Window on the World: September 2018

SYA Italy Resident Director Pat Scanlon

Above: SYA Italy Resident Director Pat Scanlon makes the most of a teachable moment when a lizard falls on his hat while touring Giardini di Ninfa. 

Part coach, part cheerleader and part counselor, each Resident Director (RD) serves as the glue that binds our school communities together, uniting host families, faculty, students, parents and members of the local community.

Below, please enjoy notes straight from the desks of our RDs, conveniently brought to your desktop from around the world. While far from a comprehensive description of the first month of the 2018-2019 school year at SYA (arguably an impossible task!), we hope these notes will provide you with insightful vignettes of the SYA experience today, and directly connect you with our four campuses. For a visual tour of our first month, view Around the World in 14 Photos.

John McLoughlin, Resident Director, SYA China

August 31:

Our first two days in Beijing have gone very well. In the swirl of activity, students began working their Chinese in the school cafeteria at lunch time and exploring the school neighborhood. This afternoon we got out to visit the Lama Temple, and navigated Beijing’s subway system for the first time. Students enjoyed the activity. Chinese classes also met this afternoon, and the first assignments for the weekend were given. We ended the day today talking about what their initial experiences might be like in their host families. Despite how tired they are, they kept on the move and have been in very good spirits. Throughout the last two days, social activity has been woven throughout as students begin the process of getting to know each other. Lots of energy has been expended here, as expected. The animated chatter at dinner tonight was a little bit louder and more sustained than last night. Lots of activity, lots of movement, and lots of accomplishment in a very full 48 hours of time. Very impressive. The whirlwind continues tomorrow. We get packed and check out early to participate in the formal opening school ceremonies at our host school, High School #2 Attached to Beijing Normal University (HS#2). And then students head home with their host families — a big day tomorrow.

Mina M. Qadir, Resident Director, SYA France

September 15:

Warm greetings from Rennes! We are now settling comfortably into our academic schedule, getting a full sense of the rhythm of the day. This past Friday, we all went to La Gacilly, a commune in the Morbihan department of Brittany in north-western France, which is best known as the location of worldwide cosmetics company Yves Rocher but also for its annual open-air photo exhibit. This exhibition, which theme was “La Terre et l’Environnement” included several hundred large format photos, taken by well-known artists and amateur photographers alike. The photographs are installed throughout the quaint cobbled streets of the charming village. Students were invited to think, reflect, and write about the social and environmental concerns of our society.

This week, students will continue to be very busy academically, all taking six classes, four of which are exclusively in French. Courses in mathematics and in English complete the program. We believe deeply in our curriculum and experience tells us that our students will learn to adapt well to the workload, planning effectively their free periods, after-school times and weekends.

We will embark on our first overnight excursion this week, a terrific opportunity to continue discovering the many facets of Brittany, which students have learned about in their French classes this past week. This orientation trip also gives students the opportunity to spend valuable time as a group, getting to know each other and their advisors.

September 19:

Three students attended SYA faculty member Benjamin Sabatier's University lecture this week. Benjamin teaches "Introduction à l'histoire de l'architecture et aux théories de l'histoire de l'architecture" at the Université Rennes 2 . This class aligns perfectly with upcoming field work opportunities for students.

Patrick Scanlon, Resident Director, SYA Italy

September 7:

We just sent the students out the door of the school for the weekend. The last activity of the week was a gathering with many local kids their age, most of whom are host siblings. Together they went out in groups to get a sense of the landmarks and directions and get the feel of the workaday world that has replaced the festive atmosphere that defined the Santa Rosa holiday period. In other words, it’s back to work. You wouldn’t know it was work from the students’ faces, however. Having the opportunity to make a few new friends and learn new words both seem to have delighted everyone as we thought it would.

Now a weekend of rest and recovery as we launch into challenge activities associated with the theme of “orientation” next week. That unit will continue through the Orientation Retreat coming up in 10 days before we settle into the schedule that will guide us the rest of the year.

September 14:

I send this note to tell you that we finished the week in fine form. The students and staff alike are feeling the difference as the challenges and the workload have started to increase. This is a moment when many of the adaptations facing the students become more apparent, so we have an advisory session next week to begin looking at how to best face the new circumstances. We believe it will be both beneficial and fun. The unit will be a valuable way for us to move into our Orientation Retreat.

We will be staying at a beach campground, and while on retreat we have planned some more sessions geared toward adaptation, continued interdisciplinary challenge activities in and around Terracina, and some downtime at the beach itself. Sperlonga is the most spectacular beach in our region, and the students have earned the right to relax some, too. The area is a site that the emperor Tiberius thought good enough to build a summer villa. That makes it good enough for us, too!

Meghan Lewis Roof, Resident Director, SYA Spain

September 3:

Today, our first day of school and orientation, was full of energy, laughter and excitement. After spending the weekend with their host families all the students arrived at school (on time!) and excited to get to know each other and the team here at school. We started the day with a school-wide Spanish activity, and students then met their teachers and learned about the great classes offered this year.

Students also got to try out the restaurants where they will be having lunch throughout the school year (there are four restaurants to choose from and they will get to try each one this week) and learned about some of the "nuts and bolts" of their year here. Tomorrow we will spend most of the morning talking about important topics in the handbooks and students will go on a scavenger hunt in the city in the afternoon.

September 7:

I'm happy to report that we had a successful orientation week and students are now enjoying their second weekend in Zaragoza. This group of students is extremely kind, positive, energetic and curious, and I am lucky to get to spend this year with them. It's amazing how quickly they've started to make friends, become more comfortable with their Spanish, and explore Zaragoza.

During orientation week we started each day with a speaking activity to get students used to communicating with each other in Spanish and help them start to get to know each other. On Wednesday morning we went kayaking on the Río Ebro and had the opportunity to see Zaragoza from a different perspective. This morning before classes began students also had some great conversations about how we can create an immersion atmosphere at school. To encourage students to learn new vocabulary everyone received a small notebook that they can use to create a personal dictionary that we will call our leñitos, and I'm happy to say that I've seen several students already add their first words.

I hope that students get rest this weekend and also enjoy exploring their new surroundings. Next week will be a busy one with three full days of classes before we head north, close to the Pyrenees, where we will get to see the natural beauty that is so close to us here in Zaragoza, as well as visit the beautiful village Alqúezar and the town of Huesca.

September 15:

We were lucky to spend the last two days enjoying the spectacular beauty north of Aragón, located in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. Students got a sense of the incredibly long human history of this part of the world, starting with a hike in the Colungo region that led us to natural shelters that have the remains of prehistoric paintings on its walls. It's difficult to wrap your head around the fact that humans were living here 8,000 years ago. We then headed to the charming village of Alquézar, which is nestled along the canyon of the Río Vero. We settled into the albergue where we were staying, had a delicious lunch, and then visited the beautiful Colegiata de Santa María la Mayor, where our esteemed SYA history and art teachers—Sole, Oriol, and Antonio—explained the history, art, and architecture of the building. Students also met in their advisory groups for the first time and got the chance to talk to their advisors about how things have been going during their first two weeks of school.

On Friday we enjoyed what was likely the highlight of the trip for many, a hike down into the canyon of the Río Vero, which included gorgeous views, a swim in a natural swimming hole, and quite a steep climb back to town! We then went to the town of Huesca where students had free time to get lunch with friends before we headed back to Zaragoza.


  • SYA China
  • SYA France
  • SYA Italy
  • SYA Spain