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, SYA Practicum and Chinese History.

Full course descriptions for 2019-20 can be opened below. You will also note that many of our courses are denoted as "FW" which means that the course involves a fieldwork element designed to challenge students in the broader community.

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2019-2020 Courses at SYA China

English (H) - 1 Credit

SYA offers a well-defined and comprehensive English course that prepares students to return to their home school prepared for their next class in English or to enter a competitive university program. The SYA English program is distinctly geared towards the study abroad experience and works in tandem with the overall program’s mission to create globally aware, divergent thinkers prepared for a 21st-century reality. The SYA curriculum is structured to reflect the various stages of the study abroad experience and facilitates a cultural immersion experience with a series of assignments and readings created with this goal in mind.

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. Chosen texts challenge students to improve their critical reading and analytical writing skills and cover a variety of literary movements. The readings engage with themes of alienation, isolation, foreignness or self-discovery, as well as the notion of place and identity, both geographic and internal. Texts selected also support the students in contextualizing both their collective and individual experience throughout the program. 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 sophisticated way, through both informal and formal journaling and expository writing.

SYA Practicum (H) - .5 Credit (year)

The SYA Practicum is a place-based and experiential course designed to provide an environment in which students work towards the SYA Core Competencies for Learning Abroad. This interdisciplinary course begins with an in-depth immersion into the host city and region, focusing on the use of the unique resources of each of our host countries and their unique and challenging learning environments. Because the objectives are skills-based, the content of the course is not limited to traditional disciplines and works in tandem with SYA fieldwork courses and activities throughout the year, including study travel.

The course culminates with the signature SYA Capstone experience. The SYA Capstone is designed to provide students with an opportunity to showcase their evolving skills through a comprehensive project pursuing a topic chosen by students and based on personal interest and self-motivation. Above all, these projects are crafted with the intentionality of embodying the SYA mission, highlighting the student’s experience and relying on, and engaging with, relevant local resources.

Students who excel in this course are provided extensive opportunities to drive their own learning.


Guided by its Mission, the SYA mathematics courses combine in-class and online learning activities in a hybrid learning environment, with a focus on helping students build their independent learning skills as an integral part of learning mathematics. Students are expected to complete preparatory online activities outside of and prior to class, in order to be prepared to actively engage in mathematical problem solving and collaboration in the classroom. This approach to learning mathematics is quite different from the traditional instructor-led, lecture-based approach to which many incoming SYA students are accustomed. Read more about SYA math course expectations here.

NOTE: All SYA math courses incorporate extensive use of technology, helping students develop graphical and numerical analysis techniques in addition to the traditional algebraic study of functions.

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 show 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. Even with insufficient enrollment, this course may be offered online through our partner, One Schoolhouse.

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.

Intensive Mandarin (H) - 2.5 Credits (year) - FW

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 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 to engage in learning experiences through numerous speaking and cultural opportunities. Throughout the year, students utilize a variety of culturally-authentic materials such as current novels, newspaper articles, movies, and audio programs that introduce them to a wide range of cultural, social and historical phenomena. Students also engage beyond the walls of the classroom with host families, local institutions, sites in Beijing and places they travel to over the course of the year.

Chinese History (H) - 1 Credit (year) - FW


In this required course, students will discover how China has shaped itself from a cultural, 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, 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 tumultuous 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. Field work activities draw on Beijing’s rich resources; the city itself becomes a big experiential classroom.

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

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 firsthand information beyond the walls of school 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) - FW

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 investigations using an inquiry-based approach with Beijing and its environs as the laboratory.

Through lectures, readings, videos, discussions, debate and field work, 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.