Abigail H., from Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico, is an SYA Spain 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.
Originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, Sarah T. chronicles her adventures in Spain in her blog, No Entiendo.
Photo of SYA Spain students exploring by Claire J.
The Wonder of the Cotidiana
The allure of a foreign country was the first thing that caught my eye about SYA. It seemed almost romantic to escape the clichés of high school life and jet off to where the people danced in the streets until dawn and cute little cafés were ubiquitous. In the slump of being halfway through high school, wondering what the heck was the point of this, studying abroad was the perfect solution. When it comes to the constant cycle of sports and tests and classes and SATs and stress, there is a point when you realize that there is such a better way to spend these formative years. SYA is all about finding that “something more.”
When we first got to SYA Spain, everything was new and strange and life didn’t feel like real life. And I loved it. Every day something surprised us and we were yanked out of the comfortable bubble that had developed freshman and sophomore year. There were so many new things to do and feel cultural about we didn’t know where to turn. It was actually a bit strange to have an abundance of things to do instead of fighting boredom. A whole other world of opportunities opened up and I couldn’t get over that fact that I was strolling down a street hundreds of years old to my favorite café, much less the fact that I had a favorite café in another country. It was the honeymoon phase and it seemed impossible that this life could ever be dull.
The time passed and life got comfortable and I finally figured out more than one way to get home on public transportation. We wandered for a little bit longer on Saturday nights in search of new places, cursing the wind that cut through the six layers we were wearing.
People started to stay at school during descanso, and complaints turned from “I can’t understand this,” to “English class threw me off for the rest of the day.” We were assimilating to the foreign, making it our own reality. Days turned ordinary, we started to see the cracks forming. The fact was, it was still life. Everybody felt sad at some point, overwhelmed or just incredibly frustrated. Location can’t change that.
But when we got to the point where Spain is the everyday, the true experience started to happen. While here, I’ve run into countless college students spending their semester here “studying,” and while I'm sure their time is great, there is a vast difference in making yourself part of the rhythm of life here. We actually set out to learn the language completely and understand how the Spanish culture was created and is today. For a time, however brief, we are a part of their world. The simple things are what make SYA special. Reading Borges on the bus home, listening to old men argue and telling the barista how your vacation was and discussing travel options with your favorite teacher. It’s not the crazy or outlandish things that make SYA and Spain remarkable, it’s the fact that it can make us residents in a foreign world.
The writer of this blog post is Tati D., originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. Tati is now spending a year abroad in Beijing learning a second language. To follow Tati's own adventures, check out her personal blog Beijinged.
When I decided to go to China, I never expected to enjoy it this much. I've never experienced as many new things as I have in China, despite my short time here. Days pass more quickly than I can believe; when I arrived in this country, I felt as if a year stretched
out at my feet, impossibly long and full of novel experiences. Now, I feel as if the experiences I have are speeding past me like the infinite neon advertisements projected onto the walls of the Beijing subway.
Since coming to China, I have gone a full 24 hours only speaking Chinese aloud. I've given local students English names. I have improved my Chinese at an incredible rate. I have walked further in one day in one city than I could ever have fathomed. I've visited visibly oriental Daoist, Confucian, and Buddhist temples. I've attended a day of classes with local Chinese students in Datong. I stood in a park at 7:30am with a plethora of elderly Chinese people and attempted to do a form of Tai Chi that involved a flexible ping-pong paddle sort of object, a ball, and an abundance of dexterity that I discovered myself to be quite lacking in. I've bargained in Chinese with local vendors, making a new friend by the end of the transaction. Could I have had any of these experiences without leaving America? I'm absolutely sure I couldn't have. And thus, coming to SYA China is undoubtedly one of the best decisions I've made.
Waverly, originally from St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, is on a mission to assimilate into her new home in Viterbo, Italy. As she navigates her way through the narrow streets of the city, she slowly feels more at home.
