School Year Abroad

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School Year Abroad (SYA) places American high school juniors and seniors in one of four independently operated schools in China, Italy, France or Spain for a full academic year. Students intensively learn the respective language of their country and live with a carefully selected host family. The program includes extensive cultural immersion, select courses taught in the native language and requisite subjects such as math and English taught in English. The program provides academic advisors, college counseling services, and administers the AP, SAT, SAT II, and PSAT tests at each school. Students earn U.S. high school credits while attending SYA and preparing for selective U.S. colleges and universities.

Spanish teacher Clark Vaughan conceived of the idea, which was founded at Phillips Academy (Andover, MA) and its founding charter member schools are Phillips Exeter Academy (Exeter, NH), and St. Paul's School (Concord, NH), although it operates independently of these, and its 43 member schools. SYA's Home Office is located in North Andover, MA.

SYA celebrated its 50th anniversary on 2015.


The program in Spain is SYA's oldest. The original incarnation was "Schoolboys Abroad" and consisted of 11 students accompanied by founder Clark Vaughan and his wife Polly, plus two more teachers, who in 1964, traveled by ship on the MS Aurelia to study in Barcelona, Spain. Polly Vaughan chose the symbol that continues to serve as the logo for the program. Their son Christopher was in the fourth Andover class to participate in SYA.

Though founded in Barcelona, the program relocated to Zaragoza in 1999. The move took place in order to facilitate the ease with which students learned and heard Castilian Spanish spoke around them. As the program grew in Barcelona, it became clear that the proliferation of Catalan, as well as the number of tourists, detracted from the immersion of the students. The move to Zaragoza, the fifth largest city in Spain, provided students with a city environment with less tourist attraction, making it necessary for Castilian Spanish to be spoken throughout the city.

SYA Spain students attend classes on the sprawling, recently renovated, 425-square-meter second floor of a Neoclassical building in Zaragoza's city center on Paseo de Pamplona. The space is illuminated throughout the day by natural light and comprises a reception area, six classrooms, a place for school assemblies, and offices for the faculty and the SYA Spain Resident Director, along with a library, a college-counseling office and a comfortable student lounge.

Because it is located in the commercial center, SYA Spain students have access to myriad cafés where they can enjoy a café con lecche and visit the local colegio, where SYA Spain students eat lunch daily. Steps away from the Plaza Aragón, students take the bus to visit friends after school, to dance classes or to sports practice.

At SYA Spain, students take six courses. Seniors may, on recommendation of their home school, elect not to continue in mathematics if they have met their home school requirement. All but the English and math courses are taught in Spanish. All courses except for Advanced Algebra with Functions and Precalculus and Advanced Topics in Mathematics are taught at the honors or AP level.

Students take placement tests in math and Spanish during orientation in September. Based on the test results and on their previous records, they are placed in appropriate groups for Spanish language and math. There is a two-week drop/add period at the start of school to finalize placements and course preferences. Courses meet for a minimum of four 50-minute periods per week. SYA does not distinguish between eleventh- and twelfth-grade students in the organization of classes.

Experiential and Independent Travel SYA Spain students enjoy one-day excursions in Aragón and Navarra; longer trips take students to Barcelona, Asturias, Valencia and Andalucía. During school vacation days and weekends, students may remain with their host families or travel independently if they have made detailed plans and secured the proper permission. Zaragoza is on the high-speed AVE train line and many buses leave the city daily for destinations throughout Spain. In a weekend, students may travel to Salamanca to visit the famous university, to Bilboa to wander through the Guggenheim or head to Madrid to for a theater production.

School-to-School Exchanges SYA students here are able to participate in various school-to-school exchanges all over the country, providing excellent opportunities to become friends with Spanish students their own age. These range from exchanges lasting one to five days to evening seminars organized once a week.

Through "One Day Here, One Day There", an SYA student spends a day at a high school in Zaragoza, hosted by a counterpart their age; that same Spanish student attends classes at SYA the next day.

The program “Five days in . . .” Burgos, Madrid, Toledo or Sevilla enables an SYA student to go to one of these cities to attend classes and live with a local host family for five full days. Our student joins the host student for three days of classes in the Spanish high school and the weekend with his or her family.


SYA France is located in Rennes, the capital of Brittany. Founded in 1967, it is SYA's second oldest program. SYA France is open to students who are currently enrolled in at least level II of French. The majority of students take seven credits, including English and math. All but the English and math courses are taught in French.

Students are required to take English, math, French language, French literature, art history, history and French society and culture.

Based on language proficiency tests administered in September and language-study previous records, students are placed in one of four groups (Arthur, Morgane, Lancelot, or Viviane which are named after characters from the fabled Knight's of the Round Table which is thought to have taken place in Brittany) for the courses taught in French. Adjustments in the groups are generally made early in the year if appropriate. Math placement is based on prior experience and a placement test. Courses meet for a minimum of four 45-minute periods per week. All courses except for Advanced Algebra with Functions and Precalculus and Advanced Topics in Mathematics are taught at the honors or AP level.

