SYA: Start Your Adventure

By Ellie Wilkie
NEWS Reporter



chool Year Abroad (SYA) is a program that allows 11th and 12th grade students from all over the United States to immerse themselves in the culture of the language they have been learning, in France, Spain, Italy or China. These students study in schools specifically designed to give American high school students a quality American-style education, while also exposing those students to the host language among native speakers. SYA students typically take six classes, as they would while studying in the United States, however, all but math and English are taught in a foreign language. They also get the chance to participate in many athletic, artistic, and service-based extracurriculars. Outside school, students live with a host family, one with whom they have been carefully matched. Fluency in English is not a requirement for a host family, so students are truly getting an immersion experience both inside the classroom and out.

As more and more students take advantage of Mercersburg Academy’s participation in the SYA program, many wonder what the experience is actually like. Mercersburg currently has three seniors who live and study around the globe: Morgan Tomasso ‘17, Daphne Flores ‘17, and Elma Hoffman ’17.

Elma Hoffman ‘17, who hails from Harrisburg, Pa, is currently studying in Rennes, France, a city famous for its medieval architecture, particularly the Rennes Cathedral. Rennes also hosts The Museum of Fine Arts Of Rennes, a promising destination for any aspiring art student. The school itself is located in a converted mansion and is only a short distance from Thabor Park, a beautiful place to go and unwind. You can view snapshots of Elma’s adventures, such as listening to classical music, visiting French bookstores, and petting random street-side kittens, on her Instagram account: @makalaure.

Daphne Flores ‘17 went from River Edge, NJ also to Rennes. Rennes is a historically significant town. Through its ties to the Celtic, the Romans, and French Revolutionaries, it encompasses a great many parts of history and would make a marvelous location for any wishful history scholars. SYA France also provides a variety of additional programs, for example working with local retirement homes, that allow students to be even more directly involved with the community through language and culture exchanges.

Morgan Tomasso ‘17, originally from Oak Hill, VA, studies in Zaragoza, Spain, also notable for its architecture. Tomasso will also have the opportunity to immerse herself beyond the SYA campus during “Cinco Dias” (“Five Days In”) when she will attend a Spanish high school. Another popular program run by SYA Spain is the Joven Erasmus program. This program allows students to connect with local youth to study and talk about common societal challenges. As a student abroad, Tomasso ‘17 lives and learns in the country and interacts with the culture on a daily basis.

Living abroad presents many challenges, and perhaps one of the biggest is the separation from family. Students are allowed to choose how often they contact their family, though according to the SYA website, most students prefer to contact home once a week. However, the separation from friends can be difficult for both students abroad and their friends back home, possibly even more so at a place like Mercersburg. It is difficult to miss the familiar sight of friends in classes and around the campus, but students make up for their loss by keeping in close contact. With today’s technology, such as texting, FaceTime, and voice memo, it is easier and easier to make sure friends do not drift apart. Brooke Wastler ’17, a close friend of Tomasso, said, “Not having Morgan’s presence in classes or Mercersburg in general was a strange adjustment at first, but it’s like she never left because I talk to her so often.”

The absence of these students is not only felt in classes, but in the dorm as well. Maddie Rogers ’17, Tomasso’s  roommate, expressed the difficulty of losing her roommate. However, despite the losses that are felt, Mercersburg students have always been very supportive of all students who choose to spend a year abroad. Rogers said, “I knew it was going to be hard to let that go, but I also knew that her studying abroad was something she has always wanted to do, and for that reason, I had to be more than happy for her.”

While most of the student body does not interact with those in the SYA program on a daily basis, mainly due to the miles and miles of separation by land and sea, it is a wonderful program, especially for those interested in any number of topics ranging from language to culture, and architecture to history. It can be a transformative experience, challenging students to learn who they are without the comforts of being surrounded by their native language and culture. It is in these situations where people grow and develop the most.

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