10 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD STUDY ABROAD IN HIGH SCHOOL
(SYA ITALY EDITION)
10. Make Kids Back Home Jealous – SYA Italy is in Italy. If you go to SYA Italy, you will be in Italy. Your friends who do not come to SYA Italy will not be in Italy. I repeat, THEY WILL NOT BE IN ITALY. Guess who comes out on top? This is reason enough, but it’s still nice that SYA can…
9. Set Yourself Apart for College – Every year, more and more kids apply to the top universities, and year after year, they start to blend more and more together. Having a year abroad in Italy IN HIGH SCHOOL will not make you one of the crowd. It demonstrates initiative, curiosity, independence, and, most importantly, good taste. Every college wants students with good
taste. What could possibly illustrate that more than choosing the country with the best food, cars, clothes, and 60s icons (Sophia Loren is kind of God)? That’s right. Nothing. Except maybe on top of going to Italy…
8. Exploring More Than Just Italy – Italy is great. I feel I have said that a thousand times and that stands as a testament to its validity. But as great as Italy is, we’re young, we run free, we stay up late, we don’t sleep (If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the refrain of one of the best songs for long bus rides to Venice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04zaL7wIbmc Watch it. Love it. Live it.). The worst thing about Italy, how small it is, is the best thing about Europe. You can take a train to any country you want while you’re here, and in the process, become a full-fledged world citizen. SYA Italy works with students to help us explore as many exotic locales as our hearts desire. You can go ancient site-seeing in Italy, café-hopping in France, and skiing in Switzerland during the school year. The only thing better than that is…
7. Excelling in a New Language – The vast majority of SYA Italy students take Latin back in the States, and while this is very useful for law, medicine, and the SATS, it doesn’t really add up to human interaction. Italian, on the other hand, is a language still spoken by living people. And how living they are. Speaking a language is the first step to entering the mindset of a people, and the Italian language is the language of a passionate people. I know that for me, learning Italian has helped me to discover my own voice – even when expressing it through my hands. But Italians don’t just express themselves with their hands and exclamations; they’re also pretty big fans of…
6. Food – It is no secret that Italian food is the best in the world. I’ve been saying that ever since I arrived as it is the first thing that you notice. Oh my God, PASTA IS AMAZING! But unlike other foods, Italian doesn’t become distasteful, ordinary, boring. Instead, each time it tastes more and more like home and warmth. And after a while your metabolism gets used to the Italian diet, so there’s no worry about that. (Not really, but saying it makes me feel better.)
5. Form New Ties – Think about your family. You have been with each other for years, experienced ups and downs, and share DNA that basically forces you to put up with one another (because, genetics). Now imagine your best friends. You have at least been with each other for a year, have experienced countless embarrassments and triumphs together, and share a love of the same weird things that basically forces you to put up with one another (because, who else would?). Now imagine that you form relationships this strong in Italy, in less than nine months. I’ve done it in less than five. Your host family becomes as dear to you as your “real” one, and your friends here gain bestie status because they have the same experiences and understand the changes that you undergo as a response. You will not be the same person when you return to America as you were when you jumped on the flight to Italy, but you will return with two families and twice as many friends. And along with those new bonds, you bring back with you a...
4. Gain a Higher Consciousness of the Outside World – This is one of the main differences between a school year abroad and a really long vacation, and one of the things that will set you apart not just for college, but for every future endeavor. SYA Italy allows for you to not see everything through an American point of view. The people, the ideas, the news are so different that you are exposed to different information about the outside world, information that American news sources tend to somehow center on Americans. In Italy the news is about informing citizens about those outside its borders, in America, it is about taking that news and cutting out everything that is deemed not to immediately affect those in the States. By separating ourselves from this, we can put our own places on the world map into perspective. We, like our country, are not the center of the universe. SYA Italy somehow manages to get that point across without completely breaking our self-esteem. Another thing that SYA Italy is really good at is allowing us to explore…
3. Be Free – Coming from a boarding school I thought that I had experienced as much freedom as you possibly could as a teenager. I was wrong. Here I can go travel to foreign countries without my host parents, manage my own schedule, and basically pilot my own life. This is as scary as it is awesome. The reason that SYA is better than just touring Europe by yourself is that you are given guidance about how to take advantage of these freedoms, and how to do it safely. There is always a sense of security, and I can tell you that parents (and you) will appreciate that. Another thing that parents will love is you getting a certain phase of your life out of the way early, the oh-so-horrible…
2. Hippie Nirvana, aka ‘Finding Yourself’ Phase – This is the subject of every bad movie about recent college grads, and for good reason, it’s terrible. It’s full of bad hats, awkward stumblings, and pretentious poetry readings at hipster meeting grounds (because calling it a ‘café’ like a normal person is just too mainstream). But as bad as it is, you just have to go through it. It’s a rite of passage or every young Westerner. Luckily for you, these regrettable haircuts and flirts with extreme political parties can be experienced at SYA Italy, where years down the road you can just chock the photos up to European fashion. At the end of the day, you avoid…
1. The Dreaded ‘What if…” – This is what it all comes down to. If you don’t come, don’t even apply, there will always be the idea of what could have been if you had just taken the risk. What would’ve been is the best year of your life.
