The SYA Admissions Blog | High School Study Abroad

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

Calling All Future SYAers! - A blog by Charlotte Mines

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Thu, Apr 21, 2016

Charlotte Mines comes to SYA from Concord Academy in Massachusetts. She is currently a junior and a Campus Reporter at SYA Spain. Read more of her work here.

Calling all future SYAers, I’m going to give a list of “consejos” and general weird things about Spain, in hopes that some of you will find it useful next year.

You will need less stuff than you think, all those “just in case” clothes your mom wants you to bring; don’t do it. You will buy things here. And then you will have to repack it all. By yourself. Think about that.

As a “Jota” representative, make sure you cross the river at some point during the year. Life on the other side isn’t so bad. And the views of Pilar at sunset are killer from the bridge.

You will learn to love coffee. This is a given.

Snacks are not a concept in Spain the way they are in America. Your traditional options are pastries or baguette. However, I suggest visiting Rincon or an eco-store to stock up on some of your favorite foods.

Unless you’re some sort of superhuman, the temptation of Criollo or Canfranc pastries will overcome you. One pastry a day is pretty much mandatory, but up to three is acceptable. And if there’s an AP Lit test, try for under six!

There is a store in Atocha that sells jumbo Snickers bars and Oreos cheaply. Take note. Tastes of America is really expensive, so use your travels to stock up on you’re favorite American snacks.

Learn how to say no to more food. This is crucial.

Don’t assume that you will be able to communicate competently in Latin American Spanish. That is a different world, ten cuidado. Not everything translates well.

If you happen to befriend a Spaniard who speaks English really well, which is not common, but can happen, resist the temptation to talk in English all the time. It is so hard not to, but worth it if you put in the effort.

Find a Spanish kid to text with. This will give you excellent slang Spanish, which is impressive.

Learn something about Spanish politics and the educational system. It will put America in perspective for you and allow you to make comparisons between euro-socialism and capitalism with firsthand experience.

Pay attention during Cinco Dias, could be one of you’re best experiences of your year.

Make an Instagram account if you don’t already have one, it will be worth is just for this year. Relish the envy of your American friends.

I hope that this is useful, it will make a lot more sense once you come to Zaragoza and get your bearings here. But I guess my best advice right now is don’t freak out, don’t worry. If I can do it, you can do it and there’s absolutely nothing here you’re not ready for. That probably doesn’t mean much coming from someone you don’t know, whose already mostly through this experience. But, you’re gonna kill it, Spain’s a blast.


Topics: SYA Spain

America from Abroad: What I’ve learned about my home - A blog by Danielle Kaye

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Fri, Apr 1, 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.

Ironically, I’ve learned more about my home by leaving it than by living in it.

It feels strange, almost unnatural, to write these words as I sit in my French bedroom, 5,700 miles away from sunny Los Angeles and an ocean away from the Statue of Liberty. Part of me feels like a liar, a fake American. How can I claim to have learned about my own country from so far outside its borders? If I’m not physically in the U.S., eating pancakes and experiencing the culture first-hand, how can I possibly discover it?Danielle-Kaye-Web-2.jpg

The truth is, living abroad has somehow changed my perspective on my own home.
At first, I thought it might be due to the physical distance; as they say, distance makes the heart grow fonder. But it’s not just fondness for the U.S. that I’ve acquired in the past months. Rather, it’s a measure of comparison, a peak into our country through a foreigner’s eyes. I was fairly confident in my knowledge of America before moving to France. Now I’m not so sure.

It’s not that I was wrong. The food, the politics, the history, the music…all of the defining aspects of American culture clearly do not change by packing up and hopping on a plane. And it’s not that I was oblivious. I was aware of America’s problems, like childhood obesity or gun control. But what was missing was an alternative point of view in order to bring to light aspects of my country that had previously been undetectable.

For example, by comparing French and American societies, I now better understand how new America is and how recently it was created. French culture is largely based on long-lasting traditions, from cheese courses after every meal to the importance of spending Sundays with family. Seeing and experiencing these traditions first-hand has made me realize that as Americans, we lack this deeply rooted sense of nationality. We come from a young country. It’s true that there’s a sense of patriotism in the U.S., but what we don’t have is the same level of national unity. The French know who they are as a people, whereas Americans continue to struggle with identity.

At the same time, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that in America, individuality is often valued above conformity. At school and at home, we are generally encouraged to pursue our passions and express our opinions, regardless of whether or not they are shared by others. Although this is of course not always true, American culture is more often than not supportive of innovative, out-of-the-box people and ideas. I’ve noticed that in France, the same cannot be said. Looking around the public bus on my way to school each morning, I always notice the same thing: all of the girls are dressed identically. The same New Balance tennis shoes, the same oversized scarf, the same black leather jacket. And I’m pretty sure it’s more than just a coincidence. Even the fashion reveals an important difference between the French and American outlooks.

