Jillian ’13 was sitting in class in Zaragoza, Spain, when one of her friends asked her a question in English. The director of the school, who happened to be prowling the halls, overheard their whispered conversation and took immediate action, quickly fashioning a paper airplane and scrawling “NO INGLES” along a wing. He then launched the plane towards Banner’s unfortunate friend, earning more than a few laughs from her classmates.
Jillian is one of four Marlborough students participating in the School Year Abroad (SYA) program during the 2011-2012 school year; Jade ’13 is spending first semester in Beijing, China, and Erica ’13 and Jesse ’13 will complete the entire school year in Viterbo, Italy, 50 miles north of Rome.
Each year, SYA draws applications from students at independent schools throughout the U.S. who want to live with host families and attend classes for a semester or year in France, Italy, China, Spain or Vietnam.
Despite concerns that they would not be able to complete all of their course requirements through SYA, Jillian and the other juniors studying abroad have chosen classes that are similar to those they would have taken at School, allowing the students to receive comparable credits. However, most of the programs do not offer science classes.
Each girl had her own reason for wanting to go abroad, but the chance to master a foreign language through both classroom instruction and casual conversations with natives trumped all else.
“I chose to study abroad because I wanted to become fluent in Spanish,” Jillian said. “I wanted to experience something different, and the idea of living with a new family in a new country seemed really exciting.”
Jade has also taken the initiative to improve her Chinese skills.
“My Chinese listening/reading has improved intensely, but my speaking is still meh,” she said in an e-mail. “But now, at lunch time, my friends and I only speak Chinese to each other, which is really helpful.”
Along with gaining a new school experience, students have the opportunity to experience a new culture, improve their language skills and develop clear insight into a place outside of America. Part of the program involves SYA students interacting with people in their cities, visiting historical sights such as the Great Wall of China and enveloping themselves in the very essence of each country. Assistant Head of School and Director of Upper School Laura Hotchkiss said being introduced to a new culture will help the girls gain a sense of confidence and learn lessons that can’t be taught in School.
“Something that parents and students both thought that the School really needed to think about for the future was the global world that we live in. Specifically, how do we prepare our students to… have empathy for different cultures and different situations and different issues that we may not have here?” Hotchkiss said.
The girls who have chosen to participate in School Year Abroad will hopefully come back with a greater sense of direction and new-found knowledge to share with the community. Hotchkiss supports the education that SYA offers, saying, “I definitely think that those students are going to come back with an appreciation for a different culture [and] a different set of political [and] economic issues that they might have ever encountered here.”
While the girls have said they enjoy exploring a foreign culture, they are not always as enamored of the local cuisine. Banner decided that the cafeteria food in Spain is nowhere near as good as that served in Café M. In particular, she said that she misses the chocolate-chip pancakes. Jade has had similar experiences in Beijing, especially during her attempt to buy candy to celebrate Halloween in China.
“[I] got this bag of weird peanut stuff, tried it and then of course (like every other Chinese sweet) it was DISGUSTING,” Jade said in an e-mail.