Meet Defne - SYA France 2018
How did you come to the decision to attend SYA?
I had always wanted to study abroad in France, though I never anticipated that it would happen as early as high school. I was introduced to the program through my French teacher, Katherine Halsey, who herself is an alum of SYA France and whose children had also attended the program. Throughout the application process it didn't really occur to me that this could become my reality for the next year. I applied because it had been a dream of mine and I wanted to see if it could become tangible — and it did! Deciding to go felt like a natural progression is my own process of language acquisition, self-discovery, and passion of international studies.
What did you learn in your year abroad that surprised you?
Rather than one specific life lesson, I reached several epiphanies during my time abroad that have deeply impacted the way I understand and move through the world. For instance, living in France gave me the opportunity to truly understand how much history and culture impact society. This isn't to say that I didn't have an idea of this before, but living in a country as deeply tied to history as France was eye-opening and gave me an incredible opportunity to understand and explore the role of yesterday in today.
Do you have a particularly special host family moment?
My host family was my single favorite aspect of SYA. I never anticipated feeling that close, loved or supported by a group of people who started as strangers. I could not have imagined spending the year with anyone else, and have so much love and gratitude in my heart for them. When my mum and sister visited me over winter break, my host parents were incredibly kind in touring us around some of the historical landmarks of Normandy. One afternoon, we traveled to Mont Saint-Michel. It was extremely cold, windy and rainy and by the time we were done touring the site, it was also nighttime. As we began the trek back to the car, we didn't realize how truly far the parking lot was without a shuttle and had an adventurous time attempting to get back to the car amidst the weather conditions. Although my fingertips were tingling by the end of it, I wouldn't have changed that moment in any way. It was lovely to see my two families merging, laughing, struggling and succeeding together.
At SYA, the curriculum lives in and outside the classroom, what memorable educational experience did you have outside the classroom?
During our February class visit to Paris, I was able to visit the U.S. Embassy and speak with Foreign Service Workers. This was inspirational because I am interested in pursuing work in this realm in the future, and I had never anticipated learning about French and American governmental structures and then getting the opportunity to see it in action in the way that we did.
How was your education at SYA different than at your high school?
At SYA, I had the opportunity to learn about something and then see it reflected in the real world through class trips, cultural experiences and simply exploring Rennes. It was powerful to learn something in the classroom but also understand its real-world applications through my own eyes. I also had the chance to delve into subjects — politics and art history — that I am deeply interested in but did not have the opportunity to explore at my home school.
What advice would you give to someone who considering SYA?
I would advise anyone even remotely considering SYA to research the program, the host city, the language, etc. And to reach out to students who have gone through the program to gain an honest perspective on what to expect. Choosing to spend a year of high school abroad is not an easy feat and should be treated with care and attention.
How did your year abroad change you?
My year abroad changed me in more ways than I can even put into words. Philosophically, it gave me the opportunity to develop and feel grounded in my personal moral compass, which is something many people are still grappling with well into adulthood. Living alone at age 16 is not very common, and this experience gave me the opportunity to do a lot of self-discovery and reflection. By the end of the year, I had some of my closest friends ever, and also felt deeply empowered in my personal interests and goals.
How did SYA impact your college application process?
When exploring college options, I gravitated heavily towards cities or schools with easy access to a big city. I enjoyed the freedom and ample opportunity that Rennes presented and wanted a change from the small town feel of my high school. I was also searching for a diverse space where I could explore different interests and have the opportunity to learn about different languages and cultures all while going to school.
What life skills do you feel like you learned while at SYA?
Practically, I learned how to navigate a new city on my own, which will come in extremely handy as I head to college. I also had to manage my own time and schedule to an extent which helped me gain independence in that sense as well. Overall, I learned how to live on my own and how to make the once-familiar feel comfortable.
To learn more about SYA France, check out the France Campus page.