Studying abroad with SYA means more than just going to school in a foreign country-- it means opening your eyes to the world around you and exploring your new surroundings from corners to top altitudes! All four of our schools integrate travel throughout their countries into their course work, making your year abroad with SYA filled with adventures.
Right now our students abroad are preparing for trips in their host countries that they will remember for the rest of their lives. These trips follow a recent return for some students, who took the chance to travel independently over winter break.
In China, our students are preparing for a trip to the Yunnan province, a trip that SYA alums rave about after returning from SYA! The Yunnan province is home to the most diverse plant and animal life in all of China, which pairs perfectly with our new AP environmental science course!
Our students in France are gearing up for a trip to Lyon, a nearby city where they will be joining a French Model UN team and living with a host family for a week! It will be a test of their French language skills in this venture, but we're confident they'll be great!
This semester, students at SYA Italy are in the midst of a rotating set of study excursions to Rome including the Roman Forum and Capitoline Museums, the Vatican Museums and a menu of individual tours run by SYA Italian, English, and Latin teachers. Students are expanding their skills in history and art history, while ancient culture and modern ways unfold before them on a daily basis.
Last but not least, our students in Spain are taking part in an exchange program with other schools throughout Spain! Student will enjoy 5 days in a different city and school learning about the varying customs all around Spain.
To learn more about the travel that you could experience as an SYA student, click on your country of interest:
It's not everyday an alum writes us, years after studying with SYA, to give advice to students. We were lucky enough, though, to have Ariel F. Hubbard, SYA France '85 share her words of wisdom about making sure you take full advantage of your high school year abroad. (Photo of current SYA France student Kate M. and her host sister by Ilona S.)
If you would like to be fluent by the end of the year, I have a few suggestions:
- Bring a dictionary wherever you go. A real one (not your cell phone!) Take notes! Whenever you hear a word you don't know, write it down, and look it up and use it over and over again until you know it.
- Go to cafes and strike up conversations with the French kids. Ask them to teach you. They love "schooling" the Americans in French. It is also a wonderful way for you to make friends while enhancing your conversational skills.
- Definitely go on as many of the SYA trips as you can. Their history lessons are AWESOME! They do an outstanding job incorporating l'histoire, language et la literature in their lessons.
- Take the SYA classe de phonetique! I don't know if they still offer it, but that class is the reason why I still receive complements on my French, 26 years later!!
- Keep an open mind. And don't be afraid to be embarrassed! Talk to people! Make mistakes! French people are incredibly nice to people who are trying to learn their language and they will correct you--that is a good thing--because it will help you learn. The more you practice, the better you will be!
- Eat the food, talk about it, and if you have a chance, learn to cook there! You will appreciate that skill for the rest of your life!
- Enjoy your French family. What a great opportunity to learn from people!
- Have fun--that is the most important thing.
- And one more--there is an AWESOME rose garden not far from school that is just stunning. Definitely go there. A great place to study and meditate.
Everyone knows how important it is to immerse yourself and learn a new language, but only an insider can give you the best advice. Click here to read more about SYA Alums from each country.
