The SYA Admissions Blog

Spending A School Year Abroad | SYA Spain

Posted by Emily O'Leary on Fri, Feb 27, 2015

100 Days Left

Evie P. is a junior at SYA Spain, who came from Westminster School in Connecticut. As a Campus Reporter, Evie keeps a blog to document her experiences while spending her high school year abroad in Zaragoza. Read her latest post about her experiences at SYA thus far, and her advice for prospective students who are thinking about attending SYA Spain next year. 

I am in a foreign country for nine months, living with a host family, independently traveling all over Europe, and slowlyimg_8608 becoming fluent in a different language. It’s easy to forget that I’m in Spain but when I walk down the street surrounded by Spanish and I go to dinner with my host family I’m reminded of the fact that just five months ago I took a plane from my home in Connecticut all the way across the Atlantic ocean.

Confident and comfortable in a new culture

These past few weeks, I have finally begun to feel confident in my Spanish and my history and politics presentations do not scare me as much as they once did, I feel comfortable just chatting with my host siblings, and can eavesdrop into the various conversations I hear in the Tranvia on the way to school.

A few weeks ago, I went for five days to Coslada, a suburb outside of Madrid, to stay with a different family and followed around a 16 year old Spanish girl, I went to her classes and hung out with her friends. It was such a unique experience to see the daily life of a girl my age. Also to see the differences in the education and the difference of culture. Although in Zaragoza I see the Spanish lifestyle, this was different because I was seeing and experiencing it as though I was Spanish myself.

img_0427My favorite experience here with SYA was my first independent travel to Pamplona. My two friends and I organized the entire trip from the hostel to the bus tickets. When we arrived it was freezing cold and raining, so we immediately bought gloves and umbrellas, for the rest of the trip luckily the rain cleared up but the cold stayed. Instead of planning out the whole trip down to the second, we just walked and explored the city. We found some amazing food, a few of the beautiful sites Pamplona has to offer, and made a few Spanish friends along the way. This was one incredible adventure and I know I’ll have that memory forever.

Go for it!

To any perspective student of SYA, I would say go for it. It’s an incredible experience and returning to the states in four months will definitely be bittersweet. This decision you are making right now might seem tough, as does nine months away from your home. But the thing is that you might be away from your home in America, you will make a new home here in Zaragoza. Your friends and your host family will become a second family, you’ll master the puzzle that is the small windy streets of Zaragoza and suddenly everything will be as familiar as your home town.

Recently in Valencia, it was a cool but nice day and my friends and I found a little cafe tucked away in the back img_0601streets. There were blankets draped over the chairs, and we drank some cáfe con leche while eating patatas bravas and some bread and manchego cheese. While we ate this classic Spanish food, a man played guitar and a few little kids came out to sing along and play. Often I forget how great this experience is and how lucky I am to be here, but it’s moments like this when I remember. With only four months left, I hope to be able to take as many memories like this home with me and just to keep in mind how fortunate I am for SYA and for making that decision so many months ago.

Celebrating Chinese New Year | SYA China

Posted by Emily O'Leary on Thu, Feb 26, 2015

This post was written by Hannah Boland one of our campus reporters attending SYA China. Hannah is a junior from Culver Academies in Indiana. She hopes to provide readers with a bit of flavor of what the SYA experience is like and to share her experiences, mistakes, and triumphs. Read Hannah's lastest blog post as she writes about celebrating Chinese New Year in Beijing, her host family and what makes SYA China so unique.

羊年到了,愿你快乐不断!(Wishing you unceasing happiness in the Year of the Sheep!)


Greetings everybody! Today (2/19/15) is the first day of the Chinese New Year! The title of this post is a phrase of good wishes that one might have heard spoken amongst family members who were ushering in the New Year. The Spring Festival has practically been infused in the lives of all SYA students and Chinese people for the past several weeks. In Chinese classes, we have been studying all of the many traditions leading up to the Spring festival, the mass migration of millions of people traveling to their hometowns for the New Year has been streaming across the news lines almost every day, the vendors on the street bridges started adding 红包 (red money bags that are given to children on the New Year) to their merchandise, along with lamb plush figures. It has simply been an amazing experience and it is astounding to see the way that this thousands-of-years old festival ignites spirit within all of the Chinese people. You honestly have to be here to see what I mean.

