Winsor and Belmont Hill Students Study Abroad

By, Caitlin S. ’21 and Thomas M. ’19 (BH)

Aiming to “produce capable and responsible global citizens,” Belmont Hill has a rich history of global engagement and study abroad experiences. The school’s many offerings, moreover, hope to “teach the knowledge, skills, and values students will need to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world and contribute meaningfully to the well-being of the global community,” emphasizing the value Belmont Hill places on inclusion and global vision. Offered for forms IV-VI, Belmont Hill study abroad programs also allow students to “experience sustained immersion in another school or country’s culture, to become fluent in another language, and most importantly to experience significant personal growth.” In the 2018-2019 academic year, Belmont Hill has sent seven students abroad. Holden Present ’20 and Abe Tolkoff ’21 have just recently departed for their Spring trips, visiting the Island and Alzar Schools, respectively. Rhocar Constant will also return at year’s end, having spent the full academic year in France. In the Fall, Belmont Hill sent Liam P. ’20 to China, Jack H. ’20 to the Island School, Jack C. ’20 to the SEGL School, and Harrison H. ’20 to CITYterm.

Returning from a tropical first semester, Jack H. advises anyone considering a study abroad program to “100% go for it,” adding, “It is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. It might seem difficult and scary to leave Belmont Hill for a semester, but for me it was so worth it.” Having heard “wonderful things about the Island School from past students,” Jack knew he wanted to give it a try. Although “there was no typical day,” many of Jack’s days began at 6:30 and, after a morning exercise, the students transitioned into classes, lunch, and eventually free time and dinner. Taking English, Math, Marine Ecology, History, and Art classes alongside a research-based course, the SYA students were allowed little communication with the outside world, facilitating a more complete immersion experience. Although he was not a sailor at the time, Jack credits the week-long sailing trip as his personal highlight, saying “We only got off the boat once or twice, so our days would mostly be spent relaxing on the boat and talking with friends. The sights from the boat were breathtaking, from the bright blue water to the vibrant sunsets.” Finally, Jack thanks Belmont Hill for their support, citing a strong relationship between BH and the Island School as one reason for his smooth transition back into BH life.

After participating in a Spring Break trip to China, Liam P. decided to return for his Fall Semester. Liam also recommends a trip abroad to anyone who remains on the fence, and echoed many of Jack’s sentiments regarding Belmont Hill’s commendable support. In reflecting on his trip, Liam noted that his school’s small class sizes and emphasized the amount of free time he was afforded to take in all Beijing had to offer. Liam also suggested that, despite the time change, contact with home was never an issue. Liam concluded by revealing that “As karaoke was very popular over there, I have a newfound appreciation for singing and performing; I find it much easier to sing and perform whether I’m with other people or by myself.”

Rhocar C., who remains in France, knew he wanted to study abroad after seeing the SYA China campus on the very same Spring Break trip as Liam. Ultimately, however, Rhocar’s family ties to the French language made France an easy choice. While visiting the Brittany and Loire Valley’s have been among Rhocar’s favorite moments thus far, he has also enjoyed the opportunity to play on a local Rennes basketball team, refine his French, and bond with his new peers.

At Winsor, students turn to the school’s SYA programs for many of the same reasons…

In the fall of sophomore year, Winsor students are presented with the opportunity to participate in semester or year away programs during their junior year. Whether they want to escape Boston’s freezing winters or become fluent in a foreign language, students that attend these programs must give bittersweet goodbyes to their friends and family in return for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Indi A. ’20, Cece W. ’20, Briggs N. ’20, and Winnie W. ’20 are spending the entirety of their junior year in Italy, France, or Spain through School Year Abroad (SYA). This past fall, Jenna P. ’20, Greta G. ’20, and India G. ’20 spent a semester at the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY for CITYterm, and this semester, Katherine L. ’20 and Hannah H. ’20 are participating in the same program. Additionally, Emilia F.-G. ’20 is experiencing life on the farm at the Mountain School in Vermont this spring semester.