Tara S., a student studying abroad at SYA France reflects on how she has immersed to the culture of her host city Rennes. From the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia, Tara is experiencing many new foods, activities, languages and adventures while abroad. To follow all of her adventures, check out her blog Life's About the Journey.
“Yeah, life still comes with bumps in the road but I don’t despair as much as I used to, because I’m living in France.”
In the common room, one of my classmates uttered the above truism. Sure, life doesn’t stop its topsy-turvy course when one decides to cross the Atlantic, but just the mere fact that my problems can be easily remedied over a cup of chocolat chaud at my favorite café or with a walk in the medieval quarter of an European city steeped in history makes them that much more bearable. Snuggled up in my favorite spot against the space heater in the common room, surrounded by a mixture of French and English, laughter and groans, and people from all corners of the U.S and beyond, whom I would never have met had I not boarded that plane in Boston all those months ago, my heart swells.
When I told my friends in America that I was considering leaving the sanctity of the only school I’d ever known for nine months abroad, they thought I was crazy. Why would anyone leave the comfort of their home any sooner than they had to, they wondered. I had my answers ready: because I loved French and loved to travel, because I wanted to try something new, and because I knew that Atlanta, GA was not my whole world and I wanted to delve deeper into the world outside my school’s bubble. And what a world that is! -- I’ll be walking to the Musée de Beaux Arts for my Art History Class or going out on a weekend with all of Rennes, with a wide grin on my face (despite my best efforts to master the stoic French pout), thinking, who’s the crazy one now?
Some days, I feel like pinching myself—on good days, it’s like I’m in a waking dream. That’s what this was for me, in a way. Spending a whole year in France was something I’d been dreaming of since I was in Elementary School. For me, whenever I thought of high school, it was coupled with the glossy illusion of croissants 24/7 and all the famous sights to see. To a point, School Year Abroad has fulfilled my dreams and more. I spent a week in the fall with my classmates exploring the medieval castles we’d spent the past month studying and have plans to spend my two weeks of “winter vacation” in March discovering other parts of my wonderful new country and its world-class European surroundings.
But to be sure, spending a year in France is not all fine dining and gallivanting around Europe. Sure, pastries every day sounds good to begin with, but then the realization hits that this isn’t just another vacation. As your parents, teachers and the laundry list of upcoming projects will certainly remind you, School Year Abroad is a study abroad program. School is still more or less school, no matter which side of the Atlantic you’re on. Knowing I’m in France doesn’t make getting up at six in the morning to take the bus to school any easier. Weekends remain busy as my classmates and I attempt to catch up on sleep and work and still have social lives. The world keeps on spinning: Units come and go, and slowly, the languages start to blur together and things will inevitably get stressful but c’est la vie.
Truly living in Europe as a young American may not always be as simple and perfect as the old 90’s movies made it out to be, but that’s what makes it exciting. If living in France were too much like my life back home, it wouldn’t be worth it. Making the decision to embrace a path different from the conveyor belt many of my peers back home are comfortably riding helped me discover a whole new world. Like a modern day Jasmine, boarding my magic carpet/airplane and going to SYA has lent me a fuller perspective on life, given me a better sense of the world I live in and helped me acquire skills that I’ll use for the rest of my life. For starters, I’ve managed to achieve an incredible grasp on a beautiful Romance language—my host family’s goal is to have me bi-lingual by the end of the year. I’ve also fallen in love with a new city, befriended a new culture and met 65 kindred spirits. I’ll take that over another handful of AP credits any day.
Waverly, originally from St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, is on a mission to assimilate into her new home in Viterbo, Italy. As she navigates her way through the narrow streets of the city, she slowly feels more at home. Photo of Tuscany by Momo A.
I am a huge fan of lists – always have been, probably always will be. When I was five, I drew up lists of what I wanted to be when I grew-up (fairy/princess seems hardly likely now). When I was ten, I drafted lists of actors that I wanted to marry (Jesse McCartney is not what he used to be). When I was fourteen I made lists of the best bands to ever grace the face of the Earth (and looking back, seeing the Jonas Brothers at the top of that list is painful). I figure that now that I’ve realized that I have no idea what I want to be, that I would prefer not to marry an emotionally-stunted, attention-starved liar (aka- an actor), and that Queen was a thing, I should turn my list-mania to other interests. And so now I give to you, who are to follow in my steps, a list of things best left at home when you prepare yourself for your year abroad.
