Last spring, First Lady Michelle Obama toured SYA China at Beijing Normal University High School #2 while on her visit to the country. SYA students had the privilege of sharing their study abroad experiences with Mrs. Obama as part of her efforts to support more American students studying overseas.
During her speech at the Stanford Center of Peking University, she said, “In studying abroad, you’re not just changing your own life...you’re changing the lives of everyone you meet.” Read about how our students answered the question, "In what way has Mrs. Obama’s statement described your experience?"
Conrad Young (Hawken School, Ohio)
After the much anticipated meeting between First Lady Michelle Obama and First Lady Peng Liyuan at our school on the Middle School #2 campus, Mrs. Obama talked to us outside the main academic building door. She took pictures with us, wished us luck while studying Chinese and most prominently said, “Make us proud.” Although a common enough saying, hearing it from Mrs. Obama made me consider the greater implications that studying abroad has to offer, not only for me but also for the larger communities of which I am a part.
I certainly never imagined that in my decision to study abroad through SYA China, I had the responsibility to make “others” proud; I saw it merely as an experience for me to improve my language skills and try something out of the ordinary. But after spending this year in China, I have begun to understand the larger picture: studying abroad not only widens and challenges your identity and global awareness; it also has the power to bring unique perspectives and experiences to any community you are a part of when you return home.
Now I realize that the leap of faith I took to study abroad in high school was just the beginning of a whole year in which I was challenged to look past what I was comfortable with and learn to think independently and open-mindedly. I am confident that as I go on through not only college but also the rest of my life, I will be using what I learned in SYA China in a myriad of ways that are simply inconceivable in the moment.
Madeline Kim (Roland Park Country School, Maryland)
Studying abroad at SYA France has been an absolutely remarkable, life-changing experience. Since coming here, I have felt as if my head was filled to the brim. I can only explain the sensation this way: learning another language and absorbing another culture are serious
mental exercises. I am on a never-ending quest to fill in the holes in my French, to discover concepts inexpressible in English and to stop being a bumbling tourist. SYA has broadened my perspective of the world, and has given me the opportunity to expand that of others around me.
As a foreigner here, I represent my country. My job is not only to observe my surroundings while in France, but also to serve as a link between the two nations. Through my host family, for example, I have learned so much about French customs, food, politics, and so on, but I have also shared some of my own culture, such as the awesomeness of mac and cheese. In the end, though, there are more similarities than differences between French people and Americans. Realizing that we are all more alike than different is an important step toward understanding others and becoming a global citizen.
Kyle Watson (The Williston Northampton School, Massachusetts)
As Mrs. Obama’s words echo in my head, I reflect on my experience through SYA Italy.The change can be found even over a simple cup of coffee. Breakfast back home was a big deal. I would wake up to the smell of pancakes and sizzling bacon beckoning me to the kitchen. My breakfast in Italy consists of un caffè or cappuccino and some freshly baked biscuits,a different but equally enticing beckoning.
On the walk to school, I stop in my favorite coffee bar and order cappuccino and a chocolaty treat. I hear the clink of my mug as it hits its saucer. I look up, make eye contact with the barista and ask, “Come sta lei?” “Bene,” Nadia says with a smile. We talk about Berlusconi and about the unrest in Ukraine. We talk about where we are from: I’m from western Massachusetts, she’s from Ukraine. Nadia expresses her concern for her sister still there. This small exchange is in a language we now share, Italian, and over a simple cup of coffee.
Mrs. Obama is right. I’ve changed. It’s not the breakfast that’s important; it’s the conversation that takes place over a cup of coffee.
Katherine Spry (Lakeside School, Washington)
Over the course of my study with SYA Spain, I have undergone immense personal growth — absorbing a new culture, becoming more proficient at another language, being exposed to different viewpoints — that has changed my perspective on the world forever. It is easy, though, to overlook the impact my time has had, and will continue to have, on the lives of those around me.
This experience has opened up cross-cultural communication via a newly interconnected group of diverse people. I feel as if I have become a bridge that unites my Spanish and American friends, serving as a link that enables the culture, values and ideas I brought with me to pass freely from one side to the other. There’s a great sense of accomplishment every time I have a successful conversation about Spanish and American politics with my host family or explain the nuances of Spanish meals to an American friend.
My year in Spain has been transformative, creating a bicultural self, but it has also changed my host family and my Spanish friends. This new bicultural self has found numerous cross-cultural possibilities that I’ll be able to benefit from long after the year is over.
Are you an SYA Alum? Visit sya.org/change and tell us your story about studying abroad in high school.
Welcome to SYA and congratulations on deciding to embark on this adventure of a lifetime! In order to ensure that you have the best experience possible while completing a year of high school abroad, we have compiled a list of some mobile apps that you may find useful. From providing help with translating words in a different language, to information on the local currency, and even where to find nearby cafés, here are 7 mobile apps that you may want to check out before jetting off to your new home.
