SYA Program in China Offers 24 Andover Students Academic and Cultural Experience

This summer, for the first time in its history, the School Year Abroad Program offered an international experience in China exclusively for Phillips Academy students. For five weeks, 24 students lived and studied in the Chinese capital, Beijing, and traveled throughout other parts of China. With the use of very small classes and immersion into real-world situations using Chinese, students were able to learn the language much faster than in a school setting. They were also able to explore Chinese culture first-hand in many different parts of the country. Each of the visiting students stayed with a host family in Beijing and attended a Chinese school for the majority of the trip. The host families did not speak English, and speaking English was not allowed in the school while classes were in session. Classes started promptly at 8 AM. Becca Bendetson ’09 commented, “The classes were strenuous to say the least.” On top of the rule banning any English from the classes, students were not allowed to have any food in the school. Bendetson added, “Most of us would be starving, so we would sneak in food to eat during the breaks.” Sometimes the classes ran late into the breaks, and there were continuous hours of classes extending through the day. Class periods were an hour long divided by ten minute breaks, and ran until noon. The classes themselves were much smaller than typical PA classes – all of them between 4 and 10 students. Each student also had about 15 minutes of individual instruction per day. These individual lessons represented a significant part of the immersion into listening to, comprehending, and speaking Chinese. The classroom instruction was for the most part focused on learning the Chinese language. According to Peter Merrill, Instructor in Russian and Head of the World Languages Division, “It really was a language program, so they spent three and a half to four hours in language classes.” The students also studied other subjects which rounded out the curriculum, such as karate and calligraphy. There were excursions into different parts of Beijing twice a week after classes for the visiting students, to places of interest like Tiananmen Square, Buddhist monasteries, and the Dashanzi Arts District. More unique stops included a residence for children of prisoners and a primary school for children of migrant workers. Every weekend there was also a day trip into the surrounding area. For example, one of these trips was a chance to climb along a section of the Great Wall of China. Several students added that their favorite part of the visit was seeing the Great Wall of China. Some also thought that the best part of the trip was just having free time to walk around with friends and be a part of Chinese culture. Sebastian Caliri ’08 mentioned, “I found myself having engaging conversations with all kinds of people…everyone in China had something worthwhile to tell me.” This particular SYA program lasted about five weeks. The students left home on June 18th and returned on July 22nd. The program was divided into roughly four weeks living and studying in Beijing and another week traveling throughout different parts of China. In the last week of the program, the Phillips Academy students traveled by train to Xian, a city about 600 miles southwest of Beijing. There they saw the Terracotta Soldiers, a collection of thousands of life-size clay models of soldiers that stand near the tomb of an ancient Chinese emperor. After two days in Xian, the students traveled east to Suzhou, one of the wealthiest cities in China. One day there was followed by two in Zhouzhuang, a canal town similar to Venice, Italy. Finally, the trip ended on the coast south of Beijing in Shanghai. Mr. Merrill commented that there were three significant advantages to overseas study programs like this summer’s trip to China. He said, “One is the home stay piece of the program, where…if you want to eat, you need to speak Chinese.” “The other is the language program itself is incredibly well-structured,” he continued. Merrill concluded by describing the usefulness of real-world practice: “When you’re in a country, you don’t just learn the words, you learn what the things you’re talking about look like…you develop a much richer sense of connection for memory.”