Knuckies Bro (Social Life at 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.

As I began writing this piece, I sat in the sixth-floor library of our school here in Beijing, and jokingly interrogated my friends for ideas for what to write this on. And then I realized that they themselves were what I should write about. I know, at least for me, it is very scary to uproot yourself completely and move thousands of miles and 13 time zones away. I remember sitting on the plane from Austin to Boston and worrying for the whole ride about what it was going to be like to meet my SYA classmates for the first time.

All I can say is that I should not have worried for a second. Right when I met up with the SYA group, I felt at home. We had been talking over the summer on a group chat (which I highly recommend to incoming SYA classes,) so the minute that I saw Hollie in Boston, I recognized her and knew that she was the girl who loved bunnies. When I met Liam P., I thought back to the in-depth conversation that I had had with him over the summer about the dangers of subway doors. On the plane, I sat next to Cam and Robert (upon meeting Cam at a Burger King in the airport, he pointed at me and yelled “CAT,” referring to the fact that I sent the Snapchat group chat a lot of photos of my obese cat, and Cat has since become my nickname here at SYA). We (foolishly) made a pact to not sleep for the whole flight, and proceeded to have 16 straight hours of bonding, hysterical laughter, and having Piggy Jump tournaments on the little screens on the back of the chairs. Upon arriving at the hotel, I met my roommate Oceane, and we watched bad rom-coms together when we were both jet lagged at 1:00 a.m.

My main objective in telling you about all of the friends that I made in the first 48 hours is to show how easy it is to make friends at SYA if you put yourself out there. All of the kids that you will be with are like-minded, smart people who care about similar things and are all looking to have an amazing, eye-opening experience abroad.

For all of you SYA China alums out there (and all of you who are reading this in anticipation of attending SYA China), the Resident Director here, Mr. McLoughlin, really emphasizes the concept of “The Bubble” in two ways. “The Bubble” refers to our SYA class, a small group of Americans in an unfamiliar culture. The two aspects of The Bubble that Mr. McLoughlin urges us to be conscious of are both keeping the inside of The Bubble a positive and supportive environment, and getting out of The Bubble and into the culture that we came here to learn about.

In this article, I’m going to talk about keeping the “inside of the bubble” positive (look out for my next article on the importance of getting out of the bubble!). Unlike many other schools that are clique-y and have a lot of negative social splits in the class, since SYA is so small and you are all going through a new and hard experience together, you really bond with everyone in your class remarkably easily. The groups at SYA are very fluid, and I genuinely consider everyone here one of my good friends. I loved going to Shanghai with Spencer and Liam R., and I love sitting in the library and singing along to the Spotify throwback playlists, and I loved walking around the old city in Pingyao with Emma and Rory and eating cotton candy, and I love sitting next to Jack and Helen in math class and working through our Khan Academy assignments together. I love the fact that Spencer’s trademark phrase (“knuckies bro”) has now become a class-wide joke that the teachers participate in, laughingly passing students in the hallway and offering a fist bump and a “knuckies bro.” Unlike many other schools, it is possible to be a united SYA class without defined groups in which everyone participates equally and has positive interactions with the other people. Of course, developing a good “school culture,” as Mr. McLoughlin calls it, takes effort, but reaching out to everyone in your class, not only the people that you first bond with, is instrumental to creating this tight social network. But don’t worry, if your SYA experience is anything like mine and the dozens of people that I have talked to, SYA recruits amazing kids to come, and you will find so many things in common with your classmates that will make you want to be friends with them and that will make it easy for you to have an amazing social experience at SYA.

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