Gong Xi Fa Cai

Before coming to Beijing, I got a chance to meet with my Chinese teacher from my homeschool one last time. I remember her saying, “Make sure you enjoy the Chinese festivals, especially the Spring Festival. Take it all in.” I realized then that this celebration would be so much bigger and greater than even the one our Chinese population put on at school. The festival would be something beyond anything I had imagined. All I can say now is that it definitely was.

At twelve o’clock the fireworks and firecrackers started being set off with an intensity that set the sky ablaze in sparkling light and color, and the explosions pounding with an immensely powerful sound in my ears. The excitement captured in that moment is really indescribable as I stood transfixed next to my Chinese father, gaping at the display, heart pulsing faster and faster, turning my head right, then left as I tried to take in the sporadic explosions on all sides. Once we had headed back in to my grandma’s house, we all ate 饺子 (dumplings), cooked with dates and coins in them to bring us happiness and wealth in the upcoming year. But besides the elation from the activities and traditions, just being able to spend the whole day with my entire Chinese family was a wonderful time in itself. Instead of feeling like the clueless foreigner who doesn’t understand anything that is going on, like at the beginning of the year, I actually feel like I am one of the family.

Spending time with family

Hannah_Boland1That’s not to say that everything is completely perfect and easy all of the time. There are still times of great confusion, and also difficulty with trying to keep up with all of the class work that we have at SYA. It is not a carefree picnic and we all have to work hard to get our school work done and still have time to get involved with Chinese life. One thing that I think for me has been the most important key to doing this is really prioritizing my relationship with my Chinese family. My sister and I have a really good and growing relationship and I consider as her my actual sister. The same is true with my Chinese parents. Sometimes this can be a little bit difficult when I want to stay out late with my friends, or schedule plans by myself, because I have an obligation to my family. On the whole though, I think that the best investment of my time in China has been working towards this family relationship, because they have not only helped me to understand Chinese thinking beyond my learning in the classroom and daily observations, but most importantly have given me a home that I can truly call my own. This is a relationship that you just can’t get from living in the States, and my Chinese family is easily one of the best things that has happened to me by coming to SYA.

Two others are simply the Chinese teachers here and the friends that I’ve made. The Chinese teachers are just so phenomenal and besides that, are wonderful people. Even though several of the teachers do not personally teach my class, they are all so available and ready to help me or any SYA student with our Chinese, or just talk about anything on our minds. They are so much more than our Chinese teachers, because they are our greatest supporters as well and are always quick to laugh. I will miss them all terribly when we return to the U.S.

Making lots of friends

Finally, the friends that I’ve made here at SYA are some of the best friends we have ever had. I go to a boarding school, where youHannah_Boland_2-2 bond with the people that you live with, but this kind of bond is on a different level. All in a foreign country where we don’t completely speak the language, my classmates and I have leaned on each other when things get difficult, as we all can generally understand what the others are going through. There are people from all sorts of backgrounds in my group of closest friends, but we all trust each other and can be completely open about anything going on in our lives, knowing we will support each other indefinitely. So shout-out to Mu Lei, Sha Sha, Eti, Jillian, and Kit for being amazing friends. But besides the close group of friends that I have, basically everybody in SYA are great people. The community we have is so supportive, and I’m often blown away about how smart and deep my fellow classmates are.

I guess that is enough of an update for now. Next week we are going on our class trip to Yunnan (which is a province in Southern China) so we are all looking forward to that. After we get back, I’m also hoping to go on a five-day immersion program in a rural high-school outside of the city. I’m really excited about it, so I’ll fill you in on how that goes in the future. ‘Till next time!

