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S(ee)YA later!

Judy Ma '27 with Lisa Wei '26 and Tahir Hasanov '25

Apr 12, 2024

The School Year Abroad program allows a select group of students to spend a full academic year studying in another country. Depending on their respective language studies, students can go to a variety of countries in Europe. Ben McNeil, Language Department Head, stated, “Our students from Mercersburg Academy have studied in Rennes, France; Zaragoza, Spain; Viterbo, Italy.” Students from boarding schools across the United States join those from Mercersburg at their respective sites.

While spending time learning in another country, students live with host families or in dormitories to gain direct language experience through study, travel, and daily life. McNeil commented, “It is incredibly transformative. Oddly when you put yourself in such a vulnerable and safely uncomfortable situation, you gain incredible confidence. You gain friends and family in another country. You come back home with robust communication skills in a second language. You prove that you are capable of taking on challenging situations.” 

Each year, several students apply to do a school year abroad. Malaika Mankey-Akogbeto ‘26 is traveling to France next year. Akogbeto stated, “The environment and the community seemed very welcoming. Although I haven’t been there yet, the emails are all really nice and I have these Zoom calls with my class, and so it seems nice so far.” 

This current year, students are studying in France, Spain, and Italy. Among them is Reagan Houpt ‘25 in Viterbo, Italy. “I will say the most memorable part is the trips I’ve taken with my friends; however, even the mundane is memorable. Every evening I spend doing homework next to my host mother on the couch while we chat is memorable. Every walk to school in the medieval city I live in is memorable. It feels like I’ve lived here for years, because my experience has been filled with the richest of memories,” he said. He reported further, “My experience at School Year Abroad has been life-changing, amazing, and insightful. Every day I am grateful for the opportunity to be where I am and to do the things I am doing. I have no regrets. I have learned so incredibly much this year — about Italian culture, the Italian language, and other interests I have dived into, but also about myself. I have learned what I’m passionate about, the types of people I want to surround myself with, how to handle stressful and confusing situations, to not take myself so seriously, and countless other lessons that I intend to carry with me for the rest of my life.”

After students finish the year or semester, eleventh-grade students return to Mercersburg to continue their usual studies, while seniors go straight on to college. Houpt hopes that other Mercersburg students will take advantage of the incredible opportunity. “My best advice as you have a few months in advance to leaving: if you have a question or curiosity, follow it. Research what intrigues you about your upcoming journey. Also, reach out to others! With social media, it is so easy to find and contact the others that you will share this experience with. It may help ease some nerves to talk with people before you leave and plant the seeds of a great friendship.” Students can attest that these SYA programs offer a variety of benefits and a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.  

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