The SYA Admissions Blog | High School Study Abroad

Transitions and Goodbyes - A blog by Charlotte M.

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Wed, Jul 6, 2016

Wow, so the stakes are high for this blog post. I have to come up with some deep reflections about my SYA experience, what has made it life-changing and how I have evolved from it. That’s what you’re expecting right? Well, I don’t have anything profound to say. I am lying in bed, avoiding Capstone and listening to Jefferson Airplane (if you don’t know that band, educate yourself). I am still too immersed in the SYA experience to be able to reflect on it profoundly. What I can reflect on a little bit is transition and goodbyes.

Like my fellow juniors in America, all I want to do is finish up the final projects and tests, sleep for a month straight and then graduate and go home. Except unlike them, going home has a grave finality. I am a senior a year early, and its very scary and jarring to me that I wont be returning to SYA next fall. I probably won’t see my SYA classmates for a while, and certainly not everyday. I won’t see my host family, my host house or this city for at least a year, or longer. And while a look forward to the end of the year and reunion with my friends and my family from home and the reprieve from the pressure and anxiety of a high school student, I would trade that to stay here, in what has become my world.

Transition is hard, and my family here is my comfort zone now. They are no longer a host family, but my family. My room is mine, as much as my room in the states. I no longer refer to things here as temporary. There is my Spanish family, and my American one, they are very different, but neither is less real. There is my Spanish school, my Spanish teachers, and my American ones. And there is a Spanish Charlotte and an American Charlotte. And I’m not sure how they relate to each other. I’m not sure who American Charlotte is. That’s scary. Going home is much scarier than coming here was, surprisingly enough. Because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into leaving, I could plunge in without anyone having expectations or standards of how I would react. Now, there is a precedent for my behavior, my friendships and my interactions. A precedent I know I won’t match.

Start your life changing journey by applying to SYA

Mr. Brochu, The Friendliest Face at SYA France - A blog by Cole Billik

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Mon, Jun 27, 2016

“Ca va, toi?”, I hear greeting me as I walk through the double doors into Villa Alvarez. Mr. Denis Brochu somehow maintains his nonchalant finesse through the nonstop time he spends putting up with our antics. In fact, committing so much time to us, I sometimes wonder if the students of SYA France leave him any room for a personal life. I am reassured when he comes into the hallway to tell us one of his silly jokes, or a story about something ridiculous he had seen the day before from answering a late night call in the emergency room, to making a list of restaurant recommendations, he has helped me through it all. “Franchement”, there are very few men with a passion as large as Mr. Brochu.

His was the first face I saw at the Boston Logan Airport, an instant sign of a great year to come. Mr. Brochu has seen all of us blossom; in the classroom, on the trips, and on the stage. I have had a particularly close relationship with Mr. Brochu this year, as I was placed in his group of advisees. The advisory got a chance to bond, after several group lunches at the creperie (you can ask around, we truly got the special treatment!). While he does have a select group of advisees, it is clear that he treats all of the SYA France students with the same love. To prove this theory, I asked a couple of students how to describe Mr. Brochu. In response, a student said, “There are so many ways to describe Mr. Brochu; he finds a way to do his job in the most fun way possible, and he’s always around for a laugh”. Another said, “he is the papa bear of SYA France”.

The verdict has spoken; our year in France would simply not be the same without Mr. Brochu’s help. Thank you to Mr. Brochu for a wonderful year in France, and we wish you many more good ones to come. 

Mr. Brochu pictured above with several SYA France 2016 students.

Topics: SYA France

Au Revoir Rennes, Bonjour Harvard!

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Tue, May 31, 2016


Chloe Belle Hooton first picked up a golf club when she was just two-years-old. 17 years later, she found herself studying abroad at SYA France and continuing her passion for golf in Rennes.

Several months ago we interviewed Chloe Belle Hooton, from San Diego, CA, to discuss how she continued her very successful golfing career while abroad at SYA France. When asked where she saw herself in the future of the sport she said, “I intend on playing Division 1 golf in college.” We were pleased to hear that as she’s saying goodbye to SYA she’s saying hello to Harvard University in Boston, MA where she’ll be a part of the women’s Division 1 golf team. 