Why I Chose SYA | High School Study Abroad

Posted by Emily O'Leary on Tue, Feb 17, 2015


We asked our Campus Reporters to tell us a little about how they made their decision to spend their junior or senior year abroad with SYA. Read how Jennifer S., one of our Campus Reporters from SYA Spain, discusses how she decided to spend a school year abroad in Spain, and about the incredible journey she has been a part of these past five months living in Zaragoza. 

jennifer_seabolt_croppedAround this time last year, I was incredibly anxious to hear back from SYA. It was a decision that could potentially change my life in an incredible way, and I really wanted to receive a “Congratulations!” email. Now that I’m in February of 2015, I can’t even begin to describe everything that has happened to me in the five months that I’ve been here. I’ve been introduced to multiple new cultures, I’ve become independent, I can confidently carry out a second language, and I feel like a more well-rounded person due to all of the eye opening experiences that I’ve had so far.

Leaving the comfort of home for a new adventure

All of these amazing experiences didn’t come easy. It took a lot of convincing to finally let my parents allow me to apply, let alone allow me to go if I got in. I think what made my parents change their minds was that they saw how much I wanted to do this, and how much interest I had in coming. I read all of the blogs, talked about it at almost every dinner, and did everything I could to vicariously live through last year’s class while I envisioned myself having the same experience the following year. I knew that SYA was the perfect thing for me. It was a huge decision: leaving my home school, leaving my best friends, leaving my family, and leaving the place that I had called home for all of my life. However, for me, this experience outweighed all of the doubts I had about leaving my comfort zone, and I knew that I would gain so many experiences to make up for the ones I would have had at home if I had stayed.

European journey of discovery 

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have traveled so much not only throughout Spain, but also throughout Europe. I’ve seen the Modernism art in Barcelona, a few of the hundreds of museums in Madrid, the beauty of San Sebastián, the countryside of Extremadura, and the architecture and history in Rome that I learned about in my classes are only a few of the places this journey has led me to. Seeing the Spanish culture have slight variations every few hundred kilometers is what amazes me the most. Each place has opened my eyes a little bit more to the world that surrounds me, and I take a small piece from everywhere that I visit, that I will carry with me forever.

Changing perspective

Every once in awhile, it’s fun to see events going on back at home on social media, but one thing I’ve noticed is that I generally see the same things I saw last year. Last year, none of these habitual events would have seemed stagnant or uninteresting, but with all the incredibly new and special experiences I’ve had this year, they do. SYA has given me the confidence to carry out ambitious ideas that I would never have even thought of at home. It has given me the ease of walking to the café down the street from my house to say hi and order a coffee in Spanish from the baristas I see almost every day. It has allowed me to see the world in a greater sense than I had seen it back home, and this has helped me realize what is truly important to me, and focus on those things instead of driving myself crazy on something insignificant. It has helped me realize that my life can be so much more than what I thought it could be.

Without a doubt, I would tell anyone considering this program to just go for it. It’s everything I thought it would be, and a whole lot more. Yes, coming here does take away from normal junior or senior events at home, but the take-away definitely “vale la pena.”

Topics: why study abroad, high school study abroad, year-long immersion, SYA Spain, who are SYA students

Model UN Conference in Geneva | SYA France

Posted by Emily O'Leary on Tue, Feb 17, 2015

12 students from SYA France, all members of the Political Club and Global Issues class, recently attended the Model United Nations (MUN) Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. The trip was coordinated and led by Pascal Montéville, Political Science and International Relations Coordinator at SYA France. The Conference was a particularly important event for students at SYA France, because it is the only bilingual MUN conference in Europe (French and English). Read Briana H.'s blog post as she discusses her experience attending the conference. Check out Briana's entire blog here, The Cat in the Yellow Raincoat.