1. What’s App has quickly become a very popular social networking app, with over half a million monthly users, making it the most widely used messaging service across the globe. This app will give you the ability to stay in touch with friends and family, no matter what country they are in. What's App allows users to text, send images and videos, and get exact locations of their friends and family through the app's mapping services. What's App also offers the advantage of charging no extra fees for international messenging, allowing messages to be exchanged with people at home easily!
2. Trip Journal allows its users to create a personal travelogue of their travel experiences. The app enables users to share photos and videos, uploaded directly from your own mobile devices, and gives you the ability to add personal captions visible to family and friends. Trip Journal also features a Google Earth integration, where followers of your journal can see the routes you have traveled.
3. Google Translate is a very useful app when you are abroad regardless of your level of fluency. With the ability to translate words and phrases in over 60 languages, as well as allowing you to hear the pronunciation, Google Translate is a wonderful resource in order to immerse yourself fully in the culture around you. The app also offers a feature where users can speak the text instead of typing it to be translated. Now you never have to worry about stumbling over a word you have not yet learned!
4. World Lens, while similar to Google Translate, is handy particularly when trying to understand foreign text on street signs and maps. Using your smart phone’s video camera, World Lens reads the text and any words you may not understand, and then instantly translates them into your language of choice. All that is required for translation to occur is a picture of the sign!
5. Around Me is a very useful app when you arrive in a new city. During your school year abroad, Around Me can help familiarize you with your new surroundings by pinpointing your location on a map and then giving you the option to browse your nearby areas. For instance, the app can tell you where to find the nearest restaurants, movie theatres, bus stations, supermarkets and more, and then route you directly to it. You can even email a friend the directions directly from the app.
6. XE Currency will help you with figuring out how much the American dollar is worth during your school year abroad. You can look up what the local currency is, and it's rate, as well as monitor rates of other foreign currencies. Now you don't have to worry about coming up with the correct amount of money with this easy-to-use app! Simply type in the currency you are looking for, and it converts to the American dollar so you can better understand prices of items in your new country.
7. Skype is a great app for keeping in touch with family and friends back home for free. An alternative to calling home with a telephone card, Skype gives users the ability to video chat and make phone calls to other Skype users over wireless internet. You can also send instant messages to other users, allowing communication over several different options!
We hope you find these apps both enjoyable and useful! Let us know what you think and if you have discovered any other great apps for traveling and studying abroad!
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. This post comes near the end of her year studying abroad.
So here I am -18 days away from finishing the most important experience of my life (so far, anyway). Looking back, I’m not quite sure what to make of my eight months here. It feels like years, a lifetime, an eternity, and a blink of an eye all at once. Maybe it’s because I’m not the adventurous type, or because I have an eye for art more geared toward macaroni than Michaelangelo, but what made Italy so amazing (the word doesn’t even begin to cover it) for me, was the freedom to grow as a person.
This kind of freedom can only be found in a foreign country with new family and a completely different set of classmates. Why? Because only by shedding who you used to be, can you become who you’re supposed to be. As much as that sounds like it deserves an inspirational backdrop of a beach with an Instagram filter on Facebook, it’s true. You can’t change and evolve by doing the same things with the same people in the same place. Change inspires change, and SYA is the change of a lifetime.
Looking back, I can hardly recognize who I used to be. I’ve been through countless communication frustrations (No, ‘anno’ does not equal ‘ano’, losing that extra ‘n’ loses you Italian friends), numerous identity crises (turns out that the punk life did not, nor will it ever, choose me), and more setbacks than I care to count (reevaluating American friendships, adjusting what I want to do with my life, really facing who I am, why, and what that means). But as many times as I fell (and that’s a lot – especially in my wannabe-Italian/diva/heels-everyday phase), I got up every time, with a different perspective and a growing consciousness of my place in the world. If that all sounds a little hokey, well forgive me, because that’s exactly what happened, what’s continuing to happen.
I will cherish these next 18 days and I dread their conclusion. But as sad as I am about my time here ending, I’m happy because I won’t be leaving. The girl who I’ll be in 18 days will be leaving, and if the past 8 months are anything to go by, she’ll be completely different – even better, stronger, and more self-confident than I am right now. You can’t tell me that you can find this anywhere else.
