and her itinerary here, and how you can interact with the First Lady here.
Or use the hashtag #FLOTUSinChina to discuss her trip and ask questions on Twitter or Instagram. We hope the First Lady has a wonderful time in China!
Abigail H., from Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico, is an SYA France Campus Reporter.
I remembered my slightly neglected Campus Reporter assignment at a very inopportune time: hailed upon, freezing, soaked to the skin through two sweaters, and unable to pry my frozen fingers off of an oar. I could barely understand what was going around me, not because it was going on in French—after five months, understanding basic sentences comes pretty naturally, at least when the air around me isn’t roaring with the impact of tiny balls of ice hitting both my body and the surrounding estuary.
If I write about this moment, I thought, I will send all the applicants running. Some moments abroad are rough; I won’t lie to you. These are the moments sitting in a boat wanting nothing more than to be warm and dry; the moments when you stumble over the pronunciation of one word five times before you render it comprehensible; these are the moments when you feel lonely or depressed.
I could tell you to come to SYA because of the bread, or the crêpes, or because of the clothes, or for any superficial reason. I could even tell you to come because of the language, but those aren’t the best or most important reasons that you should go abroad. Yes, learning the language is an integral part of going abroad, and I do not devalue that, but you should truly go abroad because you will learn to scrutinize everything—from art to film to politics—in a different light; because pictures are nothing compared to the world in person; and because you will understand yourself so much more deeply than you ever would have otherwise.
One thing I have noticed since I came to France is that I view all works of art, not just paintings, with a more analytic eye. Everything from film to sculpture is, now, in my mind, subject to scrutiny where I once took it for granted. This, I think, is due in part to my History of Art class, but also to the world around me, in a way that I cannot explain. I see more effectively now, with eyes that are not only willing to find flaws but also better understand the nature of creativity as it applies to architecture, painting, street art, and anything else that we call art.
I know from extensive stalking of both Paris and Rennes on Google Maps that you simply cannot reconstruct a city in your brain from pictures. As nice as it may be to look at Notre Dame from a thousand different angles in a 3D model, as humans, our brains still prefer the physical experience. You will not experience a rush of endorphins and oxytocin from looking at a photo. You cannot lose yourself in Google Maps, and you will not feel the winter wind come off the Seine and whip you in the face no matter how many times you look at a painting of it.
It’s a big claim, saying that you will “understand yourself” by simple virtue of packing up your things and moving to another country. It is the act of removing yourself from your context that is important. You exist and define yourself already by your ties to places, people, and ideas. By spending a year abroad, you are cutting all those ties, allowing yourself to forge new, fresh, and stronger ones. You are forced to discover yourself out of your setting and free of your current definitions. It may seem a terrifying prospect. It is terrifying, but it is also beautiful and important.
Life is full of ups and downs, and SYA is no different. There will be moments when you despair, and moments of pure elation. You will, without a doubt, come back different. If you think you are up to the challenge, apply. If you do not, apply. If you are afraid, apply. In the end, the program is not so much about the teenagers who depart as it is about the young adults who return.