Dear Future SYA Seniors,
First of all, congratulations and welcome to the SYA family! You are about to embark on one of the biggest and most rewarding adventures of your life, and even simply applying to SYA shows that you are well on your way to being ready to start it! I am currently a senior at SYA France, and I thought that, in conjunction with my friend Nailah B.who will be writing a similar letter to the juniors, I would write a little letter of advice to you. So here are 5 five tips for being a senior at SYA:
1. Get used to being the oldest, yet the minority at the same time. Out of all students that make up my SYA France class, there are only ten seniors (and we are all girls). You won't have the typical senior year experience because you will most likely be severely outnumbered, but that doesn't mean that you should be scared of missing out. Despite all the pictures that will appear on your social media timelines of your friends at home doing what you've waited since freshman year to do—and yes, you will get homesick from time to time—I guarantee that none of them will get what you've gotten out of their senior year. Spending nine months in another culture, family, and country will be worth not getting to go to homecoming or be a part of the senior fashion show. And don't forget, you still have the summer!
2. Get as far as you can with college applications—before you come. So you've decided to come to SYA as a senior, and one of the first questions you'll get is going to be, "How are you going to apply to college?" Thankfully, college applications are able to be done online and you will have a college counselor at your SYA site that will work with your college counselor at your home school. However, it doesn't hurt to get as much work done as possible before you come. You will be adjusting to an entirely new life, particularly to your workload and classes in another language, during your first few months at SYA, and the last thing you want to be worrying or stressing about is your application deadlines. I would suggest having at least all of your essays and supplementals done before you come, so while you should spend your summer with your friends and family before you leave, use your time wisely!
3. Get involved in the community. This piece of advice can go for all of the SYA students, but I think it's important for the seniors because the year flips in terms of stress for the juniors and the seniors. Let me explain—the juniors start off the year as normal as one can start off a year in another country, but like I said, the seniors have to deal with that and more due to college applications. The months of September, October, November, and December were extremely stressful for all of us because we didn't do what we should have (see #2). This could cause you to be hesitant towards joining sports, clubs, or volunteer opportunities because of lack of time. But trust me, you will be grateful you did once January rolls around and you are more comfortable in the language and activity while the juniors stress levels start to rise due to SAT and ACT season.
4. Take advantage of every opportunity your host family offers you. Similar to #3, it can be hard to balance school, learning another language, college apps, extracurricular activities, and another culture during the first few months, but you should really try to include yourself in as much of what your host family does as possible. Even the small things, like if your host mother asks you if you'd like to go food shopping with her, you should do it. You'd be surprised at how much you can get out of a 20-minute car ride or going to your host grandmother's house for the afternoon. I can only speak on behalf of SYA France, but generally Sundays are taken very seriously as family days here. I struggled with this a bit because in America, I could save most of my weekend homework for Sunday, but that doesn't work here because lunch can take up to two hours and that's if we aren't with any of our extended family. So do your work and manage your time, so that when your host mom asks you if you want to go for a "petite promenade" to explore a nearby village, you can say yes and not worry about all the work you haven't done yet.
5. Have fun! I know that I've talked a lot about work and college applications, but don't forget that this is your senior year, after all. Plan independent travel trips with your friends, cross things off your bucket list, spend time with your host family, eat amazing food, and take advantage of all that your host country has to offer. If you put yourself out there and step out of your comfort zone, I have no doubt that SYA will turn out to be the best year of your life so far, and you will have a million and one stories to bring back home to your families and friends. SYA isn't only a study abroad experience, it's a life experience that will shape you and your future in ways you'd never imagined, so get ready for the year of a lifetime!
Congratulations, again, to you all—the class of 2018! I wish I could be in your shoes and do it all again, so don't take any of it for granted, and good luck!