Living abroad has showed me the importance of perspective. I now see that it’s impossible to gain a full image of a country – or any place, for that matter – without leaving it. Just as it’s difficult to judge oneself of one’s own work, it’s hard to see one’s native country through only an insider’s eyes. For better or for worse, I feel like I now have a fuller grasp on what it means to be American.

Learn more about our high school study abroad programs today! 

Topics: SYA France

Experiencing Chinese Culture Outside of Beijing - A blog by Yumna

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Thu, Mar 31, 2016

Educational travel is an integral part of our 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 the culture that are unknown to all but the most seasoned traveler. 

Thirty-Six Hour "Slumber Party" 

When I was told the train ride to Yunnan would take thirty-six hours, I pictured agony: no daily shower, cramped space, and constantly shaking walls. Needless to say, I hesitantly woke up the morning of the trip and stumbled to school with my cumbersome duffle bag. I was still joking with friends about how we still had time to turn back while standing at the train platform, unsure if I really wanted to undertake the long journey.

Despite my worries, the train ride was more like an extended pajama party. As soon as I got settled into my bunk-bed along with my other five cabin mates, the pajamas and snacks came out. It wasn’t just SYA students that we hung out with either; fellow Chinese passengers would wander into our cabins, chat with us, watch movies with us, or even watch our intense games of mah jiang (mah-jong). So the train ride passed by pretty quickly as we wandered the halls, stopping to observe a chess game, or heatedly debate the presidential election with our new Chinese friends.   

Welcome to the City of Kunming

Once we waved goodbye and exchanged wee-chat IDs, it was time to disembark and start our adventure in the city of Kunming (昆明). I think we were all surprised to see people strolling on the sidewalk, or leisurely biking down the street. Used to the impatient horns of speeding motorbikes and brisk walking in Beijing,Yumna_Photo_two-064542-edited.jpg the peaceful atmosphere in Kunming was one we never expected to see. Besides it’s calming aura, Kunming had many other unique features and sights; the bird market was definitely a favorite, where one could find any animal. It was hard to leave the market especially as many of us were busy petting the puppies, kittens, hamsters, or birds we desperately wanted to take home. After being herded onto the bus, we headed to Cui Lake (翠湖). We wandered around the lake, looking for park wanderers to answer questions for our Chinese interview homework. Dedicated towards finding the perfect interviewee, we visited tea houses drinking honeyed rose tea and observing multiple mah-jiang games, joined Tai-chi sessions, and attempted to join fan dances. Unfortunately, the fan dance attempt failed as the teacher looked appalled when we sheepishly mentioned our lack of experience regarding the dance. At last, we found someone to interview, conversing in Chinese of course, until we had to leave the park and visit an Autistic Center for children. This was the first I had actually interacted with an Autistic child, and it was kind of amazing to watch specially trained teachers coax children into listening to directions, hone their mechanical skills, and tame their tempers. During music class, I had a “small friend” (小朋友) who I played the tambourine with, and attempted to stop from running towards the food stash (bribery). I was pretty exhausted from all the seemingly random fits of crying, so I hold a lot of respect towards the teachers.

Exploring the Quaint Town of Jian Shui

Unfortunately our stay in Kunming only lasted three days, and we soon arrived a quaint town, Jian Shui (建水) that had a Williamsburg sort feel to it. As part of a scavenger hunt that aimed to force lazy teenagers from their hotel rooms, we were tasked in finding different historic and scenic spots around town. But we were still too lazy to walk and rented a three-person bike to ride around town. It was definitely an exhilarating experience. Yumna_-_Bike_Photo.jpgWe managed to visit all the places on our list including a tofu workshop, where we learned how tofu is made, a cultural square where we bought unglazed ceramic figures to paint, and a purple pottery store.

This would be our last sight of an urban environment for a while; the rest of our trip was filled with hikes and visiting villages. I couldn’t help but appreciate the beautiful nature before me, from rice paddies to mountains in the distance. Many of our hikes ended at a village, where we stayed for the night, partaking in performances around bright fires; we watched traditional dances and songs, reciprocating with the national anthem and popular songs. I’m sure we seemed like an uncoordinated bunch of teenagers singing slightly off-key but we were awarded with enthusiastic applause and flowers (some classmates even received betrothal gifts!) After the night, we retired to our host family homes, drinking bitter black tea paired with an even more bitter fruit designed to sweeten saliva. The night was as eventful, especially as the roosters decided dawn began at 12 am. Despite this, we all woke bright and early, using the squat toilets and dry shampoo, mentally preparing ourselves for the hike to our next village. Although showers were very much anticipated, staying in the villages was a surreal experience; our host families were caring and generous and fed us the most delicious food I’ve had in China so far, though I was honestly very scared to eat whole fish, eyes and everything.

