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An Interview with David and Madeline, SYA Italy parents

SYA: Tell me how you heard about SYA and what made you consider it:

David:  Karen was doing very well at high school, but was thinking of broadening her experience before going off to college. Her school knew of SYA and suggested it would make sense for her to go her senior year. The year before Karen went, a family friend and classmate went to France with SYA and enjoyed it very much. With that positive feedback, we decided to let her go to Italy.

We were very supportive of a study abroad option, as long as the academic standards were strong and as long as she found a program with a supportive environment. SYA seemed to meet that need. We only heard wonderful things about the mechanics of the program, the quality of the people at the administrative level as well as the teachers involved. We were confident it would be a good place for her to go. The colleges SYA graduates were attending also told us that the caliber was strong. It was an academic blessing as well as challenge for her to learn new things that she wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise.

SYA: Was it a tough decision to let your daughter go?

David: Sure! But it was going to happen sooner or later. The nice thing about the program is that she got to continue her academic studies while abroad.

We knew she was mature enough to take this challenge. We understood from others and from the program that there would be enough supervision, and yet she would be able to further her independence and sense of self, while becoming a part of the greater world and recognizing herself as a world citizen.

SYA: Most people think of study abroad as something to be done in college. What are the benefits of a high school study abroad program?

Actually, I think the problem with college study abroad is that the kids tend not to become a part of the fabric of the culture they are living in. They live together, not with families.

Some don't even learn the language. This program [SYA] was entirely different because it provided academics, emotional support, a chance to live with a family and become integrated into a new culture. SYA values integration, rather than trying to keep the children as "typical Americans."

SYA: How did you feel about Karen being abroad for nine months?

Karen had no second thoughts...although we did. But she knew what she was doing, and it worked out really well. The key was her immersion. In the beginning some kids get homesick, but the school is so good about getting them's like being at home. Once they get over the initial hump, the length of time doesn't really seem to be a factor.

It was certainly difficult for me to let my child go for almost a year, especially when she was at such a formative stage. For me, the fact that she was living with a host family was reassuring.

SYA: Did you go over to visit her in Viterbo?

David: Yes, it was a great excuse to go to Italy with our other two daughters. Karen seemed more self-assured, comfortable; she led us around Rome and translated for us. When she was young, we had to drag her to museums, but this was really the opposite. She had learned to appreciate history and art. She was in control. It was a really interesting experience for us as parents. You're glad to see it.

Madeline: We had a chance to meet her family, and it was comforting to know how warm and caring they were. To see the interaction between Karen and her family, to see them joking in Italian was a have to really know the language to joke at that level. It was very reassuring to see how much she fit in, how loving the relationship was, how supportive the mother was.

SYA: Any bouts of homesickness on either end?

Madeline: A few, but they were short lived...and they were more on my part than hers! She told me she didn't feel homesick at all until almost Thanksgiving, while I had missed her far before then. We did speak on the phone twice a week which was enough for me to hear her voice and know from the tone of her voice that she was doing well. As for her relationship with friends back home, she kept in touch with them by e-mail. The high school group would be going off to different colleges in a year anyway...she just did it a year early. She also made a lot of great friends at SYA, so it was not a loss at all. In fact, in the greater scheme of things, over the course of a lifetime, it was not a loss at all, but a gain.

SYA: How has the high school study abroad experience enriched Karen's life?

David: One reason I really encouraged Karen to do SYA was because it would make going to college and every other transition in her life easier. For most kids, this first change in their life is college. Karen will have no trouble adjusting to change and going to college after having done SYA. She changed friends, schools, environments, languages...continents!

When Karen left home she was a math and science girl. She went to Viterbo, became inundated with language, history, art and culture, and her interests shifted. By the end of the year, though, she figured out a way to mix her interest in art with science and math. Now that she's heading off to college, she wants to pursue architecture and engineering; she is also interested in urban planning and historic preservation - which I don't think she knew existed as subjects before she went to Italy. She looks forward to a life that will allow her to pursue a myriad of interests and probably allow her to continue to travel, since travel has become a very important part of her life.
SYA: What advice would you give to other parents considering SYA?

David: The student has to be flexible -- this is not Harvard Lampoon in Europe. The students need to play by the rules, work and put effort into it if they are going to get out of it what they should be getting.

I would encourage it wholeheartedly, assuming the child is mature enough to handle being away for the year and thrown into a supportive, but challenging new environment. The student has to be ready to expand horizons and develop a new approach to life in general. It's a growth experience...a different kind of growth experience than college. And I don't think it can be replaced.

We are happy to put you in contact with SYA parents whose student recently completed their high school year abroad with SYA. Please contact our admissions office at 978-725-6828 ext. 2 and ask for a parent referral for the country for which you are inquiring.
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