On Sunday the 11th, as was the case throughout the country, there was a march in Rennes in response to the terrorist attacks against Charlie Hebdo. In Rennes, 115,000 people joined together and marched in near silence, sometimes with bursts of applause, sometimes in singing the national anthem and in total over three million people took to the streets through France. I wished I could have been there, but on that same day, along with eleven classmates and our politics teacher, I departed for a Model United Nations conference in Geneva, Switzerland. 


Model United Nations (MUN) is when students model the real United Nations by debating in committees, representing a country, and try to find a solution to real world problems. For however long the conference is, they act as real delegates and work to compromise, while keeping true to their country's beliefs and policies. I was representing Lithuania at this conference while debating the independence of Kosovo and Palestine.

I got the chance to attend the conference because I participate in after school politics club, who is this year focusingModelUN1 on the subject of illegal immigration in Europe. However, there is not the chance to go to a conference every year, as it depends on the students, standardized testing dates and the feasibility of the trip. This conference was especially unique because it was bilingual- French and English. It meant that knowing both languages gave us a huge advantage in understanding what was going on at any given moment, seeing as the other students spoke in either of the two languages.

The conference lasted three days. The first day included an opening ceremony, the same at all conferences, but this one had the unique factor that it was inside the actual United Nations headquarters in Geneva. As I put in the caption under the first picture, we were in the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room, a hall that is really used for UN debates. We sat in the real chairs of the delegates and listened to simultaneous translations of the conference in either French or English. Throughout the ceremony tour groups were observing us, appearing for a few minutes at a time on the glass enclosed hall above the room. It really made one feel like an important delegate, especially when they took pictures.

ModelUN4Over the three days, a good portion of our time was spent in committee, debating, drafting resolutions and talking with the other students, who came from all over the world. Just a few of the countries... Ivory Coast, Morocco, France, Spain, Italy, England, United States, and Hungary. I definitely used my language skills jumping back and forth between French and English to work with all the delegates.

Not all of our time was spent working, although it was the majority. There was also a delegate dance. Those who know me can correctly assume that I did not dance much. In fact, I danced once, but had a good time talking with some British students and watching the crowd surfers and teachers who joined in the fun. We also walked around Geneva at night, seeing a little bit of the city and spent a total of twelve hours together in the train there and back, which left plenty of time for sleeping, reading and watching the Princess Bride. Oh, and homework. I did that too.

Considering the violence that shocked the country almost two weeks ago, it was fitting that instead of violence, 500 students worked together peacefully by using our voices and speeches to find solutions to real problems.

Topics: high school study abroad, SYA France

Google+ Hangout | What kinds of travel do SYA students do while abroad?

Posted by Emily O'Leary on Fri, Feb 13, 2015

At our recent Google+ Hangout featuring a parent of an SYA alum, the Director of Admissions and SYA Admissions Representatives, we received a question regarding the different kinds of travel students do while they study abroad in high school with SYA. 

Here are four types of travel our students participate in while at SYA:

1. School Tripsfrance_client_selects-37
There are school wide trips at all four of SYA's schools where students travel with their entire class. Each school has about 60-65 students, who travel with their classmates and teachers to different parts of their host country. These are typically a week long, and are included in the tuition. S
tudents travel on hired buses, stay in hotels and travel with our faculty. Teachers integrate what students are learning in the classroom with these field trips.

2. Class Travel
There several classes at all four of our schools that undertake special experiential learning trips associated with them. Last year at SYA Spain History and an English classes went to Paris. This year at SYA France our international relations class in both France and Italy met together in Milan at the Model UN Conference. Students often participate in specific field trips with a teacher as part of the curriculum. 

3. Independent Travel
Independent travel is available in all four of our countries and is an earned privilege that students have the right to participate in, typically starting at the end of November/early December. If you talk to any of our alums, independent travel is truly one of the most memorable parts of the SYA experience, their sense of adventure and growing in wisdom and perspective. However, these trips must be planned very carefully and students must draft an itinerary including where they plan to stay, which transportation they are going to take, and the specific places they are visiting. Their host family, family back in the U.S. and the Resident Director must sign-off on the entire trip. Students may not travel alone and they must go in small groups with friends.

