In an effort to increase global awareness and perspective this year, Marlborough promoted interest in School Year Abroad (SYA), a program for American juniors and seniors that allows students to live with a European or Asian family for an entire academic year, in an assembly for sophomores and juniors Nov. 5. While SYA offers unique opportunities, the program also poses a few administrative and academic challenges for both students and the School.
SYA alums said that at schools in China, France, Italy, Spain, Vietnam and Japan, students are enriched in a vibrant culture and able to associate with a completely different group of people, giving them a better understanding of the world.
Foreign Language Department Head Leigh Hansen said that student participation in SYA is essential for raising the profile of foreign language instruction as a vital part of a well-rounded, liberal arts education.
“One of the big advantages of spending a year abroad is that students become fluent in the language that they study because they use it every day. As a result, these students will probably be able to get an advanced standing in their language or be able to take a second language when they return to Marlborough,” she said.
James Astorga, Latin instructor and parent of a current SYA student, said that the program has been a positive experience for his family.
“My daughter, Sarah, greatly enjoys the program. Her French accent has improved so much that she can hang out with French kids without being asked if she’s American,” he said, “I believe, whether she realizes it or not, she has benefited greatly from the program by becoming more independent.”
Despite these incentives, faculty and students have voiced concerns about a student’s ability to successfully fulfill graduation requirements and make a smooth transition back into the Marlborough academic track after participating in the program, among other potential complications.
Laura Hotchkiss, Assistant Head of School and Director of Upper School, elucidated the issues Marlborough faces when students elect to participate in SYA for a year. As a non-profit, Marlborough relies on tuition, so when students leave, there is no way to replace those lost dollars.
“Since we do have an enrollment cap, Marlborough can’t fill those spaces if students are just going to come back,” she said.
In addition, students must consider the impact of participating in SYA on their academic careers. Since SYA does not offer courses in science, students who wish to engage in the subject will not have the opportunity to do so. Also, if an SYA program is not as academically rigorous as Marlborough, a returning student may face considerable challenges in terms of coursework.
Two years ago, Gina’13 requested a personal leave of absence and completed her freshman year abroad at the Seoul Foreign School in South Korea. Cho said that there was added pressure upon her return to the School.
“The transition coming back to Marlborough for tenth grade was hard, for I quickly discovered that my 8th grade coursework and 10th grade coursework at Marlborough were very different. My first few months back at Marlborough were very daunting due to the rigorous courses I am currently taking,” Gina said.
In addition, Hotchkiss illuminated fundamental problems students who choose to attend SYA face during her senior year. For example, if a student decides to attend SYA for their senior year, she will not graduate from Marlborough.
“We occasionally have students who have to leave for their senior year because either their parents have transferred or something took them to another location. Those students do not receive a Marlborough diploma because they did not complete their high school career at the school. Therefore, it would be unfair if Marlborough students who attend SYA for their senior year receive a Marlborough diploma,” Hotchkiss said.
Gracie ’13 is debating whether to apply to SYA. While she aspires to be fluent in Spanish, she fears a difficult transition upon returning to Marlborough.
“I am not sure if I am going to apply because it would be kind of weird leaving Marlborough for my junior year and coming back for my senior year. It would be a very hard transition,” Grace said. “Also, I am hesitant because I am worried about not fulfilling all of my graduation requirements, as I still have some art and P.E. credits I must fulfill.”