Students Venture to Zaragoza, Spain

By Karenna Warden ‘21

Every year, a group of juniors and seniors from Sidwell Friends School venture out into the world, to a country unknown to them in hopes of making irreplaceable memories and expanding their horizons into a new culture.

Rising senior Jasmin Perrier was one of several students to travel last year through the School Year Abroad program. This year, juniors Chiara D’Andrea and Toby Dorfman are traveling with SYA to the same location.

Despite initial urgings against the venture by her family and friends, Perrier flew out of the country and into Zaragoza, Spain, in September of 2016. She was attracted by the “sense of adventure that came along with living abroad for a year” and independence that it brought.

When Perrier applied for the program, she, like many Sidwell students traveling abroad, was in Spanish II and lacked not only the skills but also the confidence to hold a meaningful conversation in Spanish.

Admitting that her first dinner with her host family consisted of  “a lot of smiling and nodding on my part,” Perrier described that she and the other Sidwell SYA students were soon able to move into the realm of fluid, meaningful conversations with friends and their host families.

Perrier found her host family to be “beyond amazing,” describing her mother as an “amazing cook” and and her host father as an “historical encyclopedia,” with a hilarious sense of humor. Her host siblings  Jorge and Sandra—both around Perrier’s age—were great companions as well.

Perrier attended School Year Abroad Spain, in a newly renovated location known as “Casa Foster.” School Year Abroad Spain teaches all classes except English and math entirely in Spanish. Students typically take six classes per semester; the course choices are very similar to that of Sidwell and other American high schools.

Perrier noted that the noticeably small number of pupils—roughly 70—in the SYA Spain school program leads the students to bond, due to both their like-mindedness and their close work together. Though SYA Spain classes are not particularly demanding in the material sense, the language barrier massively increases each course's difficulty.

SYA offers a few sub-programs which help students to become closer with  their communities. The programs in Spain include “Joven Erasmus,” which connects students with local youth to study and address shared societal challenges, as well as a program called “Cinco Dias,” in which SYA students shadow native students and vice versa.

This year, D’Andrea and Dorfman are embarking on the same SYA trip to Zaragoza. Their year will start with a class trip to Alquézar/Huesca and classes will begin the following week.

“The whole concept sounded really interesting to me, so I signed up,” said Dorfman. “I realized at a certain point that the experiences and lessons I would get out of SYA and going abroad would be irreplaceable.”

Dorfman and D’Andrea have been in contact with their host families. Dorfman has a host sister her age and D’Andrea has two brothers in college. Both D’Andrea and Dorfman are concerned about the language barrier, as neither of them has been fully immersed in a different culture or spoken another language for an extended period. Both D’Andrea and Dorfman are excited to experience a new culture and language and expand their boundaries.

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