DSC001834. Extracurricular Activities Travel
Extracurricular activities travel is available in certain counties. For example, in France, students who participate in Model UN are given the opportunity to travel with that club and faculty advisor to the Model UN Conference wherever that is hosted -in the past students have traveled to Luxembourg. There is also the Global Issues Network (GIN) conference in France that is similar to Model UN. Many clubs have different travel associated with them. 

By the end of your school year abroad, you will know the country you have been living in very well. You will not just get to know the city you are living in, but rather gain a perspective on the entire country, explore new cities, and connect what you are learning with the world around you. 

Ready to have an amazing adventure? Click here to apply for a year studying abroad in high school.  




Marché de Noel |Spending the Holidays at SYA France

Posted by Emily O'Leary on Wed, Jan 21, 2015

We asked our Campus Reporters to tell us what they were doing to celebrate the holidays while abroad. Isabelle N., one of our SYA France Campus Reporters, discusses her experiences with spending the holidays abroad. Read as she reflects on her two established identities- French and American, and how she celebrated the holidays in Rennes.

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Now already two weeks into 2015, coming back from holiday break has been an unexplainable switch between my now two established identities- almost French and American. After spending these past several days getting back into the school rhythm, I found moments in between doing practicing French vocabulary and chugging coffee to reflect on “my” two countries where I’ve created memories and learned beyond what’d I had ever thought.

Before coming to France, I had hoped the holiday cheer would be
as prominent as it is in the United States, however, I was not really expecting too much of my new home. Not too long ago, I was strolling the area of the Place Du Parlement, where my friends and I often walk to grab coffee, pop in the many shops, or just pass by en route to other parts of town. We were, as usual, probably discussing the latest Politics exercise to study for or how Christmas was so soon that we could taste in, and when we looked up, the entire area that is normally empty in front of the Parlement building was bustling with people and chaos! 

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No, it wasn’t a literal circus (which there was, by the way, about a month prior), but it is the annual Marché De Noel, or the Christmas market. I knew from going to the market in the Place Des Lices and the artisan market at Place Hoche that France had a thing for markets, but this stepped up the game. While the Marche De Noel maybe not have extravagant gifts or merchandise, it’s the random things that I find the most interesting, like: very convincing cupcake resembling candles, speculoos beignets for days, sausage galette contraptions, and a mountainous stand of a myriad of hats. All of which are some of the many things I have loved simply looking at each time I’ve ventured on over to the market, which I will admit has been frequent.Now already two weeks into 2015, coming back from holiday break has been an unexplainable switch between my now two established identities- almost French and American. After spending these past several days getting back into the school rhythm, I found moments in between doing practicing French vocabulary and chugging coffee to reflect on “my” two countries where I’ve created memories and learned beyond what’d I had ever thought.

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While I may be used to my host mom bringing back loads upon loads of groceries each Saturday morning, the idea of incorporating Christmas, a holiday I’ve celebrated continuously every year, and markets, something so very French to me, seemed all the while foreign. I’ve always heard about famous Christmas markets, but never saw France a place that I would experience this new phenomenon. Now that I think of it, these markets combine two things very much prominent in France- food (usually butter infused) and presents of all sorts for the holiday season. And now that these markets have been all packed up, leaving the Place Du Parlement empty and lacking in cheer, I’m starting to note all of the little things that France has, and that I will miss in America. It’s one thing to have homesickness for America- but it’s another to already miss mouth-watering macaroons, stores dedicated to cheeses galore, and the routine with which I’ve become so comfortable. 