The trip came to an end far too soon, and when the plane came to a halt in Beijing, the shorts and t-shirts that had been donned before were exchanged with thick winter jackets!

Are you interested in SYA China? Learn more about our high school study abroad program today! 

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

Traveling, Museums and Friends! Photos by Caroline Beltz

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Wed, Mar 30, 2016

Caroline Beltz comes to SYA from Charlotte Country Day School in North Carolina. She is currently a junior and a Campus Reporter at SYA Spain. View more of her work here.










Topics: high school study abroad, SYA Spain

10 Helpful Steps on how to Prepare for SYA as a High School Freshman

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Tue, Mar 29, 2016

Are you a freshman in high school and looking forward to the day you can apply to SYA? Take a look at our top 10 tips on how to prepare to study abroad in high school:  

1. CHOOSING SYA – You’ve heard all about how life-changing, eye-opening and fun it is to study abroad in high school – not to mention how good it will look on your college application. You feel like it could be a great experience for you, and you’re ready to set off on an adventure, to try something new. But with so many different options for high school study abroad out there, how will you decide which program to do? 5 Most Important Questions to Ask When Choosing a High School Study Abroad Program.

2. DO RESEARCH - Decide which country you’re most interested in. You may have heard all about SYA from alumni at your school, a recruiter in your language class, or maybe even a search on Google? You’ve made the decision and you’re ready to reach beyond the classroom. You’ve realized not only will your study abroad experience stand out on your college applications but you’ll become fluent in a new language, immerse yourself in a new cult10269266596_a80680e260.jpgure and become a global student. Now the important question: “Where do I want to study?” Research the cities that SYA offers and remember, this will be a complete cultural and linguistic experience that will broaden your world perspective. 

3. TALK TO YOUR SCHOOL/GUIDANCE COUNSELORS – At SYA you are able to spend your junior or senior year abroad while earning high school credit. It’s important to know your graduation requirements at your home school to ensure a smooth transition. Here you can find a step-by-step guide on how to approach your school about studying abroad for a year.

4. TALK TO YOUR PARENTS – Talking with your parents about why SYA is the best option for you is a big part of the process. As a freshman you have a good amount of time to get your parents on board and get them familiar with our program. While some parents might immediately agree to your decision to study abroad as a junior or a senior in high school, some might have hesitations or concerns, which is totally normal. Take a look at our blog that gives tips and talking points on getting your parents on board!

5. TAKE YOUR CLASSES – Make sure when you’re speaking with your guidance counselor at school you create a class schedule that will work in your favor. Although SYA does provide high school credit we suggest you make sure you fulfill any of your home school's graduation requirements before you depart. 

6. CHECK OUT OUR COURSE CATALOG – Download a copy here and bring it to your meeting with your guidance counselor. That way you can see just what classes we offer and build your schedule around what to take before you start your journey!

7. READ STUDENT BLOGS – What better way to hear about SYA than from the students who are experiencing it right now? We have Campus Reporters in ItalySpainFrance and China that write about their experiences, video tape their favorite moments and share their best photos!

Photo_1-060140-edited.jpg8. PRACTICE YOUR LANGUAGE – Note that if you’re interested in SYA France or Spain, you must be currently enrolled in at least level II of French or Spanish. However, if you’re interested in going to SYA China or Italy you may be at any level, including a beginner. It’s always a great idea to brush up on your language skills before you head abroad. Beginners can check out some language apps and start practicing the basics. 

9. START SAVING – You have plenty of time to start saving for your flight, spending money and independent travel! Grab a summer job and save half of your paycheck each week. Meet Samantha (IT'15) who raised money through a crowd funding site in order to fund her year abroad. Also, read about one student who got funding help from a local radio station. 

10. START YOUR APPLICATION! In the fall of your sophomore year, you can start working on your application. Check out our video on 5 tips on starting your online application.


Learn more about our high school study abroad options today! 

Topics: why study abroad, high school study abroad

Taking Advantage of Proximity - A blog by Luisa Vosmik

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Fri, Mar 25, 2016

Luisa Vosmik comes to SYA from St. Catherine’s School in Virginia. She is currently a junior and a Campus Reporter at SYA France. Read more of her work here.

My year abroad has taken me far away from home, but at the same time has brought me far closer to certain things. I'm closer to knowing what I want to be when I grow up, who I am. I'm closer with my American family in certain ways, despite the distance. I've become close with my French family. I am closer to French cultural and linguistic fluency. The list goes on and on, but recent events make me want to mention one specific thing - being in France has brought me closer to so many undiscovered places.

