While the daily life at Belmont Hill hasn’t changed for most of us this year, there are currently five students you may have noticed missing from the Hill this year. These five students have taken advantage of the School Year Abroad program. Here is an update on their adventures as well as some insight into the program.
What have you gained from your experience thus far?
Sebastian: I would say that I’ve gained a much greater worldview than can be achieved at home. You can study the world as much as you want, but to really understand other cultures and people and languages I think you have to go to that place and live amongst them.
Owen: I have been able to see how a new culture lives, lived in and become accustomed to a whole new city, and also met a ton of new friends. I have also learned a ton of new words in Chinese that I get to practice everyday whether I’m with my host family, at school, or in public.
Seamus: So far I’ve gained a ton of knowledge; I really think my Chinese has come a long way since I’ve been here, which really helps. I’ve noticed that doing everyday things such as telling a cab driver where I need to go have become much easier.
What is the biggest cultural difference?
Sebastian: The biggest cultural difference is probably the eating habits. Whereas in America we say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, in Italy for breakfast (or colazione) we have only a cappucino without any food. For lunch (or pranzo) we eat a modest meal, and dinner (or cena) is always a huge meal. Dinner is also much later than I’m used to in America, we usually eat between 8:00 and 9:00. Dinner is by far the most important meal of the day in Italy, and you can even see this in the language. They have a verb (cenare) which literally means in English “to dinner.”
Owen: Strangely enough, I haven’t noticed any huge differences. It is mainly the small ones that I see. These would include it being unsightly to sit on the ground anywhere, people spit a ton, you don’t say anything after someone sneezes, not as much personal space, and cars and bikes won’t stop for you, so you must either be very forceful or cautious.
Seamus: There are obviously a lot of cultural differences between China and the U.S., but the one that surprised me the most was one day when it had been a while since I had washed my socks, which is one of the things I’m expected to do in my host home. My host mom seemed to be very upset about that, so since then I’ve been washing them every two or three days.
What do you miss?
Sebastian: Some things I miss: Reese’s, American TV, being able to just understand things and people around you, and of course all my friends in the States.
Owen: Each kids misses different things. The most common is family, friends, and their homes. The second would be American foods. Beijing has a lot of international foods but I noticed sandwiches aren’t as common (like a BLT or an Italian). One random thing I miss is being in a car. My host family doesn’t have one. We take taxis almost every weekend, but there is something about being comfortable in your family’s car that I miss. And I do miss BH.
Seamus: I miss a lot of things, but the most significant out of these would be the things that were really easy to do at home that I took for granted. For example, chatting up a cashier at a store without having to think about it. Other than that, I miss my family a lot, which I expected would happen. I also really miss Belmont Hill; I didn’t go abroad because I wanted to “get away” from anything, so I miss a lot of aspects of home, but I’m really happy here overall.
What traits do you think are required to handle studying abroad?
Sebastian: You definitely have to be able to not be afraid. You can’t be afraid of messing up or embarrassing yourself when you try and speak, or you’re never going to be able to learn the language. You also have to be able to try really hard and accept that it’s going to be uncomfortable at times. Especially since this is the only SYA program where you’re not expected to know the language beforehand, that makes it extra hard to be brave and outgoing in talking and learning. But even though it’s hard, I have to say I think this is the most effective way to learn a language
Seamus: I think studying abroad is a really challenging thing for any high school student, but there are a few traits that can help this. The first would be the willingness to actually ask, “why not?,” and to take the leap of faith. When I was applying to SYA, I was really unsure whether or not I would actually go. However, I took a little advice from the wooden sign in Goodband Commons I had walked past every morning during my time at Belmont Hill, the one that asks, “If not now, when?” Another helpful attribute to have is the ability to laugh at yourself. Coming to a country where I speak the language at a level of a small child, I have had to stop being afraid of embarrassment and take risks. I’ve been laughed at several times, like when I accidentally told the waitress at a restaurant near Owen’s house that our other friend was physically unable to eat, but I’ve also had to laugh at myself sometimes, like when I clogged the toilet in my host home on my first morning here and didn’t know how to ask for a plunger.