A personal look back from Director of Advancement Erin Ericson
This year, you will likely read many reflections and remembrances from those who lived through the events of September 11, 2001. As you can imagine, SYA’s story is somewhat unique in that September is the beginning of our school year, when students are boarding planes for their adventure abroad.
I can personally remember sitting in my Spanish III class in my small New Hampshire high school when an announcement came over the loudspeaker. A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center tower in New York City. My Spanish teacher gasped and her eyes filled with tears. She had relatives who worked in or near the World Trade Center. My best friend, who was with me in that Spanish class, breathed a sigh of relief as her father, an American Airlines pilot out of Logan airport, had returned early that morning from his most recent flight. We were sent home from school early, confused, scared and unsure how to process what we were seeing and hearing.
My SYA peers had a different experience. Students were already in country in Italy and China, but the chaperoned flights to Spain and France were scheduled on September 11, from New York and Boston, respectively. An old history document notes:
- [SYA France and SYA Spain] Students and parents found themselves stuck at home or, in some cases, stranded. Some waited it out in hotels. Some ended driving back home to try again a week later. A few spent more than a week in Manhattan.
- The Spain group was able to leave on September 19 and the France group left on September 22. Only three of 124 students had a change of heart in the wake of the terrorist attacks and withdrew.
- All four SYA sites received support from the local people, politicians and host families. Local police/military personnel were posted outside our sites following the events of September 11. Resident Directors urged SYAers to follow SYA’s mission to bond and blend into the local culture and refrain from overt Americanisms, etc. Some trips to the big cities were postponed.
I have consulted this history document many times over the years and every time I read that passage, I think how incredible it is that only three of 124 high school students — and I should note that is only the 124 students who were still in the U.S., another 99 were already abroad — had a change of heart in the face of a global crisis. Only three students decided not to get on a plane and go to an unfamiliar country to live with a different family for a whole year immediately following a devastating terrorist attack. Those 220 students (and their parents!) have my utmost admiration for rejecting the fear and uncertainty that could quite easily have consumed them.
This year’s class has an equal measure of my admiration. Living through a global pandemic has been challenging for everyone, but I have extra compassion for young people who have had to endure the last school year at home behind screens, or in otherwise restricted environments. I can understand the allure of going abroad after being stuck at home, but I wonder if I would have been brave enough to make that decision. (And more importantly, if my parents would have consented!)
Much like in 2001, we have seen our communities abroad come together in support of our students. They have made all the necessary accommodations to ensure health and safety to the greatest extent possible. (You can learn more about that here.) Host families, local shop owners and of course our teachers were eagerly awaiting the return of SYA students. Just a week before departures, a shopkeeper in Viterbo asked Resident Director Pat Scanlon when the students were coming back. They were ready.
It will be a year to remember, to be certain. My hat’s off to you, SYA Class of 2022.
Take a step back in time
SYA's newsletter published in the fall of 2001 including articles from Woody Halsey, parents and alumni about the intrepid spirit of each and every SYAer. Read it here.
As SYA Italy celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, while we also recognize the 20th anniversary of 9/11. The inaugural class was in Viterbo when the attacks took place.