Meet MatT - SYA China 2018
How did you come to the decision to attend SYA?
After hearing about SYA from a family friend, I was at first nervous and yet intrigued about the possibility of spending a year abroad. I had taken four years of Mandarin language through my school beforehand and had always felt a deep passion for the study of the language. After much deliberation and lengthy discussions with my family, I decided to apply for SYA China. I was filled with a course of emotions during the period of waiting between my application and hearing back from SYA. Once I was notified that I had been accepted, I knew that I needed to go. The coming months were rife with anticipation for the adventure to come. Despite the homesickness and cultural difficulties I knew would be unequivocal during my experience, I was ecstatic nonetheless. I could not be more happy that I made the choice to experience SYA China!
What did you learn in your year abroad that surprised you?
I was most surprised about the deep passion that I formed towards speaking Chinese. The first few months were tough for all of us as Mandarin is not an easy language to grasp, however, roughly three or four months into the year, I became acutely aware of how much my language proficiency had progressed. I could hold a long conversation in Chinese and was able to effectively communicate my opinions and ideas. This was one of the most satisfying aspects of my experience with SYA. Having the ability to communicate in a foreign language opens up doors of possibility I never knew existed before. I hope to further my study of language in college and will forever be grateful for my experience with SYA.
Do you have a particularly special host family moment?
My favorite host family moment occurred every time my family would take me to meals with their extended family. We would meet up with my host grandfather and his cousin’s family for dinner on several occasions around the city. These meals were always special to me because they made me feel most like a part of the family. I was treated and spoken to as if they had known me forever and always allowed me to join in on conversation. I will always remember these special meals with my host family.
At SYA, the curriculum lives in and outside the classroom, what memorable educational experience did you have outside the classroom?
My experience with ceramics in Beijing was the most memorable educational experience for me as it allowed me to not only expand my passion for the study of ceramics but also deepen my understanding of Chinese language. My teacher and I would spend around an hour on the wheel, learning different techniques and practices of Chinese ceramics and then sit down at the tea shop attached to the studio. The family who owned the shop always welcomed me in and would ceremoniously make us tea during our lengthy conversations. I so enjoyed spending this time at the tea studio because it allowed me to really challenge my language skills and use them to learn more about Chinese culture. We would speak for hours over cups of steaming tea about the world, our individual experiences, and the differences and similarities of Chinese and American culture. I am so incredibly grateful for my experience with the ceramics studio and tea shop and could not have gained what I did from SYA China without it.
How was your education at SYA different than at your high school?
SYA China allowed for a level of learning that expanded beyond the classroom. Most of what I learned about China and Chinese language came from experiences with my host family, at the ceramics studio and tea shop, and out in the city of Beijing. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience this type of learning because I feel that immersion is the best way to learn a language and culture. Interactions and relationships between myself, Beijing, and the people that make it the complex city that it is were what truly made my nine months abroad a learning experience.
What advice would you give to someone who considering SYA?
To anyone considering SYA, my best piece of advice is to really dive deep into everything the SYA experience has to offer. It may seem scary at first, but taking advantage of each and every opportunity provided to you during your year abroad will make it one of the most memorable experiences of your high school career.
How did your year abroad change you?
My year in China allowed me to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of perspective and how it functions on a global scale. I struggled a great deal with the arguments I had with my host family that stemmed from our differing understanding of the world around us. Through these struggles, I was able to learn how to deal with difference of perspective and how, when utilized in conversation, can actually lead to positive learning experiences. By challenging my world view by juxtaposing it with that of others, my year abroad truly changed me.
How did SYA impact your college application process?
SYA impacted my college application by granting me the sense of maturity that comes with living in a foreign country for a year as well as by truly challenging my world view. I believe that these two aspects of my experience allowed me to express myself in a detailed and interesting way in my college essays. Almost all of my essays were written about experiences I had or things I gained during my experience in China.
What life skills do you feel like you learned while at SYA?
Through my experience in China, I feel that I gained a deep sense of independence and a lasting understating of how to operate in uncomfortable, foreign experiences. Independence is a skill that I feel will truly help me in the future as a college student and beyond and I could not have reached the comfort I currently have with being independent without my SYA experience. Discomfort is an inevitable aspect of any foreign experience. I feel that through SYA, however, I was able to deepen my ability to find a level of comfort in foreign experiences. I am incredibly grateful to have gained these life experiences through SYA and I am sure that they will serve me well in the future.
To learn more about SYA China, check out the China Campus page.