“I am really excited to be part of such an incredible and welcoming community. It’s such a diverse school with amazing programs and people, and the golf team will be such a great experience,” Chloe Belle said about her future at Harvard. “It’s been the best part of my sister’s four years at Harvard, I’m excited to be part of such a wonderful program.” However, she admits she’s is a little nervous about the workload!

SYA was able to place Chloe Belle with a host family who was also passionate about golf and France Resident Director, Denis Brochu, helped adjust her schedule so that she has a manageable workload that accommodated her golf training. “Denis helped me immensely with my organizational skills and was always there to offer advice. He was incredibly helpful in all of my French classes and has helped me to work on my golf game while abroad.”

While abroad, Chloe Belle has learned to adapt quickly to new situations and new surroundings,which is an essential part of immersing yourself into college life, especially at a school as diverse as Harvard. “Rennes is very different from San Diego and SYA is very different from my high school; this program has taught me how to adapt and live in a completely different environment.”

Studying abroad in high school helps you in several ways when it comes to applying to college. As an organization, we frequently seek advice from college counselors to discuss the college transition and how studying abroad can assist students with their college application process.Chloe_Belle_-_Updated_Feature_Photo-152713-edited.jpg

Most recently, we spoke with Rod Skinner, the Director of College Counseling at Milton Academy who said, "In fact, being away for that year is a very powerful and compelling addition to whatever it is the student is presenting to a college. It says that they're willing to take a risk and leave all that comfort to try their hand at a new experience," (Hear more from Rod here.

The SYA France ’16 alum agrees that studying abroad has definitely opened her eyes to more elements of the world which has helped her realize what she wants in life. “SYA played a major factor in my acceptance to Harvard and it has given me another year to grow and prepare for my future,” said Chloe Belle.

Aside from golfing at Harvard, she hopes to go into Finance and get her MBA. “At Harvard they don’t have pre-professional concentrations (Harvard’s word for majors) but they have a Quantitative Finance Track in Statistics concentration which I’d love to check out,” she said.

Congratulations, Chloe Belle! We look forward to seeing what you accomplish in your future as an SYA Alumni. Read Chloe Belle’s feature, which highlights her golfing career in San Diego and in Rennes, France here.


Topics: SYA France, college

Exploring China: SYA Visits Yunnan Province

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Thu, May 19, 2016

One of the most memorable travel experiences at SYA China is the two-week trip to Yunnan province, held each spring, which is located in the extreme southwest of China. Each year, students endure a 34-hour train ride south to immerse themselves in life outside of Beijing. The geography of Yunnan is as diverse as its people, with the Tibetan plateau to the north, rain forests to the south and elaborately-terraced rice paddies in the east. During their trip, they encounter much of Yunnan’s diversity—living in villages, visiting markets and even trekking 

Yumna_-_Bike_Photo.jpgalong the renowned ‘Ancient Tea Horse Road,’ which links Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet, stretching across Nepal and India.

During this trip, SYA encourages students to extend themselves by using their language skills to meet and learn about local people and their lives. Each year there are students who gain a tremendous amount from educational travel and they become good travelers because they engage in their surroundings.

SYA China’s first stop was at the capital, Kunming, where they enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere in comparison to their every day life in the hustle and bustle of Beijing. Kunming is one of the safest cities in China and is referred to as the “Spring City’ as it almost always has perfect weather.

After a three-day stay in the capital, they made their way to Jian Shui, a quaint, ancient town in Honghe Prefecture of Yunnan Province, which has over 100 temples, large residences and academies of classical learning. 

The rest of their time was spent exploring local markets, hikes leading to some of Yunnan’s most beautiful regions known for their ethnic diversity, spending nights in the homes of the villagers and becoming part of the culture with traditional dances and singing around night time bonfires.

Educational travel is an essential part of SYA’s high school study abroad curriculum and an important way to help our students understand a China that is both impossibly large and amazingly diverse. SYA's trips are designed to give our students an in-depth look at parts of Chinese culture that are unknown to all but the most seasoned traveler.