This blog post comes from Tanner L., a student studying in Zaragoza, Spain. Originally from California, Tanner is immersing himself in Spain during his high school year abroad. Follow his blog to read more about his adventures, En el Extranjero
If I could read you this in person, you’d note the coffee on my breath. You’d see, around my cheekbones, the soft, circular evidence of my midday routines: a café americano and one tortilla de patata bulging in yellow, triangular comfort, both steaming and consumed everyday between 11 o’clock and 11:30. You’d notice my pauses as I swat off the Spanish prepositions that strike me before the English. But the most important thing, I think, you’d realize is how my posture is a little straighter now; after eight months, going on nine, I’ve pulled through the blanket-heaviness of culture shock, of losing home and gaining home, of owning a new language, a new life, and a new way of holding myself.
And maybe, if I were reading this, you’d see the ways that I’ve learned to lose myself, to disarm and phosphoresce in front of crowd, as I’d learned to do in November, when I taught a classroom of rioting and ruthless Spanish teenagers the nuances of American culture— or in December when I sat down with Saúl, an eight year-old boy who had been deaf until he was two, and I taught him American slang. I’d remember these things as I spoke and my smile would be lunar. This year has taught me to smile, stubbornly and in every circumstance, and eight months ago I couldn’t imagine learning to do something so simple and so powerful; to celebrate the suffering, to welcome, with the wingspan of a rebellious optimism, the cierzo wind, all the words yet to learn, and all the things yet to do.
I’d be nervous reading this to you now, wrapped in an anxiety not too different from the moment my host-father first asked me a question; it was, and it is, the anxiety of translation, of pulling a year of light and big, fast-moving memories through a familiar tongue. You’d notice my lips quiver as I struggle to make you understand just how much this year has made of me, you’d see me how I was in my first car ride through Zaragoza— but you’d see that quiver tighten into something quiet and strong; I’ve experienced something no one else ever has and, no matter where I am or will be, I couldn’t ever imagine melting into a crowd again. And for that, I truly cannot thank you enough. I’ve swing-danced with a thin, black-haired woman in the basement of an Irish pub, I’ve eaten falafel in a morning hailstorm and I rowed on the Ebro river with my host-brother at sunset. I’ve taught the best latte artist in Spain how to conjugate in English. I’ve played chess with an Andalusian caught in a midlife crisis in a hostel dining room, and I’ve smelled the smoke bombs of Spanish protest. And I’m only realizing now how that’s all affected me, how it’s erasing, rewriting, erasing, and writing again the palimpsest of Tanner. I’ve lived another life here, and in my face, you’d see the sublime radiating from this smile, all the awes of a school year abroad yet to be coaxed from myself, still to be understood in their glowing entirety.
At the beginning of this year, I told myself I wanted to find discomfort and wrestle it into something beautiful. Eight months later, I want to tell you that I’ve done that. I’ve learned to see all my pounds as the paella and the dinners I can only have again in memories. This coffee breath is the smell of so many afternoons spent in a café, curled over an americano and the week’s homework. The words I don’t understand have become the steps towards fluency.
I’ve learned, in all the breathlessness of this year, that no matter where I go and no matter the language, I am speaking in a foreign tongue. No one can tell me they understand when I talk about SYA, because from now on, when I speak it will be purely translation, and in that there’s a discomfort and a loneliness, but more importantly, there’s something gorgeous, awesome, and indescribable and wholly mine— something that could only be truly encapsulated with three words:
School. Year. Abroad.
It’s hard to think I only have one month left.
Originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, Sarah T. chronicles her adventures in Spain in her blog, No Entiendo.
I came in with the expectation of changing. I had seen others leave and return different people, their nuances and mannerisms slightly altered, their outlook on life distinct enough to make me stop and wonder what exactly they had experienced to make them like that. It was alluring to think that change would inevitably happen, and to know that it was all positive made me excited about what would happen to me. Rather than scaring me, the idea of becoming someone else drew me to this experience.
But there were things I simply could not anticipate. The thing about change is you have no control over it. It sneaks up on you, and you don’t really notice it until it has become a part of your new being and one day, someone points it out and you look at yourself in the mirror, realize you don’t quite recognize yourself. It’s scary. And I would have these moments where I wondered, do I like who I am becoming? Not liking the change had never crossed my mind, and here I was unsure if I was going to leave Spain happier with myself than when I came.
Taking a step back, I think the fact that I was even internally arguing about whether is was positive or negative change showed something good. I’d never been that self reflective in the US, nor had I even considered stopping and thinking about who I was becoming in general. And it’s natural to have those moments of doubt, especially in a time and place where emotions are amplified.
All this reflection and such made me think, how exactly have I changed. Now one month away from heading back to so-called “reality,” I’ve essentially locked in all my changes and such. There are little things, like now I am a master of the subway, I can successfully have phone conversations with Spaniards, and I have to drink a café con leche everyday. But in the larger, more complete sense, I'm a much more open personal in general. To be brutally honest, before Spain, I simply did not realize how much I judged people, and I don’t really know if it’s worse that I did, or that I didn’t even realize it. There is a diversity in people at SYA that you simply cannot get at the majority of American high schools, and through that, I’ve become much more accepting and open to everyone. Also, I’ve learned to relax. A lot. I no longer let stress run my life, and I’ve realized that there is more to life than letting the whirlwind of school consume you or letting the little details get in the way. I used to have to be in control of what I did and when, especially when traveling, but slowly I’ve let go of that penchant.
