Five Questions My Parents Had About SYA

Kate V. is currently a junior at SYA China and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Texas.

This one is for all of the nervous parents out there, and the kids trying to get your parents to agree to send you abroad for a year! It’s obviously a scary decision to allow your child to come to SYA, but here are answers to five of the most pressing questions that my parents had that will hopefully ease your mind.

  1. What is the healthcare situation?

SYA China is partnered with the United Family Hospital in Beijing. The hospital has English-speaking doctors in multiple practices. In my SYA class, there are people who have gone to the hospital for orthodontia, psychiatry and therapy, small surgeries, as well as routine check-ups, flu shots, etc. If you get sick in China, a teacher will accompany you to the hospital to get checked out. In addition, most medications are available in China. It may be cheaper to get a 9-month supply in America and then bring it over, but if you don’t mind paying a slightly higher price, you can get the majority of medications at the United Family pharmacy. They are all safe to substitute for the American version.

  1. Is Beijing safe?

China is remarkably safe. Although Beijing is a big city, I personally (and many of my friends) feel safer here than in many cities in the U.S. This year, I have not heard of a single instance of a student being in danger in Beijing. Obviously, it takes a little while to master the transportation system and to gain the ability to go out alone in the city with confidence. The first few months are dedicated to teaching students about the subway and bus systems, and slowly progressing from chaperoned to independent activities that familiarize students with the city and give them resources to safely travel on their own.

  1. Will my kid have to do a lot of catch up work for school?

SYA, as you probably already know, counts for a year of high school credit. Most school requirements can be fulfilled here; SYA China has a mandatory English and history class, and the rest of the day is filled with a math course in the student’s chosen level, two blocks of intensive Mandarin, either Modern China or Environmental Science, and two classes a week of small-group Chinese tutoring sessions (2-3 students). The standards of teaching at SYA are very comparable to those of an East Coast boarding school; in fact, many teachers come from schools like St. Paul’s, Lawrenceville, etc. to teach at SYA. It is an academically rigorous program that requires a lot of work, just like an American high school. The language classes in particular are very challenging and require a lot of work, study, and dedication.

  1. Is SAT testing available?

All SYA schools are certified testing centers, and students can take the PSAT, SAT Subject Tests, and AP tests while abroad. In terms of SAT prep, there is a two weekend long prep course (all day Sat. and Sun. on back-to-back weekends in November). English teachers are completely available and open to work with any students who want to take the AP language or AP literature exam. Almost all SYA students take the AP Chinese language exam in May, and one of the elements of every Chinese course in the spring is targeted AP prep. AP prep happens in each student’s xiaobanke, which is basically a tutoring group that meets twice per week for 45 minutes. These groups are divided by level, and each xiaobanke has 2-3 students with one teacher.

  1. What is independent travel, and how does it work?

Independent travel is, without a doubt, one of the students’ favorite things to do at SYA. However, there is a lot of work required on the students’ part to a) qualify for independent travel and b) plan their trip once they qualify. To qualify, first and foremost, the student must be in good academic standing and have no missing assignments, etc. In addition, two cultural activity reflection forms are required. These forms essentially prove that the student is capable of planning and executing a cultural activity in the Beijing area, and requires them to reflect on its significance. The third requirement is three Chinese-only days, where a student takes a pledge to speak only Chinese for the day. Once they qualify, they must begin to plan the trip. Groups can be of either 2 or 3 people, and it is unacceptable to miss school for independent travel. Girls and boys may go in the same group, but must reserve separate rooms. Once the group researches and gets preliminary approval for their trip from the resident director, host parents, and American parents, they can start booking. There are some legal permission forms that parents have to sign, so there is no way that a student could go on independent travel without the resident director and American parents’ complete knowledge and permission.

If you or your parent(s) still have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to the admissions department at 978.725.6828 or email

  • Campus Reporters
  • SYA China
Sutri: The Saga

Blessie R. recounts a fieldwork activity that brought her group to Sutri and recalls all the misadventures they had along the way.

A Weekend in Napoli

Sadie H. writes about her trip to Naples and Pompeii with her host family. 

Carpe Diem

Connor R. reflects on what living is Spain has felt like during the past couple months and how appreciative it has made him.