SYA China student, Owen Greenwood, from Belmont Hill School in Massachusetts, put together a video below highlighting their two-week adventure across southwest China.

Learn more about SYA China today! 

Topics: SYA China

Friends come and go, but family always stays with you - Blog by Karen Ahn

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Mon, May 16, 2016


Karen Ahn comes to SYA from The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut. She is currently a junior and a Campus Reporter at SYA Italy. Read more of her work here.

It’s hard to imagine how fast nine months can go by until you’ve been at School Year Abroad. I still can’t comprehend how it is now May 11, 2016. In just thirteen days, I will be on a flight back to the States. In just thirteen days, I will be leaving my host family, whom I have come to think as my second real family, and my friends. In just thirteen days, I will be saying goodbye to the life I have made here.

I thought that, towards the end, I would spend my day in centro thinking about the things I would miss such as, but certainly not limited to, the cappuccino and the pizza and the delicious gelato that you can find at any street corner. Every passing day would seem to grow shorter and shorter, until there aren’t any days left to pass and it was time to go. I thought that I would end up spending all this remaining time with my friends, because it would be harder to see them once the year was over.

But this hasn’t been the case. Truthfully, I wonder why I don’t stuff my face in the delectable and authentic Italian food and reminisce about the past few months, all with friends that have also been through this impossible-to-describe experience. After all, that’s what other students are doing.

Yet last Saturday at 5 PM, I found myself with my host family, talking with them about mundane things such as the latest Apple phone and even playing 2008 Wii games that I had already beaten a long time ago, ignoring messages to come hang out or grab dinner by other SYA students. And that time that I spent with my host family gave me a great sense of fulfillment and content.

It’s not that I don’t want to talk to other Americans; rather, I just want to cherish the fleeting time I have with my host family. The friends that I have met during this year are some of the most interesting people I have met in my life. However, it is admittedly easier to fly across the country to meet someone than to fly over the Atlantic Ocean, into a completely different continent.

A few months ago, my host mother told me something that has stuck with me: “Gli amici vanno e vengono, ma la famiglia sta sempre con te,” which roughly translates to, “Friends come and go, but family always stays with you.” She followed this phrase with assurance that I was a part of their family now, so with that fact, they would always be with me.
Thinking about the first month with my host family, I never expected or even hoped to become that close with them. I am a very independent person, so the concept of family has never struck me as something that I needed, but my experience with my host family changed that. I witnessed firsthand how supportive a family can be, even if they aren’t related by blood, and how even nine months can change one’s mindset about what you need and want.

So when my host mom said that I was part of their family, I cried. And I’m sure that, when I leave Italy, I’ll be more emotional about leaving my host family, than about leaving my friends. Although I will continue to maintain all of the relationships I have made here, I sincerely hope that I can come back soon to see my second family.

Spring has Sprung in Beijing! - Photos by Jennifer Lu

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Thu, May 12, 2016

Jennifer Lu is part of the SYA China Class of 2016. She comes to SYA from Polytechnic School in California and has provided us with great photos over the past several months. View more of her work here. 

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Grasping the Memories from a School Year Abroad - Blog by Danielle Kaye

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Wed, May 11, 2016

Danielle Kaye comes to SYA from Harvard-Westlake School in North Hollywood, CA. She is currently a junior and a Campus Reporter at SYA France. Read more of her work here.

As our bus speeds through the French countryside after the final school trip of the year, I glance out the window. A green blur fills my view. The wide fields, lonely but also inviting in their emptiness, blend together with the trees to create one single image, one color. I barely notice the variations in the landscape; the bus is moving too fast. As soon as I spot a dirt path winding through the distant hills or a group of small bushes swaying with the wind, it vanishes behind me, out of the window frame and gone forever.Danielle_Kaye_-_Friends_In_Nice.jpg

Part of me longs to stop the bus, to stop time. But more than anything, spending nine months abroad has taught me that life always moves forward, no matter how hard we might try to keep it still. Gazing out the window, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the number of memories I’ve made in this country that has become my home. The thought of forgetting them frightens me. Will all of the moments fade away like the passing trees, only to gather dust on a shelf in the back of my mind?

