Academics at SYA China

SYA China provides you with limitless opportunities for learning all aspects of China's history and culture, both in the classroom and outside the gates of our renowned host high school, Beijing Normal University (BNU) High School #2. Countless pagodas, temples and former imperial parks exist alongside modern high-rises and bustling markets. SYA China's curriculum and educational travel enable students to explore the many realities present in the largest country in Asia.

All students are required to take six courses, including Intensive Mandarin Chinese, English and Chinese History. Please note that courses can change from year to year. Full course descriptions can be opened below.


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2018-2019 Courses at SYA China

English (H) - 1 Credit

SYA English provides a home base for student intellectual and intercultural growth abroad and is specifically designed to complement the immersion experience presented by the host country. Focused on challenging students to improve their critical reading and analytical writing skills, texts read cover a variety of literary movements and engage with themes of alienation, isolation, foreignness or self-discovery, and the notion of place and identity, both geographic and internal. Texts selected also support the students with contextualizing their own experience.

In addition to working toward becoming closer readers and more successful writers, SYA English students also reflect on the study abroad experience in a more explicit and complex way, through both informal and formal journaling and expository writing.


SYA offers a set of well-defined, rigorous mathematics courses which are delivered using a hybrid (in-class and online) approach. The four SYA campuses share a common curriculum which is supported via the Canvas LMS. Each course is independent-learner focused with an emphasis on two of SYA’s core student skills: independence and interdependence, and critical and creative thinking. It is likely that this approach to learning mathematics will differ somewhat from the approach students are familiar with, as the skill of learning to become a self-motivated and independent learner of mathematics is a primary focus of the SYA math curriculum.

Advanced Algebra with Functions - 1 Credit

This course is intended for students who have had one full year of geometry and one full year of algebra. Successful completion of this course prepares students to enter a standard Precalculus course when they return to their home school. Concentration is on functions and their transformations; the standard parent functions are studied from the perspective of shifts, domain and range, as well as multiplication and division. Preliminary results from rational functions, inequalities, exponents and logarithms are explored.

Precalculus - 1 Credit

This course is intended for students who have successfully completed an Algebra II course and who plan to return to their home schools to take a non-AP calculus or other math course. It is also appropriate for students who have been less than successful in an earlier Precalculus course. The course will review and extend the concepts related to functions, including linear, quadratic, polynomial, rational, radical, logarithmic, exponential and trigonometric.

Advanced Precalculus (H) - 1 Credit

This course is intended for very able math students who have been highly successful in a strong Algebra II program. Success in this course should enable students to enter AP Calculus AB/BC the following year. It covers all of the topics of the regular Precalculus course spending less time on review of typical 2nd year algebra topics to facilitate both greater depth in certain areas such as trigonometry as well as coverage of more advanced topics.

The core content areas included in the scope of Advanced Precalculus are: mastery of the properties and graphs of basic functions (polynomial, rational, exponential, logarithmic, trigonometric), as well as work with parametric equations, polar coordinates, and sequences and series.

AP Calculus AB - 1 Credit

This course offers a rigorous introduction to differential and integral calculus covering all topics included on the Calculus AB topic outline. The course aims to have the students understand the theory that underlies the various rules and applications of differentiation and integration treated in the course. All major theorems are proved, and their derivations discussed in class. Students must explore the calculus concepts from multiple perspectives: algebraically, graphically and numerically and in the context of a variety of applications. Students are expected to be able to offer clear justifications of their work that shows a deep understanding of the fundamental ideas. Students take the AP Calculus AB exam in May.

AP Calculus BC - 1 Credit

In addition, the following course may be offered if there is sufficient enrollment:

This course is roughly equivalent to both first- and second-semester college calculus courses and extends the content covered in Calculus AB to different types of equations and introduces the topic of sequences and series. The course covers topics in differential and integral calculus, including concepts and skills of limits, derivatives, definite integrals, the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, and series. The course teaches students to approach calculus concepts and problems when they are represented graphically, numerically, analytically, and verbally, and to make connections between these representations. Students take the AP Calculus BC exam in May.

Students learn how to use technology to help solve problems, experiment, interpret results, and support conclusions.

Intensive Mandarin (H) - 2.5 Credits (year)

SYA’s Mandarin program has four different levels: Beginning, Intermediate, Advanced and Advanced Honors; it is designed to allow students to move from one level to the next between semesters. The classes are taught by a team of three faculty members, each focusing on a different area: linguistic fluency (reading, writing, speaking, listening); communication and cultural understanding; and small group tutorial.

The course aims to develop student proficiency in Mandarin Chinese, guiding them to a higher level of competency in communication and in enjoying social interactions through numerous speaking and cultural opportunities. Throughout the year, students utilize a wealth of culturally-authentic materials such as current novels, newspaper articles, movies and audio programs which introduce them to a wide range of cultural, social and historical phenomena.

All SYA language courses, regardless of level, are purposefully designed to take advantage of the learning opportunities in the local and extended host county communities. Students may sit for the corresponding AP language exam in the spring even though the course is not explicitly AP.

Chinese History (H) - 1 Credit (year)

In this required course, students will discover how China has shaped itself from a cultural, historical, material, structural, economic and political standpoint. Both in and out of class, students experience the people and events that have sustained and transformed what is arguably the world’s oldest culture, the world’s largest population, and (for now) the second-largest economy.

In the fall semester, students familiarize themselves with China’s history and philosophical background, focusing on the material culture as it’s been preserved and the events that shaped it. In the spring, the emphasis is on the 20th century and the cataclysmic creation of contemporary China. Throughout the year students test their hypotheses about Beijing against the perspectives of other areas of China, the people of other provinces and ethnic minorities. Coursework involves intense classroom presentation and discussion based on readings from the text and primary sources, as well as audio and visual resources, drawing on all technologies.

Modern China: Politics, Society and Culture (H) - 1 Credit (year)

This elective course combines instruction, activity and assessments in both English and Chinese. The content provides context for the student immersion experience in China, while the dual-language approach actively furthers language acquisition. This course examines a variety of topics to understand rapid change in China in recent decades, in both a local and global context, including: demography, urbanization, the education system, environmental issues, US-China relations, contemporary Chinese cinema, gender issues, religion, marriage and personal space. Student activity in this course is significantly place-based and project-based. Students engage in regular cycles requiring them to integrate extensive reading, Chinese language learning, independent research, personal experience and local resources to critically present their findings to classmates. Students are encouraged to actively pursue their interests, gather first-hand information and take responsibility for their learning. Chinese will increasingly be used as the language of instruction, activity, and assessment over the course of the year.

Environmental Science (H) - 1 Credit (year)

This is an interdisciplinary course that examines how the world works and how people can alter the delicate balance of the earth’s life-support systems. It is set up to appeal to a wide range of student interests, relevant to their everyday lives, both in China and at home. For example, the problems with air and water pollution confronting China are timely topics of study. The dual goal is for students to analyze current environmental issues globally and locally and to design and implement small-scale scientific investigations using an inquiry-based lab approach with Beijing and the environs as the laboratory.

Through lectures, readings, videos, field trips, discussions and debate, students learn about important environmental issues while conducting scientific investigations. Topics include biodiversity and environmental systems; demographics and populations; local and global resources of food, water and energy; and global changes and sustainability. Students who would like to use this course to fulfill a science requirement at their home school are advised to check with their school’s Academic Office.