SYA France school trips are scheduled in accordance with the French academic calendar; during French school vacations, students travel all over France.

In October students go to the Loire Valley where they visit Renaissance chateaux and a variety of museums. In February the school goes to Paris to study the city's architectural monuments, museums and galleries. In the spring students spend nine or ten days exploring the south of France. They visit museums and Roman antiquities, meander through charming Provincial cities and villages, hike through the countryside, swim in the Mediterranean and some years explore local rivers by canoe.

One weekend in May is devoted to exploring the coast of Normandy, where students visit the sites of the two great events that have marked the region: the Norman conquest, of 1066, and the Allied invasion (known by the French as the Debarquement), of June 1944. There is plenty of time for relaxation and fun built into the school trips; however, they are carefully conceived to complement the history, civilization and art history courses.

During school vacation days and weekends students may remain with their host families or travel independently if they have made detailed plans and secured proper permission. Because public transportation is convenient and France is relatively small, a weekend trip can take a SYA France student to the famous beaches of Normandy, to museums in Paris or to the banks of the Loire River.


In 1994, the Chinese government allowed School Year Abroad to begin a program in Beijing. It was the first of its kind at either a high school or college level, with students being placed in host families for the full school year. The program operates out of the Second High School Attached to Beijing Normal University. SYA China is open to both beginners and students who have already studied Mandarin. All students take Mandarin Chinese Language, Chinese History and Chinese Society and Culture along with English and math, for a total of six credits. These courses meet four or five periods each week with the exception of Chinese Culture and Society, which meets two periods each week in addition to guest lectures and field trips. All courses except for Advanced Algebra with Functions, Precalculus and Advanced Topics in Mathematics, and Chinese Society and Culture are taught at the honors or AP level.

Martial arts, traditional Chinese brush painting, calligraphy and music are offered as noncredit courses, pass/fail. Each course meets once per week. Home schools may accept these courses for credit if deemed appropriate. School Year Abroad does not distinguish between eleventh- and twelfth-grade students in the organization of classes.

Students are placed in class according to their proficiency in Chinese, which is assessed by a diagnostic exam administered at the beginning of the school year.

In order for students to experience China beyond Beijing, School Year Abroad organizes a number of study trips to places of historical and cultural importance. Travel destinations change each year, and in the past SYA has visited almost every province and major city in the country. During the first semester, travel focuses on places of historical significance, including important urban centers. During the second semester, the focus is on remote destinations, with emphasis on trekking through rural villages and homestays with China’s ethnic minorities.

On such trips, School Year Abroad China generally arranges activities with local schools so that students can get a taste of what life is like for their peers in various areas of the country. SYA students experience significant educational travel and are involved in Rural Projects for Sustainable China (RPSC) throughout the school year. With the exception of personal spending money, trip expenses are included in SYA’s tuition. Independent travel by students in China is not permitted.

Winterim In the vacation period that surrounds the Chinese New Year, SYA takes the classroom on the road for an extended journey outside of Beijing. Armed with a bound reader of Chinese- and English-language materials, students depart Beijing for a three-week trip throughout a rural region of the country. Destinations vary each year and are typically concentrated in southern and southwestern China. In recent years, travel has included “off-the-beaten-path” experiences such as hiking and rural homestays with welcoming families. Occasionally, students spend the night in a youth hostel, where they share stories with peer travelers from around the world. Long train rides through the countryside provide students with time to catch up on their reading assignments and discuss their experiences with their classmates. Winterim is an authentic immersion into rural Chinese culture that, in many ways, remains as it was centuries ago.


Since it opened its doors in 2001, SYA's Italian program has been housed in a 16th- century palazzo in the city of Viterbo in Lazio. SYA Italy students attend classes in a beautifully restored and quintessentially Italian palazzo, where parquet floors and freshly painted walls serve as the perfect backdrop for a collection of 16th- century frescoes. The school’s classrooms and offices feature beamed ceilings 15 feet high and come fully equipped with modern conveniences. A spacious common room with plush couches and Internet access, known as the salone, provides a comfortable place for our students to study and relax between classes.

SYA Italy offers a unique approach to understanding the culture of modern Italy through the lens of its deep and multi-layered past. Both inside and outside the classroom, SYA Italy actively engages students in the study of ancient languages, history and art, while facilitating the mastery of Italian. On school trips, which have included journeys to Sicily, Florence, Umbria and Campania in the past, SYA students are given the opportunity to experience firsthand some of Western civilization’s most important cultural, historical and archaeological sites.

All SYA Italy students must complete six credits over the course of the year. The curriculum requirements are as follows: one credit of English; one credit of math; at least two credits of language, one of which must be Italian; at least one credit of history; and one elective. In order to fulfill SYA Italy’s two-credit language requirement, students may choose one of two options: to enroll in Italian Language and Culture, a two-credit Italian course;or to enroll in Italian I or Italian II and a one-credit course in another language (Latin or Ancient Greek). Those who pursue the second option may not enroll in Medieval and Modern History.

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