A note from the SYA Fund Chair

Students completing fieldwork

May 2023

Dear Fellow SYAers,

Look at these two numbers:

First number: 6.5. That’s the average number of hours American teenagers sleep at night. (Nationwide Children’s Hospital).

Second number: 7.5. That’s the average number of hours American teenagers spend looking at their phones. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Seven and a half hours. Every day. That’s … commitment. A full-time job, really. Guess they get pretty attached to those devices. More important to them than sleep. Would be tough to live without them. Even for a day.

Imagine what would happen if you put a bunch of teenagers together and took their phones away? Not even for a full day. Just an afternoon.

And before you took their phones, suppose you plopped them in a new city where few people speak English and then made them go on a scavenger hunt. Wonder what would happen?

Turns out we know the answer. We get new data every fall when small groups of students are sent out of the classroom with a paper map to identify specific local landmarks and told to use their language skills to help find each place before returning to campus.

Know what happens?


SYA has more than 50 years of experience providing immersive international education to high schoolers. It’s been around for a while. But it’s not old school. SYA students might do their share of conjugating verbs, but they’re not locked up in lectures and study hall, and the education that matters most happens when they take what they learn in the classroom out into the world of their host countries. 

This doesn’t happen just by chance. SYA has always featured experiences outside the classroom. But now it’s not incidental or haphazard. It’s built into SYA’s recent and ongoing curricular innovation.

Ever heard of high school students doing “fieldwork?” Every SYA student does it. And not just a time or two, but every week. Most classes that SYA students take have fieldwork modules developed on each campus by SYA faculty. The projects start local and increase in geographic scope throughout the year. Teacher support is minimal but meaningful, and as students get more experience, they also get more independence. It all culminates in an interdisciplinary capstone project. Not some final term paper but a comprehensive, individualized experiential initiative designed by each student with guidance from their Experiential Language teachers. 

I arrived in Rennes for my SYA France adventure nearly 40 years ago. Many of my favorite and most formative encounters that year happened outside the classroom, most of them serendipitously. Since then, SYA has built a whole curriculum onto its foundational commitment to experiential learning. In effect, they took the best parts of the experience and made them part of school.

I am proud of SYA for holding fast to its core commitment to experiential overseas learning for high school students. That commitment, together with the vision and dedication of SYA’s faculty and leadership to building on what’s best about SYA, requires and deserves support from all of us to allow the experience to grow.

Will you join me in making a contribution to the SYA Fund before June 30?


Ad Hardin FR’85
SYA Fund Chair