The harsh reality is that not everything can be remembered. One year – especially a year filled with so many new people and new places – is made up of an infinite number of memories, some that fade and others that last. As much as I’d like to grasp each one and never let go, I know that such a task would be impossible. I try to convince myself that pictures and journal entries will somehow capture my experiences in their entirety, solidifying them into tangible objects. But the truth is that I have much less control than I like to think. All I can do is hope that the important memories, the people and places that impacted me in significant ways, will stay.

I remember the feeling of awe and satisfaction after finally understanding a French text following a discussion in French literature class. My teacher’s voice, compelling and passionate, still rings in my ears, and I still grasp every syllable as though it were magic.

I remember exploring Rennes for the first time alongside my new friends, the city’s streets mysterious and charming,
the last rays of the summer sun still casting a yellow glow on the tilted Breton houses. Together, we laughed at our failed attempts to communicate in French, a language then so foreign to our ears. Looking back, I can see how far we’ve come.


I remember walking along the beach on the coast of Brittany with my host family one Sunday afternoon, windblown hair in our faces. The realization that I now have a second family in France came over me like a wave and took me by surprise. Feeling at home in a foreign country is not an easy task to accomplish, but thanks to my French family, it’s one that I’ve been able to achieve.

Ultimately, the physical places one visits are memorable, but it’s the people in them that create the strongest memories. From my teachers to my friends to my host family, the people I’ve met this year have inspired me and opened my eyes to all that I still have to learn.

I am afraid of forgetting. But deep down I know that it’s an irrational fear, as the bonds I’ve formed in the past nine months will never fade away.

Topics: SYA France

Blue Skies and España Architecture - Photos by Katie Bauer

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Fri, Apr 29, 2016

Parque Guell, Barcelona 

Students and teachers in front of the Gaudi facade of                          La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona 
La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona                                                                                                      

Casa Batlló, Barcelona 

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Parque Guell, Barcelona                                                                          Parque Guell, Barcelona 

Group of students in Parque Guell, Barcelona 

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Fundació Miró, Barcelona                                                          Casa Batlló, Barcelona 

Casa Batlló, Barcelona 


Topics: SYA Spain

An End, a Thank You, and a Beginning - A blog by Erin Slichter

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Tue, Apr 26, 2016

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind. A flurry of final papers, tests, and projects greeted us as the finishing markers to the school year. The assessments ranged from analytical, such as an investigation into the SARS crisis in China for environmental science, to the introspective, such as a memoir of our time so far here for English. By far the most exciting projects were our speeches. Each of us wrote a speech in Chinese and delivered it to our classmates, teachers, and host families. We had all done this before at the beginning of the year, so we were excited to see and hear how everybody’s Chinese had improved.

A Final Test of Our Chinese Language Skills 

Among some highlights from the event were a speech devoted to baicai, a kind of Chinese cabbage, by my friend Liza, and another on the complicated science of steel forging by Ian. Kesi, who said she couldn’t think of a topic for her speech, chose to talk about the action itself of giving a speech and how nervous she was to be doing it. Many talked about how they’ve grown in China, what they’ve learned and found about the culture and themselves. I personally talked about getting stared at. One of the most touching speeches was a tribute to our Chinese teacher, Zhang Laoshi, by Kelvin. He thanked her for all the help she’s given him, both in Chinese instruction and in personal matters. By the end of the speech, students and teachers, especially Zhang Laoshi, were in tears. The moment was symbolic of the gratitude all of us feel to our Chinese teachers, Zhang Laoshi, Ding Laoshi, Li Laoshi, and Tie Laoshi. We wouldn’t even be close to where we are now if it wasn’t for them.IMG_2587.jpg

It was awesome to hear the progress we’ve all made in the Chinese language. We were all a bit queasy beforehand, especially because of the video camera set up to capture the event, but I think we’ll all feel lucky to have the tapes later on.

