School Year Abroad, or more commonly known as SYA, sends high school juniors from all across the United States to schools in China, Italy, France, and Spain. SYA’s mission statement says, “SYA guides students through a challenging curriculum focused on developing skills for successful engagement in an increasingly interdependent world. Central to the SYA experience is the adventure of understanding different languages, cultures and peoples.” This mission statement appeals strongly to Concord Academy’s values of personal challenge, exploration, and love of learning, so SYA’s popularity among CA students is not surprising.

Kao Morakinyo ’21 had been studying at SYA’s France campus located in Rennes and had planned to continue to do so for the rest of the school year. However, due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, she is now participating in a distance-learning model that follows the SYA curriculum back at home in New Jersey. She described her experience as a challenging but memorable one. 

Kao said, “I struggled a lot in the beginning to find my footing and took a much-needed break to regain my footing. The last three months were the best because life abroad became my life abroad. I’m heartbroken to leave the way I did. There was no closure or proper goodbyes and the life I was accustomed to was ripped away from me.” 

There is no doubt that leaving a place you’ve called home for so long to learn and live halfway across the world is quite daunting but that didn’t stop the next group of rising juniors from applying. Melanie Tapia ’22 applied and was accepted to SYA China. She was excited to experience living in a new environment and meet people from a diverse range of backgrounds; however, the SYA China program has been canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Despite this disruption, Melanie kept a positive spirit. 

Melanie explained, “Yeah, I was sad the program got canceled for SYA China [for the 2020-2021 academic year] but in the end, when I thought about it, I still get to stay at CA and finish the rest of my career in high school in a supportive community. I would have liked to travel, and it [would have given] me the opportunity to go and see different things and new cultures, but staying at CA isn’t a bad option. It’s still just as great an opportunity.” 

Another CA sophomore set to spend their junior year with SYA is Gillian Foley ’22, who was accepted to the program in Zaragoza, Spain. Gillian described her SYA application experience, stating, “As soon as I found out about the possibility of studying abroad I wanted to do it. For me, the main motivation was going to become fluent in another language [Spanish]. The process of applying was nerve-wracking, but I felt a lot of support from CA, and the administration was very helpful. SYA Spain hasn’t been canceled yet, and obviously, I hope it is not, but in the event that it is, I am still glad to be going back to CA and am excited about potential classes as well as spending another year with my friends.” 

Gillian still plans to embark on a journey with SYA next year. While all CA students who spend a semester or year elsewhere will be missed by the CA community, there is no doubt that SYA will bring them a new perspective on the world and give them experiences that they will cherish greatly.