To read more about Isabelle's experience abroad at SYA France, check out her blog here


Topics: high school study abroad, SYA France, holidays abroad

Spending the Holidays at SYA France | High School Study Abroad

Posted by Emily O'Leary on Thu, Jan 15, 2015

We asked our Campus Reporters to tell us what they were doing to celebrate the holidays while abroad. Kailey K., one of our SYA France Campus Reporters, discusses the magic of Rennes during the holiday season, how she celebrated with her SYA classmates, as well as her host family and family visiting from the U.S.

describe the imageA soft echo of holiday music filled the bustling halls as eager SYA France students adorned a cluttered Christmas tree. Sixty-seven secret Santa gifts lay below the tree on the final day before winter break and a sharp nip from the wintry air embraced as we opened the door to a holiday season. This holiday season at SYA France was a season of joy, laughter, and incredible friendships. 

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My typical experience of the holiday season is unlike that of most others. I spend nine months of the year in snowy Massachusetts with the exception of the much-anticipated breaks. Leading up to Winter Break I am typically met with an onslaught of work, horrendous finals, and a dangerous lack of sleep. Therefore, I found the kindness and festivities at 5 allée ste. Marie to be refreshing and welcomed them with much enthusiasm. My classes were filled with carols and wishes for a happy holiday season and my Secret Santa gift arrived loaded with body wash and much savored candy. A bright green tree filled the common room with fresh aromas and spontaneous decorations covered its branches. December at SYA France meant much anticipation for break and a tremendous amount of premature celebrations. However, despite the school festivities break was still much enjoyed.

describe the imageRennes in Christmas time is perhaps the most magical thing I have ever seen. Long rows of sparkling lights line the streets and below them Rennes’ citizens, bundled in warm clothing, enjoy Christmas by shopping on the crowded streets. At the end of these bustling streets there is the Marché de Noel: an outdoor market entirely consisting of Christmas spirit. Clusters of smiling faces greet you at the entrance and from then on you are entranced: wrapped in a thick blanket of holiday festivities. If you leave the market late enough at night you may run into a crowd on your way to République: here is the light show. Joyous music will ring in your ears as colorful lights flicker off of a massive stone building and if you have not previously found the holiday spirit it will be almost impossible to ignore. However, if you are still not entranced then smell the air: the cool air fosters an odor of sugar and sweetness, fully capturing the holiday season. What I have just described was the tour I dragged my family on the first day they arrived in Rennes.

Tired and groggy after the long flight from San Francisco my family arrived assumedly notdescribe the image wanting to participate in many of my wild ideas. So, I gave them a day and on that Sunday took a tired fourteen-year-old sister and my parents on a tour of my city. That evening we dined at chez-moi avec ma famille d’accueil a meal of mussels, fries, and of course cheese. Watching my two families interact filled me with irreplaceable joy and made me realize how much I have become accustomed to the French culture and how much I am actually capable of understanding. Over the extravagant meal my two families laughed, discussed my initial confusion of four months prior and ended the evening ready for the joyeuse fêtes to come. After having witnessed the holidays in a different country I have realized just how far I have come from the beginning of my French adventure and can’t wait for more to come.

Topics: high school study abroad, SYA France, holidays abroad

Celebrating the Holidays at SYA Spain

Posted by Emily O'Leary on Tue, Dec 23, 2014

We asked our Campus Reporters to tell us what they were doing to celebrate the holidays, and talk about any major differences they've noticed between celebrating holidays at home and abroad. Jennifer S., one of our SYA Spain Campus Reporters, discusses how she and her Spanish host family are celebrating the holidays abroad. 

SYA Spain student studying abroad

As I sit here writing this I’m listening to Christmas music, bundled up in comfy clothes by my heater, loving the Christmas season, enjoying my final Sunday before winter break. Oh and I’m studying for finals. Despite trying to make study guides in Spanish and running lines for the play I’m in for my Spanish Literature Through the Theatre class, I finish school in five days, my parents come in seven days, Christmas is in eleven days, which means that the holidays are quickly approaching! While I’m not staying with my host family for Christmas, I’m very excited to be spending it with my real family. I love how this country is celebrating the holidays, but I’m happy I get to have the American touch to Christmas.

