Four Students Return from Semester Abroad

As the Belmont Hill community returned from winter break, it welcomed back four students from semesters abroad. Colin Braun ’19, Matt McGaffigan ’18, and Alex Ackerman ’18 all spent the Fall at the Island School, on Cape Eleuthera, Bahamas, while Donavan Payne ’18 studied at the Master’s School in New York City, as a part of the CityTerm program.

At the Island School, the students took full advantage of their surroundings, focusing on marine biology and sustainability. The program emphasized learning from experiences, rather than teachers: “Even when you weren’t in class, every day was a school day.”  Matt and Alex participated in a four-mile swim, and Colin ran a half-marathon. They described the feats as grueling, but none had any complaints about spending days under the Bahamian sun. Although in a very different environment, Donavan’s time at Cityterm included many similar themes. CityTerm specialized in “experienced-based learning,” using New York City as the classroom. Every week, Donavan would spend three days on campus and three days out in the city itself, interviewing strangers in a park and taking weekend trips to Coney Island without guidance from a teacher. The program stressed self-reliance and was a stark contrast to the rigidity of an everyday school: “Every day was different,” Donavan said.

The students called their initial decision to travel a “leap of faith,” but now agree that it was one of the best decisions they have made, even life-changing. The trips taught them to “really like learning,” and work hard not because they were told to, but because they genuinely wanted to. Finding that there is “so much more to life than just getting the A,” the students fell in love with the strong sense of togetherness at their respective schools, as well as the close relationships with their teachers, who felt more like peers than authority figures. The independence the students were allowed and the uniqueness of the experience strongly resonated with them and taught them that “there is a lot outside of Belmont Hill.” Now back at school, Colin, Alex, Donavan, and Matt have found the transition to be bittersweet. It was tough to say goodbye to their tight knit communities and the readjustment to the Belmont Hill routine has been difficult at times, but none have any regrets. When asked if they had any advice for any students considering a semester away, all four agreed on a simple answer: “Do it.”

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