Celebrating the End of School 

To celebrate the end of school, myself and a group of friends decided to go to Ditan, an old park, and then to our favorite  
dim-sum restaurant. I hadn’t been to Ditan before, so I was very impressed. To start with, I got in on discount with one kuai because of my xueshengzheng, student ID. All the flowers were blooming and making the place smell amazing. We meandered through quiet tree plots and peeked through the gates to the central square, which was closed. We strolled past croquet courts and made it to an exercise area, where lots of people were exercising, both old and young. An incredibly fit elderly man put us all to shame on the monkey bars. A group of young wushu trainers impressed us with their skills.

We made a few friends in the park, including a couple that remarked on how tall we all were for our age, a man who turned out to have been a student at BNU #2 in 1962, and a six-year-old girl who wanted to practice her English with us. I also had a conversation in semi-English, semi-Chinese with a man playing the violin. He told me he’d studied his English, which was very good for someone of his age, with two Americans. When I asked how old he was, he laughed and said, “Older than your parents!” He finally said he was 75. He then played Yankee-Doodle on the violin and I sang along.

During dinner, my friends and I talked about our trip to Gansu next week and about our Integrated Learning Project (ILP) projects when we get back. The ILP was a big draw for me from the start and I’ve been looking forward to it all year. Though ‘school’ in the conventional sense is over, we will now begin our projects, working in groups of five until the end of the year on researching and writing about a topic of our choice. My group’s topic is loosely the environment, but we’ll probably narrow it down to sustainability or something even smaller. This project is a great way for us to apply our language and culture skills to a really in-depth study. By the end, we’ll write a 20 page paper on the findings from our research and interviews.

Right now is simultaneously the end of school, a chance to reflect on things so far, and the beginning of a new, final chapter. I hope to make the most of it.

Topics: SYA China

An Incredible Opportunity with Meaningful Results - A blog by William Conte

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Fri, Apr 22, 2016

William Conte comes to SYA from Millbrook School in New York. He is currently a junior and a Campus Reporter at SYA France. Read more of his work here.

France has been an incredible opportunity for me for all the reasons I had not expected. I came here to become fluent in a foreign language and culture, to travel, to do all the things one might expect a student who goes abroad to do. I wanted to leave America, to leave my family and my friends, and to spend a year cultivating myself in all the typical senses. But what I have learned from my experience is so much more important that what I came here to do. Coming here has given me purpose, restored my passions, and taught me who I am.

First of all, SYA has helped me find meaning. I have always been outgoing, but here I have been encouraged to set free my inner adventurous spirit, to get lost in new cities across Europe, and to be incredibly present in everything I do. In the most mature way possible, I feel as though I have nurtured a childlike curiosity that has allowed meWill_Conte.jpg to see life through a brighter, lighter lens. Leaving America, a very forward thinking, innovative culture, and coming to a more past/present culture, such as that of France, has helped me do something I have always had trouble doing: living in the moment. More than ever, I am determined to be happy in my life and put my happiness over all other things.

Before coming to SYA, I was vehemently passionate about the environment, but I wanted to study politics in college. I was scared to commit myself to environmental science because I did not want to limit myself to just the sciences. I love history, languages, foreign policy, and so many other things besides science. Since coming to France, however, I have been inspired, largely by my environmental science teacher here, but also by the COP21, climate change agreement, held in Paris, and merely my experience living abroad away from the United States, to commit myself to my passion and study environmental studies. In France, I have also had loads of opportunities to tend to my other passions such as photography, activism, and fitness.

Coming to France has taught me who I am. I think I knew who I was before coming here, but I have now genuinely become who I am. I am confident in being myself. The comforting, warm environment of SYA has accepted me as who I am, and this acceptance has made me happier. I have metaphorically stepped out of the shadows and become one with myself.

I would like to thank the SYA program, especially Mr. Brochu and all my teachers at SYA, for creating this incredible experience. To prospective or future students, I encourage you to make the leap and take advantages of all of the unknown advantages SYA has to offer.


Topics: SYA France