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Starting with what I’m doing for Christmas, my family is coming to Zaragoza for a few days, and I’m so excited to show them around. We’ll head down to Pilar to see the nativity scene that has been set up (they literally put Bethlehem in the middle of Pilar that you can walk through. It’s amazing). We’ll walk through all the little Christmas shops that have also been set up there, selling artisan goods and amazing food. Churros with chocolate are just as good as they sound, if not better. After showing my parents the city that has become my new home, we’re heading to Barcelona for Christmas! 

study abroad in Spain

We’re going to attempt to cook a typical Spanish Christmas Eve dinner, complete with all of the traditional dishes that I’ve eaten here, and the dishes that I’ve learned how to cook in cooking class. I’m not really sure how this is going to work out, but it’s the family time that counts. We’re going to play tourist, see how the Spaniards celebrate this day, and just enjoy time as a family. We’re also heading over to London and Madrid for a few days, and I’m just excited to see the cultural differences between a holiday that I’ve only ever spent in Hawaii. 

describe the imageThe biggest difference that I’ve noticed between Spain and the United States during this time of year is that Christmas is much less of a commercial holiday here than it is in the U.S. Christmas is a day more focused on religion and family than it is about spending a ton of money to give presents to the people in your life. Black Friday exists, but it’s nowhere near the craze that it is in the U.S. Stores still remained closed on Sundays, and there aren’t Christmas advertisements everywhere. Also, Christmas isn’t the main day for presents in Spain. While Spaniards have the concept of Santa Claus, this concept came from America. Instead of writing letters to Santa, kids write letters to los Reyes Magos (the Three Wise Men), and receive their presents from them on January 6. My host family is heading to the pueblo with their entire extended family to spend time with them, go skiing, and for my three younger host brothers, to receive their presents from los Reyes. After my parents leave I’m heading up to the pueblo to spend the rest of my break with them, and although I’m not spending Christmas and New Year’s with them, I’m excited to experience Epiphany with them on the sixth. 

Topics: high school study abroad, SYA Spain, holidays abroad

My First Month at SYA China | High School Study Abroad

Posted by Emily O'Leary on Tue, Nov 25, 2014

This post was written by Hannah Boland one of our campus reporters attending SYA China. Hannah is a junior from Culver Academies in Indiana. She hopes to provide readers with a bit of flavor of what the SYA experience is like and to share her experiences, mistakes, and triumphs. Read Hannah's blog post about her first few months at SYA China in Beijing.

大家好! (Hi everybody!)

Hannah Boland 3 Cropped

This past week was the end of the first quarter, so my classmates and I have already been here for a whopping total of two months. It is incredibly difficult for me to grasp that my SYA experience is already a quarter of the way gone, and I’m honestly still trying to figure out where the time has gone. Obviously, quite a lot has taken place in my time here already, so I think that I’ll try to catch you with a brief overview of my first two months in China.

Firstly, I must emphasize the overwhelming amount of shock of the first few days here. The traffic, our homes, the language, the jumbled confusion, and facing the new reality of what my life would be like for the next year all dropped onto my shoulders like some immense weight that I couldn’t possibly hold, and all I could think was: “What have I done? I am way in over my head.”

These kinds of thoughts are pretty natural in the beginning, as I am sure many of my classmates would attest to. But, talking to my friend Kelley about this, he said, “This whole thing is so far off from what I had pictured, but it would have been cliché if it had been what I thought it would be.” The original jolt of it all does wear off, and eventually the showers, food, and public transportation all become second nature.

Hannah Boland 1Secondly, I just want to touch on some of the things I’ve been up to these past months here besides adjusting slowly, but surely. I’m currently taking two to three Chinese classes a day, Chinese history, AP Environmental Science (APES), Honors Pre-calculus, and English. What I love most about Chinese classes is that we don’t do much written work during class time, but instead we just practice the new grammar and words by having open conversation with our classmates and teachers for the entirety of the class period. When I have one-on-one classes with a teacher, we get to just talk about anything we want for an hour, completely in Chinese, and it is great to work solely on our conversational skills with these wonderful instructors.