- Flat-iron/blow-dryer: I now write this cringing at my previous post in support of flat-irons and the like. I mean, they are not bad per se, but they are extremely time and power-consuming. This is bad for two reasons: 1) you only have 9 months here. Stop doing your hair and talk to somebody. 2) Power in Italy costs a lot more and doubling your host family’s power bill on account of vanity is hardly the situation that you want to find yourself in. I know, I know. Hair is about so much more than vanity – it’s part of your identity, how you present yourself to the world. That’s all well and good, especially in a country like Italy, but you have two options: enjoy your time in Italy or spend all of it making sure that your hair is straight/dry/perfect. I trust you to make the right decision. By which I mean, just don’t bring the darn flat-iron.
- Spiky heels: We have all seen the movies with the gorgeous and glamorous Italian women that walk in 5-inch stilettos like they were born in them. If they can do it, why can’t I? Simple. You’re not Italian. Living in Italy for nine months will not change that. And even if you are one of those girls in the US who have mastered the art (and if you are one of those girls – TELL ME HOW!), you cannot use those techniques on Italy. The Romans were pretty good road builders and Italians, not really being huge fans of change, decided to keep those roads and add even more cobblestone. Why would they do that, you ask? Why would they subject us to roads that it is impossible to walk correctly on in flats, nonetheless heals? The answer, as far as I have been able to gather, is to level the playing field, by which I mean, allow Italian women to look taller while making the rest of us look shorter. (You can hardly blame them for this. The average Italian woman is around the height of a tall American child.) The end result is that you CANNOT pull-off 5-inch stilettos on Italian cobblestone. There is nothing attractive about not being able to walk upright.
- Workout clothes: I admire that you wanted to bring these, I really do. But no. Say no to the sweat pants and sneakers. You will probably not be working out when you come here like you do in America and if you do (like joining a local soccer team); it’s better to see what everyone else is wearing and adjust accordingly. The temptation to wear sweats outside of the house will be high as will the judgment level of the Italians that you pass. Let’s all work together to avoid a shameful faux pas and leave the neon running shorts at home.
- Phone: Not worth the time or inconvenience. Your host family will probably provide you with one for your time here and if they don’t, the cost is minimal.
- Reservations: Leave any pretenses of shyness at the door of the airport, please. You do yourself no favors. You have only 9 months here. 9 MONTHS. With those nine months you have to adjust, find your way around, learn Italian, bond with Italians, travel, and adopt a new set of parents, and still go to school. The meek may inherit the earth, but the bold have a good time in Italy.
Waverly, originally from St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, is on a mission to assimilate into her new home in Viterbo, Italy. As she navigates her way through the narrow streets of the city, she slowly feels more at home. In this post she writes about ringing in the new year in Viterbo, Italy. Photo by Quincy A, also from St. Paul's School in New Hampshire.
It is officially 2014. It has been 2014 for two weeks now and so I am a little late to jump on the whole 'New Year’s Facebook status' wagon, but I feel like it needs to be said just one more time. Because it is not just 2014 -It is 2014, the beginning of a new year, began in a new country with a completely new outlook.
To state the obvious, New Years in Italy is awesome. I, unlike many SYA-ers who traveled to Rome or Florence or Milan, celebrated the coming of the new year with my host family right here in Viterbo. Following a larger dinner than normal (which is saying something), we watched hours of performances of Italian pop stars and impersonators (the impersonators mostly mimicking '70s rock stars – it’s a thing here. I have no idea why, but it is). The big count-down and ensuing drink-up were shared with our neighbors, who, in true Italian style, released beautiful but ill-organized fireworks. Unfortunately, that turned into a competition with the rest of the neighborhood (because it was apparently easier for everyone to release their own fireworks in a confined space in a frenzy of chaos and maintain individuality than to organize a common neighborhood show. As my host father said, “If you want order, go to Germany. If you want a show, we can give you twenty.”)
