By Haley Buchan
A Little Background About Me
As someone who loves language and travel, I always knew I wanted to study abroad. However, I figured it would be during college or maybe during a gap year. It never even crossed my mind that I might be able to study abroad while I was still in high school. I thought that studying abroad would leave me WAY behind my peers in school and that I’d miss my family and friends too much.
When I first heard of the School Year Abroad program, I was surprised to learn that the program uses a model where students actually take all of their U.S. coursework (including AP classes!) at a special school in the country where they choose to study (France, Italy, Spain, or China). There was just one catch: as I would be at the SYA campus in Rennes, France, all of my classes would be in French! I loved my American high school, but it seemed like a lot of the learning we did was memorization and the focus was on learning for grades. There wasn’t the encouragement of intellectual curiosity or experiential learning that I craved.
When I finally made my decision, a lot of people asked me why I would want to leave my family and friends to go live with strangers for a year. I told them how I wanted to have the opportunity not only for cultural immersion and travel but also to really get fluent in French. I knew that our ability to pick up new languages decreases as we age, so it seemed like the perfect time to go all in and move to France.
Even though it was terrifying to leave everything and everyone I knew, I packed up my (many!) bags and found myself on a plane to France. The first few months in Rennes were definitely an adjustment—what with having a new school, new peers AND a new family—but I couldn’t have had a better experience. My host family really took me in and treated me like a part of the family, and I got used to my new French routine. My French wasn’t nearly as good as five years of taking classes had led me to believe, but by Christmas holidays (about 4 months in) I was pretty much fluent. (Truly there is no substitute for immersion when it comes to owning a language!) I got to travel all over France with school and my host family and all over Europe during breaks. (Fun fact: French students get two weeks of break every six weeks.)
One of the coolest aspects for me was actually getting to see and experience what I learned about in my classes. For example, my Political Science class discussed French parliamentary politics and then got to see a session at the Assemblée Nationale, and my Art History class got to see the paintings we were studying at the Louvre. These kinds of unique experiences never would have been possible if I hadn’t studied abroad.
Why You Should Study Abroad Too
Besides the obvious perks of getting to travel and really immerse yourself in a new language, studying abroad also gives you a chance to develop as an individual. Being in a completely new situation teaches you that it’s okay to be uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. You’ll learn that sometimes the best way to overcome your fears is to face them head-on. I became much more willing to step out of my comfort zone after my year in France. I also learned a lot about myself by putting myself in a completely foreign (literally) situation.
Programs & Opportunities
I studied abroad for the entire school year with the SYA program, but there are opportunities to study abroad for shorter lengths of time as well! SYA and many other programs like International Studies Abroad offer summer sessions as well. You also may be able to study abroad for a semester through your school. I would definitely encourage you to do a little research about the options that are available to you. Overall, studying abroad in high school was probably the best decision I have made, and I would highly encourage every student to consider it!
Haley Buchan is an economics and math major and French minor at Georgetown University, is headed back to Paris at the end of the spring semester before starting an amazing summer internship in International Business in NYC.