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Sidwell Friends School's Student Newspaper Since 1974


Sidwell Friends School's Student Newspaper Since 1974


Sidwell Friends School's Student Newspaper Since 1974


Students Reflect on a Meaningful Summer Abroad

Graphic: Quinn Patwardhan ’24.

The School Year Abroad (SYA) Summer Program offers rising sophomores, juniors and seniors the experience of living and learning in France, Italy or Spain for five weeks. Students live with a host family, take classes in the native language and go on excursions, allowing them to cultivate new bonds and immerse themselves in the local culture.

Last summer, senior Divya Shastri traveled to Rennes, France through the SYA summer program. Shastri expressed that the experience positively impacted her, as she “furthered [her] French skills, learned all about French culture, and met amazing people in [her] group and in France.” 

Shastri’s trip began in late June, when she flew with other members of her group on a chaperoned flight from Boston to Paris. Shastri’s group took a bus to the Loire Valley, where they participated in an orientation that helped members of the group prepare for meeting their host families. Senior Bobby Skinner had a similar travel experience when he participated in the SYA Spain program this summer. Skinner took a flight and then rode in a bus with his group to a smaller city in Northern Spain called Jaca. After spending two nights there in a hotel, his group took a “lengthy bus ride” to Zaragoza, where they stayed for the next month. 

After their orientation trips Skinner and Shastri met their host families for the first time, a family which was individually assigned to each student based on a detailed questionnaire students filled out months before the trip. The SYA coordinators used the student responses to the form to best match each person to a host family.

Upon settling in, all SYA students take a placement test to determine their level in the local language. For example, Skinner explained that in his Spanish class, teachers “divided the students into three groups depending on how advanced they are at Spanish.” 

Both Shastri and Skinner had two core academic classes: language and culture. Skinner said “both classes felt pretty much like a Spanish class” though “they were both easier than Sidwell’s.” Nevertheless, he felt that he learned “a few new things.”

  [Both classes] were really interesting and organized,” said Shastri. 

Skinner observed varying degrees of Spanish-speaking improvement across the members of his group, which he attributed to the different environments in each household. He encountered some host families that only spoke to American students in English, which could have negatively affected their improvement in language skills, while others lived with families who spoke no English at all. 

 [My] Spanish did improve, but… because of how short the trip was, there was a limit on how much,” Skinner said. 

However, Shastri wrote that her “French skills would not be what they are today without this experience.” She was able to frequently practice speaking and “learn different diction and mannerisms [that she] cannot find in a textbook.” 

Additionally, Shastri “was committed to speaking French whenever possible and the locals were super patient and helpful.” 

Skinner and Shastri enjoyed taking small excursions to nearby cities.

The trips to major cities such as Madrid and Barcelona were really fun as I got to know and spend more time with the other students,” said Skinner. In their final days in Spain, his group traveled to Costa Brava, which Skinner noted as one of his favorite memories of the trip.

Similarly, Shastri mentioned that in addition to group outings to nearby historical sites such as castles and forts, her host family took her to the beach a few times. To conclude Shastri’s trip, her group went to Paris, where they “became close and all had time to explore the city.”

Shastri “was also given the opportunity to become more independent and discover new things in a new country.” She continues to speak to her host family today.

Skinner believes “that it was really interesting to learn about Spain and its history and experience it firsthand outside of the tourist perspective.” Moreover, he said “it was nice that [he and other students] were in a smaller but still city area in Spain, as there were fewer tourist traps but still a Spain city experience.”  

The SYA trips to France and Spain left deep impressions on Shastri and Skinner. They improved their language skills, immersed themselves in local culture and created lasting friendships. Shastri said she would truly recommend this trip to anyone interested.”

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