Above all, I think I’ve adopted an attitude of, although I hesitate to call it this, fearlessness. I see it manifest itself in the little and big things. For one, I’ll actually approach a stranger on the street and ask for directions in a language not my own. And for another, I’ve let go of a
lot of fears and anxieties about the world in general that used to hold me back (sorry that sounded a bit melodramatic). Especially when traveling, I tended to freak out over the little things, and now on independent travel I'm happy to just let whatever happens happen and wander around instead of making plans. I’ve gone to places without knowing anything about the city and just seeing what we discover there. And while I realize now that sounds like carelessness, I promise it’s my own little form of fearlessness and adventure.
There are a million little things that SYA has taught me, and I'm sure I’ll be discovering them well into next year; from language skills to confidence in myself to a general sense of adventure. I really don’t know how I can leave this place in a month. I just might not.
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.
At the risk of over exaggerating, I'd say that spending a year abroad in a country where the primary language is not one’s native tongue (especially in high school) is a bit like trying to survive in the wilderness. Armed with only the bare minimum in supplies (also known as everything you can cram into two suitcases), and a basic understanding of the language, the key lies in adapting to the new surroundings as quickly and seamlessly as possible. In reality, the transition is often slow at the beginning, consisting of mainly a few wardrobe tweaks here and there (e.g., shoving anything with a hue brighter than a dull red into the corner to wait for spring). The full change happens when you least expect it, long after you've stopped actively trying to fit in; suddenly, one day you'll be walking, along streets that just months ago you'd never known, and realize that this has felt like home for a while.
Like a survival course, studying abroad in a foreign country changes you; acclimating to a new environment requires shedding some old skin and emerging from the once-secretive and unknown depths altered by the experience. As a result of this year, I've become more open to stepping outside of my comfort zone and saying yes to new opportunities I would not have seized in the past. Especially when traveling independently, I've learned to go with the flow, and not get caught up in pre-planned schedules or little hiccups, because it'll all work out in the end. Living in France has helped me let go a bit and get back some of my childhood carefree-ness while retaining certain elements of my super planified, strict rule follower self. It's like a chemical equation: the essential elements of Tara throughout the ages, catalyzed by time to explore who she really is away from all things familiar, and resulting in a new combination of old elements with a few remainders that didn't stick after the test of time.
Ironically, this new explorative-ness made me more comfortable wandering by myself. In Paris, my friends and I split up for a morning that we had free in order to get purposefully lost in the city. Ducking in and out of metros, map blowing hazardously in the wind, I further untapped my introverted side that enjoys time alone, and before only manifested itself when I was burrowed within a good book. This alone time has also led me to become much more reflective. Stemming from a desire to really explore and get to know the city early on, I started observing little details like the brightly colored doors all over France and the really ornate window scrolls, a habit which has stuck with me and strengthened as a result of the amount I walk around Rennes. There's nothing like walking around a city, turning down random streets and familiarizing yourself with the bustling squares, to make you feel like it belongs to you. As a result of my yearlong observations, I feel like I truly know the city of Rennes, to the point that I notice when new graffiti goes up and when each tree starts to bloom. This broader sense of awareness is fueled not only by sharpened powers of observation but a willingness to stop and look around. Being thrown into a new city forces you to truly see.
My rekindled appreciation for the hidden details and the little things in life creates a neat parallel with my perception of our place in this world, compounded by my time abroad. Being in-tune with my surroundings highlighted for me the fact that, in the big scheme of things, we are all small especially when compared to the large world around us; spending time in another country that is not "your own" forces you to leave behind extreme patriotism and accept that the U.S is not the end all be all. I am no longer just an American. There’s a Passenger song that has ingrained itself deeply in my memories of this year that I feel nicely captures my feelings. It’s a song I first heard in France, that the hilarious lunch men at the French cafeteria play every now and again and that is on loop as I run around the park that was the first place in the city I visited on my very first day (fresh off the plane, looking less than fresh). Like the song says, I've got to "let her go." In this case, the 'her' is not the ex-lover of a British pop star but who I was before I left my home (and everyone I knew) to spend a school year studying abroad. That girl is gone. In her place stands a short vision in shades of black, a vegetarian who tried foie gras, the practical girl who now takes a purse to school instead of the backpack that screams American. American by birth, French at heart, Indian by blood, and a citizen of the world.
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... I know that from working at the kitchen, I can get a different kind of perspective..." -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.