Academy Seniors Discuss Their School Year Abroad


Maria Metzger, Writer

School Year Abroad (SYA) is a program that allows junior and senior high school students across the country the opportunity to study abroad in China, France, Italy, or Spain. Last school year, three Academy students spent their junior abroad.

To learn more about SYA and their experiences in the program, The Advocate interviewed them and included the transcript below.

Interviewer (I): Where did each of you live last year with the School Year Abroad program?

Megan Holzrichter ’19: Beijing, China

Rebecca Torrez ’19: Rennes, France

Bella Martinez ’19: Zaragoza, Spain

I: What was it like to live with a host family for a year?

Megan: It was really awkward at first… There were definitely times where it was just kind of weird, but overall, it was pretty natural and it was almost like I became part of the family.

Rebecca: Yeah, moving into this person’s house as a complete stranger is super awkward at first, but you learn their routines and develop your own routine… And by the end of the year I was really close with them.

Bella: Yeah, like they said, it was awkward at first and you’re kind of thrown into it since they don’t speak English to you at all, which was really overwhelming, but they really are like your new parents who take care of you.

Rebecca: Exactly, it’s sort of like living with an aunt.

I: How old were your host sisters/brothers?

Megan: 3 years old.

Rebecca: 25 years old.

Bella: I had twin host sisters who were 20.

I: What classes did you take in your second language?

Megan: Almost all of mine were in English.

Rebecca: All of mine were in French except for English and Math.

Bella: Me too, in Spanish. It was hard at first, but then it became super normal. We were supposed to speak in Spanish all the time at school, even when we were just talking with friends.

Rebecca: Yeah, and there was the challenge of taking notes and listening in French, which was really hard for the first week or two.

I: How much schoolwork did you have in comparison to Academy?

All: *laughs* it was kind of a joke sometimes.

I: How big was your group?

Megan: 32 people

Bella: We started out with 68 and ended with 64…

Rebecca: We started out with 60 and ended with 50…

I: What did you typically do on weekends?

Rebecca: We were only allowed to go out on one night of the weekend, so on Fridays my friends and I would usually go to a cafe or a park after school, which we did most weekdays, and on Saturday, we’d go out to dinner…

Bella: Our curfew was midnight on Friday and Saturday, which isn’t actually that late in Spain since we usually ate dinner around 10 or 10:30.

I: How did you like the local cuisine?

Megan and Rebecca: I really liked it!

Bella: I didn’t love it… It’s pretty bland because they don’t use a lot of spices in their food.

I: Did you have a favorite dish?

Megan: Peking duck is SO good.

Rebecca: My favorite was ratatouille.

Bella: My host mom made paella every other Sunday, which was really good.

I: What was a highlight of your experience abroad?

Megan: The independent travelling was probably the best part for me because that’s when you were really on your own.

Bella: Yeah, you have no adult supervision whatsoever. You fill out a form of where you’re going to stay, but you have no one there with you, so you can really do whatever you want.

I: What was a difficulty during your experience abroad?

Megan: Since you’re left to your own devices sometimes it can be really hard. You have to be like okay, there’s no one that’s going to remind me of things, there’s no one that’s going to be always looking out for me.

Rebecca: Yeah, it’s kind of scary that you have all this freedom and independence, which is weird because you’ve been living a very structured life in your parents’ house, and when you’re abroad you’re just alone without a support system.

Megan: You have to accept that you’re not going to know a lot of stuff and that you’re going to make a lot of mistakes.

Bella: Yeah, it’s almost like going to college for a year, so it was hard to come back to high school.

Rebecca: It’s like college but you have a panic attack every time the bus driver speaks to you.

Bella: The worst for me was that people would always come up to me on the street and ask for directions, which was really hard at the beginning.

Everyone there has a mindset of adventure and challenging yourself. You meet a lot of people with the same interests and people who are passionate.

— Rebecca Torrez '19

I: Do you feel more prepared for college now?

Rebecca: Yes, I think that’s one of the biggest advantages.

Bella: Exactly, I’m not at all scared to leave home now.

I: Did you make lasting friendships with people you met? With whom?

Megan: Yeah, when you’re there you kind of become a family with your group. Even if you don’t like some people, you get really close with them. You build so much trust with everyone.

Bella: It’s honestly insane. The first week I was there I was like oh I don’t know anyone here, but by the last week we were all sobbing and telling each other everything. No one else is every going to understand your experience except for that small group of people.

Rebecca: Also, you go into this place alone with a bunch of people you think you have nothing in common with, you at least know that you had the common drive to go out and have this experience. So everyone there has a mindset of adventure and challenging yourself. You meet a lot of people with the same interests and people who are passionate.

I: Overall, how would you rate your experience out of 10?

All: 10!

I: Would you recommend SYA to other Academy students?

Bella: Yes, literally anyone.

Rebecca: Yes, I do think you need to have the guts for it though since parts of it are really hard, especially at the beginning.

Bella: Exactly, I knew that I wanted to be there, but it was also really hard.

Rebecca: The last four months for me were probably the best part of the whole experience, which also sucks because you get so close with everyone and then you have to leave.

Megan: I feel like it’s really easy not to have a good time, but if you look at it the right way, it’s really great. It takes a special kind of person.

Rebecca: The experience is definitely what you make of it. If you make the most of every day that you’re there, then it’s going to be the best experience ever, which can be carried to your life here too. It really taught me a lesson not to waste my time and go out and do what you want to do.

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  • Bella Martinez ’19

  • Spain

  • Spain

  • Spain

  • Spain

  • Spain

  • Spain

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  • Rebecca Torrez ’19

  • Presqu’ile de Quiberon, France

  • Bretagne, France

  • Paris, France

  • Dinard, France

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