My classmates and I have already gotten to go to some pretty cool places, including a Confucian temple, a Buddhist Temple, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall. The Great Wall may have been my favorite, because, being a hiker at heart, it was so great to get out of the city and into the fresh air of the mountains.Hannah Boland 2

I really love my Chinese host family, and they have been so welcoming of me into their home. My sister Yahan is 13 years old, and she is a hardworking student and dancer on her dancing team. She is an avid fan of Taylor Swift, and we have a lot of fun hanging out, doing homework together, and listening to music. My father (爸爸) is an engineer, so he is often away on business trips during weekdays. My mother (妈妈) is as protective and concerned about my health as my actual mother. When I come home from school early, she likes to teach me about cooking Chinese food, or just chat in general. She and I especially have a really close relationship. 

This whole experience so far, has really been a blast, and I look forward to relaying the good and the bad as they come!

Yours truly,

Topics: why study abroad, high school study abroad, living with a host family, SYA China

My First Month in Zaragoza, Spain | High School Study Abroad

Posted by Emily O'Leary on Sun, Nov 23, 2014

Gaby S. is one of our campus reporters studying abroad at SYA Spain in Zaragoza. Gaby is a junior, coming to SYA Spain from the Williston Northampton School in Massachusetts and is trying to soak up as much culture as she can while in Zaragoza. 

Gaby SmallIn a plaza with my Mediterranean art class, I was seated on a bench adorned with the lion of Zaragoza. The autumn air nipped my bare arms as I stared at my smudged sketchbook. The graphite from my pencil seemed to spread independently, with a mind of its own. Scattering across the paper, it depicted the palm tree looming in front of me. Planted in the grass of the courtyard, its textured trunk stood tall and proud. The palm fronds shifted and swayed with the breeze; a gentle sound, created only for those who were listening. My instrument of choice was slim, yet dense. The yellow wax coat was worn from my tight grip. My busy pencil marked my paper; dark as the night sky during a new moon or, light as the soft gray of mixing cement. Each shade was attentively crafted by the pressure my fingers articulated. But despite the illustration’s strong presence, it was impermanent, easily eliminated by the soft pink eraser. The swift, soft flapping of wings tempted my attention. My eyes glazed over the details of my artwork and gazed off into the sky. My lashes fluttered with a sudden gust of wind. The leaves around me danced in the air. Riding the draft, they teased me as I sat weighted by the world. The ever present pigeons swirled and soared in a pattern entirely their own. A full spectrum of gray was represented with the delicate birds. They playfully migrated from one spot to another, salvaging crumbs from the city streets of Zaragoza. The clean roads had little to offer them, lacking the usual urban litter. As if responding to their hungry chirps, an aged woman ambled towards us. She stopped and dug her hand deep into her bag, gathering handfuls of seeds to feed her gray, feathered friends. The feed sprayed into the air, raining down on the ground like a sudden sun shower. The pigeons were swarming and for an instant resembled a flurry of snowflakes in a winter tempest. The winged creatures whirled in an unrestricted manner.

A ray of the orange Spanish sun caught my curious gaze and I lifted my face to feel it’s warm touch. The air now was a bit kinder to my exposed skin. Morning light splintered through the palm fronds and bounced into my pupils. The illuminated the palm tree casted shadows in new directions. Mesmerized, I contemplated the natural beauty. Looking at my paper with a new set of eyes, I avidly resumed drawing. Shading in sections to give volume, the gray tree on the page began to resemble its living muse. The trees busy back round came into focus, the sharp angles of the architecture and blur of pedestrians. Each small addition became just as valuable as the subject itself. I began to see what was in front of me as a whole, rounded picture. Perceiving every detail, I replaced what I had formerly assumed to be, with what actually was. A mirror of the lessons I had learned this first month in España.

Topics: why study abroad, high school study abroad, SYA Spain