When Safi Zenger ’20 attended an information session for School Year Abroad (S.Y.A.) during her Lower year, she did not expect that she would spend her Upper year abroad. At the event, however, Zenger stumbled upon a brochure for S.Y.A. Italy that led her to seriously consider the possibility.
“I didn’t know about [S.Y.A.] at all. I mean, I heard of it, but in my head a year abroad seemed like a long time, and I was not into the idea of leaving for a whole year. It seemed really stressful and hard, difficult. A lot. It was never something I thought I would do,” said Zenger.
Despite her initial hesitation, Zenger decided to apply to the program. After she was accepted, Zenger spent her Upper year in Viterbo, the site of S.Y.A. Italy since its founding in 2001. Zenger arrived in Viterbo, a city 64 miles northwest of Rome, without knowing how to speak Italian, which made it difficult to speak with her host mother. With some patience, however, the two eventually developed a shared understanding.
“The language was definitely hard. Not knowing how to speak Italian, I couldn’t communicate with my host parent… which was hard. But over time… I started to learn more and she started to learn a few English words, and we kind of met in the middle and made it work,” said Zenger.
While Zenger enjoyed a new level of freedom in Italy, she also learned to abide by rules that differed from Andover’s. Zenger described using one of these rules as a way to connect with her host family.
“At Andover, I can study through dinner if I want to prioritize my work, but there, I had to have dinner with my host family every day… and I couldn’t sacrifice their values to meet mine. I had to go back to living with a family,” said Zenger.
Besides Zenger’s enjoyable experiences in Italy, she emphasized that her year abroad did not come without challenges as well.
“A lot of people joke that it was a vacation, but it was definitely not a vacation. There were a lot of obstacles and challenges I didn’t think about before I got there,” said Zenger.
Founded in 1964 by Clark Vaughan, former Instructor in Spanish, S.Y.A. offers students like Zenger the opportunity for linguistic and cultural immersion, according to Carmen Muñoz-Fernández, Director of Learning in the World and Instructor in Spanish.
“We think [S.Y.A.] has benefited tremendously the Academy because our students have been provided an opportunity for many years, not only for the language immersion but also for the cultural immersion to live in another country. Students to go to S.Y.A. Italy even though they do not have any connections to Italy. They want to experience what it is like to live in a different country, meet a host family, and actually get out of their comfort zone,” said Muñoz-Fernández.
In preparation for her trip, Zenger knew that she would miss certain aspects of her life at Andover. When Zenger returned to Andover this year, she realized that she had missed even more while abroad.
“There were things I knew I would miss. I knew I would miss my friends and my dorm, but there were things that when I came back, I appreciated more. Even the view of the bell tower, because I live in the Quads I pass it on the way to my dorm. Sometimes I think about how cool it is that we have two museums on campus, that we have an observatory on campus,” said Zenger.
Now back at Andover for her final year, Zenger is excited to be with her friends and make new connections as a proctor in Johnson House.
“In my last year at Andover, I’m looking forward to spending time with my friends, bonding with the new people in my dorm, and graduating,” said Zenger.