It seemed as if the whole country of Italy was bursting with life, pulsing with the hopes and expectations that a new year always seems to bring. I too found myself alive with dreams and wishes for 2014. I figured that I had a pretty good chance for a good year. I’d followed all of the Italian traditions that promise luck for the New Year – I’d eaten beans, indulged in a good glass of wine, and made sure to wear red underwear. I was ready. Then we had lunch.
There is something about having a severe allergic reaction that clears the head. It may be the having to keep calm while your host mom freaks out, the navigation of the infamous Italian hospital, or the tense impatience while the nurse hunts for a vein only to succeed on the fourth try. It may even just be the gratefulness that one feels when one’s head returns to its original size and color, but wither way, there is something about an allergic reaction centers the mind and makes room for reflection.
My particular reflections while seated under the fluorescent lights amid the sick, sad, and struggling to stay sentient, centered on fortune and new beginnings. It occurred to me that while I often think of my good fortune in the things that I have, I rarely take time to appreciate the things that I will have. SYA Italy is not just an experience, but the door to other experiences – a portal to other possibilities, a window to future wonders. Being in Italy has more merit than good Facebook pictures; it allows me to meet and exchange ideas with new people who will in turn change me and with a new me comes a new future. And for me, that new future has already begun, here in 2014.
Originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, Sarah T. chronicles her adventures in Spain in her blog, No Entiendo. Photo of Zaragoza by Claire J., Claire in Spain.
Translating into Normalcy
The three month mark passed a few weeks ago and no one noticed. Unlike the first two, there was no baited anticipation or excitement, it just snuck by, hoping to go unseen. We’ve slowly slipped into a new kind of normalcy where adorable, delicious cafés are no longer a novelty and the previously crazy afterschool activities have become habitual. Not in a “I'm bored” kind of way, more like a “I can’t believe this is my life but now I sort of can” kind of way. Spain is becoming a new kind of familiar, and there is a odd balance between settling into a routine and discovering new things. I take a cooking class every week with a few other students from school, which honestly isn’t that surprising. It’s typical whenever you’re in a foreign country to learn the food, but it was a regular thing for us; going to a Spaniard's house to learn firsthand how to make the classics of the country, with everything from sugar soaked torjillas to paella. Our teacher, Guillermo, talked to us about the different regions of Spanish, where we should go, what we should eat. It was interesting to see how the dinner part of cooking class became just as, if not more, important as the actual cooking. Yes, we learned new techniques and ingredients, but the best part of the class came when we were all sitting and eating together, talking about Spain. We picked up new phrases, ate to our hearts content, and enjoyed the warm hospitality that is ubiquitous in Spain.
Although some oddities were becoming habit, there were still those moments where I had to wonder how on earth I had ended up there. Last week as I was leaving school, one of my friends stopped me and asked me if I wanted to go to a modern art museum down the street. My first thought was “what class do you have to do this for,” then, “no, I have too much homework.” But then he told me it was free and basically never open, so I caved and decided to go just for 30 minutes, to see what it was all about. It was best decision. The majority of the museum was dedicated to Pablo Serrano, a sculptor from Aragón, and the rest was expositions on photography and design. I was honestly expecting to get kicked out the museum, knowing my friends, but there we stood, in front of a massive bronze sculpture, discussing the tension between the pieces that were meant to fit together, but couldn’t be moved. We took the time to appreciate each level of the museum, and on the top level, we stumbled upon a rooftop terrace. Night had already fallen over Zaragoza, and before lay the twinkling city. Punctuating the dull light of the streets stood the massive towers of Pilar, the dome of La Seo, and the quietly rotating Ferris wheel. We all stood on the edge, not saying a word, just staring out at the neighborhoods and parks we had claimed our own. I cherished that little moment of wonder. It literally felt magical to stand on that roof and appreciate where I was and who I was with and what I was doing. To even have access to a museum of a famous artist and a panoramic view of the city was something special, and to decide to go there after school on a random Wednesday is a testament to how SYA transforms us from students who obsess over work into people who realize the value of first hand experiences.