Cece W. was not seriously considering going to France when she applied for a spot in the SYA program, but she knew that “although [she] may have regretted going, [she] would have regretted it so much more had [she] not gone.” True to her instincts, Cece quickly adjusted to life in Rennes after a “completely overwhelming” first week. She explained, “Despite feeling out of my comfort zone, I learned so much French during that first week.” A regular day for Cece includes waking up around 7:20 a.m., having breakfast with her host mom, and then taking the 8:04 a.m. bus to her co-ed school, which only SYA students attend. Additionally, Cece joined a badminton club to play once a week, and she hopes to continue playing this sport back in Boston. Cece noted that she “really enjoys the freedom” she has in France, and she “[goes] out pretty much every weekend… to watch a movie, grab dinner, shop…  and explore the beautiful, quaint city.” Ultimately, this experience has taught Cece to “take risks and do things that are way out of [her] comfort zone,” and she knows that the relationships she has built in Rennes, especially with her host mother and sister, will last a lifetime.

Winnie W. was interested in attending SYA in Zaragoza, Spain for the school year because it “seemed to be the most diverse and challenging program… that would definitely push [her] out of her comfort zone.” Having taken Spanish for many years, Winnie wanted to “master the language” as well as experience the freedom and independence that comes with SYA. Winnie takes six classes at SYA, her favorites of which are Sociology and “The History of Spain through the Lens of its Cinema.” She values the variety in her electives and the ability to “walk for 10 minutes and see what [she] just learned in real life.” The school day doesn’t end until 4:30 p.m., and Winnie teaches English to kids two days a week, so she typically gets home around 7:30 p.m., followed by dinner between 9 and 10:30 p.m. On the weekends, Winnie spends her free time going for runs, studying, and meeting up with friends in El Centro, the center of the city. “When it’s warm out, it’s really nice to explore the city at night and go to the Casco Antiguo and visit the Basilica del Pilar,” she explained. Winnie has also gone to Valencia as part of SYA’s independent travel, and she and other students will be going to Paris in March as a school trip. Although Winnie “remembers having a constant headache the first couple of weeks because [she] was constantly translating Spanish to English,” she believes that “if you want to get out of your comfort zone and fully immerse yourself into a different culture, SYA is the way to go!”

Upon her arrival in Italy, Indi A. “remembers being surprised that [her host family] made [her] fried chicken when [she] was expecting something more stereotypically Italian.” Since this first impression, Indi explained, “I’ve learned most of my Italian from being with [my host family], and they truly have become like a second family to me now.” Indi’s favorite part about SYA is independent travel because it’s “an incredible way to see more of the country, visit important cultural sites, have fun with your friends, and you get a lot of freedom in what you do.” So far Indi has visited Florence, Leece, Rome, and Venice, almost all of which are too far away to visit just for the day. “The reality of moving to a different country for nine months didn’t really set in until I was on the plane leaving for Rome…” reflected Indi, “[but] I can definitively say my choice to do SYA, however random it may have been at the time, is the best decision I’ve made in my life.”

Although Winsor is in the heart of Boston, Jenna P. treasured CITYterm’s proximity to New York City because she was “able to use the city as a classroom and not only as a new place to explore with friends.” At CITYterm, students have city trips on Tuesdays and Thursdays, getting the opportunity to do “anything from visiting a museum to exploring a new neighborhood,” said Katherine L. She loves how “at CITYterm, the city is [her] playground, and [she] really [has] the freedom to do what [she wants].” Rather than having structured English and history classes, CITYterm classes are based around projects conducted by students. Katherine’s favorite project was “going into the city and talking to strangers to get their stories” because “it was something [she] would never do for a typical school assignment.” Jenna added, “With this freedom, I was able to discover myself in new ways and approach academic assignments very creatively.” CITYterm students also take the train to the city to spend time with friends. One weekend Katherine “saw live music at a little venue in Brooklyn,” and on another weekend she “visited the Whitney Museum of Art.” This “element of surprise” is Katherine’s favorite part of CITYterm because she “never knows what’s ahead of [her].” Jenna loved CITYterm so much that she wished she could have stayed there longer than a semester. They suggest that “if you want adventure, and if you want learning to be something creative instead of restrictive, CITYterm is the perfect place for you.”

Winsor’s goal in offering these programs is to “support Winsor’s core mission in helping Winsor girls to define their aspirations and contribute to the world.” The semester and year away opportunities brochure describes, “The decision by a Winsor student to enter one of these programs demonstrates extraordinary initiative, independence, self-reliance, and resilience, all crucial skills for operating in a 21st-century world.” Mr. D., who works with students that are planning to apply to these programs, would like to see more students consider the SYA program, “spending a year in another country, living with a host family, and developing that level of language and cultural competency that changes lives for the better.”