Meet Jack- SYA China 2018
How did you come to the decision to attend SYA?
I wouldn't say coming to SYA was much of a decision for me. It was more of a natural step in my life. SYA fit my academic and experiential needs and desires. I went to my home school always knowing that there was more to the world than the hallways of what was familiar. I wanted to see more, do more, and be more and SYA was that opportunity. It gave me the platform to really tap into that.
What did you learn in your year abroad that surprised you?
I learned how resilient people are and how strong I can be. Around half-way through the year, my family experienced an emergency and I had to go back to the US to attend to it. One thing that never crossed my mind was not coming back to SYA China. I had a support system and network of people that was unmatched, from my host family to the faculty. In retrospect, I almost shock myself by my ability to bounce back and excel during my second semester there. My year there provided me with a lifetime of experience and gives me strength even today. It also gave me the best friends that I did not expect, friends who I still have today and are indefinitely there for me.
Do you have a particularly special host family moment?
One memory that stands out to me was how involved my host family was in my college application process. I was one of the rare few senior SYA students and went through the college application process from China (yes, its possible, and yes, I recommend it). Every day at the dinner table my host family would ask me how things are progressing and one weekend they took me to a few colleges in Beijing. Though I had no plans of doing my entire 4 years of college in China, it was nice to see how involved they were and how deeply they cared about me and my success. When I got into Georgetown (where I go now), they were so beyond proud of me and we celebrated with a fancier dinner. I was a part of the family.
At SYA, the curriculum lives in and outside the classroom, what memorable educational experience did you have outside the classroom?
The capstone research project made my year. I did my project on Beijing's urban development schemes and was studying a specific case that targeted migrant, or 'floating,' populations. This project shed light on stories of people who withstood such incredible odds and gave me a glimpse into this very real human strength and character that can easily get lost in a 2-week vacation. It gave me the opportunity to not just visit China, but to see China, to understand China, to get a glimpse of her complex DNA. I learned more than I could from a desk anywhere else, spending countless days surveying in the field. This was something that was heavily emphasized in all of classes at SYA, whether it be going to a nearby temple or museum for Chinese History or producing original research on the political/economic scene in my Chinese Political Science and Economics class, but it really came to fruition with the capstone experience.
How was your education at SYA different than at your high school?
Above and beyond. One of my favorite anecdotes to share about this is in regards to my high school prom experience. Being a senior in high school, it was normal to have a prom, dress fancily, and enjoy the night with friends in a high school gymnasium. People would ask me if I was sad that I didn't have this at SYA. I wasn't. At all. My 'prom' was going to the US Ambassador to China's residence and speaking with his wife over warm chocolate chip cookies. It was boarding trains to destinations all over China. It was going to Southeast Asia with my friend for winter break. It was biking through the streets of Beijing, exploring hidden alleys.
What advice would you give to someone who considering SYA?
Do it. You will learn more, be more, experience more than you think possible. The most powerful thing I was told was this: if not now, when? When do you have another year to go experience the world? At such a young, formative age? In the same intensive, growing environment? Don't think twice. There is so much support and structure for you when you get there that there is no reason to worry. Whether it be the technicalities of testing or college applications or course requirements, SYA goes above and beyond to make sure that you are prepared and will excel.
How did your year abroad change you?
SYA completely changed me. There is no doubt that there were growing pains, that I struggled at points during my experience. But I grew. I have a much more recognizable, personable sense to me that I felt was lost in my traditional high school experience. SYA brought me a humanity and color to my world that I would have run the risk of losing if I had not had otherwise. SYA gave me freedom to use this color, to not let it stay still. I continue to pursue what SYA gave me and I am still committed to being abroad and educating myself with a worldly perspective (I am currently writing this from Bangkok, Thailand where I am interning with a drug-fighting organization under the Royal Thai Government and will be heading to India to work at a leading rural micro-finance bank... AKA I haven't stopped and have no plans to). SYA was my first step of what will become many.
How did SYA impact your college application process?
Applying to college from China was daunting, but SYA did facilitate great resources. I was in a new, fresh, and reflective place to write my application essays and was able to interview even in Beijing. Having an abroad education at SYA no doubt gave me a leg-up in the process, both from an application perspective (just look at where we get in...) as well as from a personal development one. I came into my freshman year more mature than my peers which allowed me to succeed and stabilize myself. It felt truly privileged during my first year at university. The amount of leverage you will gain from this experience extends itself beyond the college application process. This is a lifetime decision. It's a turning-point in your life.
What life skills do you feel like you learned while at SYA?
I learned how to bounce back. I learned how to think on my feet. I learned how to navigate complex social and cultural situations. I learned how to balance. I learned what understanding is, how to truly listen, facilitated by a language gap. I learned how to sympathize and think differently. I learned how to be safely reckless (I'm thinking about the time I shaved my head because I... felt like it? I don't know, questionable youth decisions). I learned how to be critical of what I do in my own life, what my government does regarding China. I learned how to critically engage when talking about China in a professional setting. I learned how much SYA taught me, even a year from my graduation from the program. This list of skills is not exhaustive, in fact, it's rather limited. The only way to learn what SYA gives you is to go experience it for yourself. So go. Apply. The world is waiting.
To learn more about SYA China, check out the China Campus page.