I've visited Paris, somewhere that used to be a faraway fairy tale but is now only a few hours away. I traveled to Prague, and didn't even change time zones. I've been to so many fantastic French cities that before were not even a part of my imagination, but now are practically in my backyard. I'm planning my spring break with a friend, and we're talking about going to Barcelona because it's "close." Currently, I'm riding the train home from Luxembourg.

A Diverse Array of Places

I list all of this not to make you jealous, but because I am realizing the immense fortune I have to be so close to such a diverse array of places. My trip to Luxembourg truly emphasized this idea - I was there for a Global Issues Network (GIN) conference. The conference was absolutely incredible - student run, with fascinating keynote speakers and student presentations. But despite the incredible innovations and ideas shared with me, what really struck me was the diversity of origins. I was there from France, but also as an American. In many settings, this would be considered confusing or abnormal.IMG_1447.png

Being Trilingual Is Average

At GIN, my peers were of Spanish-French origin studying in Switzerland - to give one example. SYA Italy - formerly a distant group of similarly minded students - attended as well. (Getting to meet some of them was incredible and a bit surreal!) I, being nearly trilingual was average. Students from Dubai, Turkey, all over the European Union had assembled with as much nonchalance as a group of east coast American schools. However, this group of schools offered the most value, in my opinion, the incredible wealth of knowledge and world perspectives that this facilitated. One of the most discussed topics was the refugee crisis - and we had the opportunity to discuss it with asylum seekers in Luxembourg, as well as Germans and Greeks, some of the key players, not to mention so many other perspectives. Each perspective enriched the conversation immensely, even though the opinions were very different at times. The unique mix caused so many stories to be told and fascinating discussions to develop - I have never been so inspired by people my own age.

The train ride to these inspiring conversations took only a few hours, yet upon arrival I was immersed in a different culture and a completely different atmosphere thoughtful discussion. I felt truly lucky to be so close to such a diverse group of students that allowed for multifaceted discussions. Europe seems special to me in that it contains so many unique cultures in such close proximity. For me, the conference truly highlighted this. In the few short months I have left, I look forward to continuing to explore my new country and continent - and I encourage any one else that has the opportunity (at you, SYA class of 2017) to do the same.


Learn more about SYA today! 

Topics: SYA France

Making The Final Stretch Count - A Blog by Karen Ahn

Posted by Carly Thurlow on Thu, Mar 24, 2016

The school year has gone by so quickly, and for us, SYA Italy students, life has been both hectic and incredible as we wind down the last few months of our Italian year. Ever since the end of Winter Break, SYA Italy students have been everywhere, in the literal sense of the word.MUN_Rome.png

A few weeks ago, myself and 14 other students from our Global Citizenship in the 21st Century course took a train to Rome for the weekend, in order to participate in the Rome Model United Nations (MUN) conference, the largest MUN conference held internationally. This year, over five hundred high school and college students from all over the world participated, and the SYA Italy team actually ended up taking home four awards, which was so amazing considering that we were also up against college students.

Besides the Model United Nations in Rome, both SYA Italy and SYA France students have also gone to another international student conference, the Global Issues Network in Luxembourg, for four days in order to present the migration crisis’ effect on Italian shores and citizens. In order to prepare for their presentations, the students from Italy and France collaborated with each other, which made it truly seem like the SYA schools function like they are sections of the same school- just with different campuses in a different country.

With all of these out-of-school activities in place of days of school, it almost seems as if the school year is already over, because Spring Break is in just a few days. And after we get back from the few days off, we have one day of school before we pack our bags yet again for our Spring Trip to Southern Italy.

Once we return to Viterbo after going to Sicily and the other southern cities, the following two weeks will just be used for preparation for our Capstone trips. Capstone is unique to SYA, and for the Italy campus, it involves each student going to a specific, historical city in Central Italy with a group of other students in order to create a presentation in Italian about that particular town. The presentation must include elements from Italian, English, Classics, Global and Language and Culture courses, and will be presented to the Viterbese host families as well in a middle school science fair-style exhibition.

In the span of these four last months, we as a school are doing so much hands-on learning, and it doesn’t really seem like I am going to school at all. Aside from the few tests and essays which we have left, school is more akin to summer camp or a gap year of learning right before starting college. Even though I don’t want to think about it, SYA’s school year is ending soon and I’m going to make the best of this exciting last stretch.

(Pictured: Sophia Limacher, Michael Chandler and Julia Lieberman at the MUN Conference in Rome) 



Topics: SYA Italy