By Sanjana Kucheria
Four juniors are studying abroad in Spain, China, and France this year. School Year Abroad provides students with the opportunity to learn a foreign language and familiarize themselves with a culture other than their own.
Adam Wininger ’12
Adam Wininger ’12 is studying abroad for his junior year. He’s attending an American school called School Year Abroad in Rennes, France, and is staying with a French host family. Wininger is taking French Culture, French History, Art History, AP Language and French Literature all in the French language. In addition to those classes, Wininger is also taking English and math in the English language. The average class size there is around 67 students.
“I decided to study abroad because I thought it would be fun to live in France for a year, and I’m half French, so I’ve always wanted to go there,” Wininger said.
Victoria Pearson ’12
Victoria Pearson ’12 has been interested in a study abroad program since eighth grade, and when she heard about it last winter in her Spanish IV class, her interest sparked. She was initially opposed to going because she did not want to quit volleyball, and was worried that being away for the “most important year” of high school would hurt her chances of getting into college.
“I was actually told by a lot of significant people in my life not to do it but in the end I knew if I didn’t go it would be something I would regret for the rest of my life,” she said.
After landing in Madrid for School Year Abroad, Pearson met her new family that she will be staying with for the school year.
“We don’t have dorm rooms, and every student is handpicked a family to live with,” she said. “After we were accepted [to the school] we and our parents had to answer a lot of personality quiz type questions about ourselves and they placed us according to that. My family is amazing. I have a sister named Maria and a mom whom from the first day, I’ve referred to as Mamá.”
Pearson is attending a school in Zaragoza, Spain in the northeast corner of the state Aragon. With 64 students in her class, which consists of juniors and seniors, Pearson and her classmates call themselves “promoción of 2011” because they will graduate from SYA in 2011.
Every student has to take six classes, which meet four times a week. There are seven periods a day with 50 minute classes and five minute breaks in between. School starts at 9 a.m. and they have two classes before they have a 35 minute break called “descanso”. Afterwards, they attend three more classes before going to their 90-minute lunch break. Finally they go to two more classes before the school closes at 5:15 p.m. On Fridays though, the school ends at 2 p.m.
“One of the great things is that if we don’t have a class, we don’t have to be in school,” Pearson said, “Our campus is in the middle of the busiest plaza in Zaragoza, so there are tons and tons of cafes, bakeries etc. that we can go to in between classes.”
Starting in November, students also have the ability to gain the right to travel independently. The school will give rights to people once they have proved themselves to be dedicated to their studies and the language, and maintained good grades.
Independent travel allows one or two students to travel anywhere in Spain for anywhere from two to five days if the school approves it. Students have the option of living with a host family, in a hotel, or hostel. The students book all the tickets and hotels themselves and live alone for that time.
“Being in Spain has really made me rethink the whole concept of common comforts. Back home we live such excessive lives and have this insatiable desire for more ‘things’. The importance of material possessions is much more present in my American life,” Pearson said.
Pearson and fellow classmate Eliza Kellman ’12 attend the same school together in Spain.
“I see Eliza just as much or more than I would at Harvard-Westlake,” Pearson said, “We live 10 minutes away walking distance and are in the same AP Spanish Language class which meets every day and the same Phonetics class which meets once a week,” Pearson said.
Eliza Kellman ’12
Kellman loves traveling and wanted to learn more about a foreign language, so she was excited about studying abroad.
“I figured this would be a great opportunity to really learn a new language and it’s never too early to start,” she said.
Kellman has also taken Spanish at Harvard-Westlake, so she figured she would continue to work on her Spanish. Every city and town in Spain has their own parties and this upcoming week is Las Fiestas de Pilar, honoring Zaragoza’s patron saint.
“I want to gain the typical things, a greater world view, learn a new culture, new language, meet new people and over all just grow,” Kellman said.
Gabi Kuhn ’12
Gabi Kuhn ’12 is also studying abroad in Beijing Normal University’s High School Number Two in Beijing, China. School Year Abroad has a whole floor to themselves so the SYA students do not actually have classes with the BNU students. There are 48 SYA students in her year, and their class sizes vary on the courses.
Kuhn is taking three hours of Level 4 Chinese a day, English (reading Chinese classics,) Precalculus, Study Hall, Chinese tutorial, Chinese History (from the Ming Dynasty up until modern times), and a Chinese Culture and Society course.
Kuhn had been taking Chinese at Harvard-Westlake with Chinese Teacher Bin Bin Wei for two years, and she also belonged to the Harvard-Westlake Chinese Culture Club.
“All of this, and the fact that I was born in China, really made me interested in the cultural aspects of this trip, and I just wanted to really experience China in an immersed way,” she said.
For Kuhn, the most exciting experience is living with a host family.
“My host family speaks no English whatsoever, and every night at dinner, trying to understand each other through over-exaggerated and confusing pantomiming is quite a challenge,” she said.
Kuhn wants to excel in Chinese because all SYA students are all required to take the Chinese AP exam at the end of the year, but also she’s been taking this all one day at a time. There’s not an overall goal here, she said. Kuhn is just there to have fun, do something challenging and amazing, and see what becomes of it.
Kuhn stresses that hearing from previous “SYAers” really helps understand what one is getting into in a way that the pamphlets, photos and videos can’t.
“SYA is a unique experience and I’ve made so many amazing friends here, but I miss my ones back at home too,” she said, “It’s so strange to think that I’ve essentially skipped over a normal junior year and will be shot-putting straight into being a senior,” she said.