SYA Students Return to Sidwell With Newfound Knowledge and Experiences

School Year Abroad (SYA) is an organization that offers enriching, immersive opportunities for high school students to spend a year or semester studying abroad in either Rennes, France, Viterbo, Italy or Zaragoza, Spain. Last year, five Sidwell students attended the program and brought diverse, unique experiences back to the Sidwell community upon their return.

Senior Raina Sachdev, who spent her year abroad in France, described Rennes as a “very, very small city.”

Although Rennes is one of the smallest cities in the world, Sachdev “got the central concentration of a European city, and it was easy to venture out and really get to know all areas,” she wrote in an interview.

Senior Pierre Alvarez, who participated in SYA’s Spain program, mentioned that Spain’s drastic cultural and architectural differences exposed him to a multitude of perspectives, which he said “wasn’t really a struggle, but more of a new experience.”

Though the programs were based in these home cities, the students were offered additional travel opportunities to explore the new countries and environments to the fullest.

“The real highlights were the week-long trips each semester and the independent traveling,” Alvarez explained.

On these trips, Alvarez explored some of Spain’s most impressive locations, from big cities like Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona to natural wonders like the Pyrenees mountain range to architectural locations like fortified castles.

Bobbie Pesner, who attended SYA France, found one of the most meaningful aspects of her trip to be the connections she made with her host family.

“I was really, really close with my host family [and] their three kids, and I just made a strong connection with them,” she said.

Sachdev also found the personal connections she made to be a notable aspect of her trip.

“The friends I made abroad, both American and French, are such great people and I plan to visit them all as soon as I possibly can,” she wrote. “I still am in contact with [my host family] every single day, and my host sister came to visit me last month,” she added.

The students also recognized the invaluable learning experiences that came with their trips.

“You can travel and live independently as long as you’ve established trust with your teachers, and the skills I needed to be able to take care of myself while entirely alone make me feel infinitely more prepared for college and life than I otherwise would be,” Sachdev said.

“You never know how great something will be until you try it,” Pesner said, mentioning that she learned to always take risks and say “yes” to any opportunities that may appear.

“I have zero regrets about doing SYA and would do it a million times over again,” Sachdev said.