After spending three to five years on The Hill, some students feel the need to transition away from Hopkins. The Study Abroad Programs that the Modern Language Department offers fulfill their need to see a new community and expose themselves to new cultures.
“There are two kinds,” said Modern Language Department Chair, Tilden Daniels. “There are summer programs, which can be abroad, and then there are year long programs which can be either semester schools, such as mountain schools, or programs in other countries.”
Hopkins strongly recommends School Year Abroad (SYA) as the program introducing students to a country that speaks their target language. “School Year Abroad offers a seamless connection with the student’s time at Hopkins as well as an American curriculum,” he said. “They have programs in France, Spain, Italy, and China.”
Yet there are endless options for Semester Schools. Seniors Toella Pliakas, Charlie Streator and Tara Maloney participated in the School for Ethics and Global Leadership (SEGL), while classmates Zane Meyer ’17 and Cecilia Giamo ’17 spent four months at the Mountain School of Milton Academy in Vershire, Vermont. SEGL consisted of both traditional classes as well as a specialized course: Ethics and Global Leadership. On the other hand, at the Mountain School, students emerged themselves in the farming lifestyle with a work period every day.
Although missing a whole school year, or even a semester, might seem intimidating, the transition is nearly seamless. “Course transfers were fairly straightforward and required only a bit more conscious choice making on the part of myself and my advisor,” said Pliakas.
With SYA, English and Math are taught in English and juniors and seniors receive college counseling. Similarly, there are testing centers where students are able to take crucial standardized exams, such as the SAT and ACT. For semester schools, Hopkins has a short list of approved term-away programs. “This means that Hopkins awards credit for all or most of their course offerings,” said Dean of Academics David Harpin. “Although this is the case, some real planning must take place to ensure that a student’s academic continuity is preserved in math and language.”
Adapting back to Hopkins socially is certainly an adjustment, after missing a term or a full year of school and interacting with different people. “It was really hard coming back to Hopkins,” said Cecilia Giaimo ’17. “I had seen the same sixty faces everyday for four months, and to go from that to not seeing any of them was really hard.”
The lessons and ideas learned from a new culture also shape our Hopkins community. All of the students and teachers who studied abroad noted that their character improved dramatically by spending time away from The Hill. “I’ve learned a lot about how necessary it is to focus on things beyond schoolwork and beyond yourself,” said Pliakas ’17. “I’ve also been able to recognize that the most important things to me are the relationships I have with other people. Now I can appreciate not only my friends from SEGL but also my friends from Hopkins so much more.”
Zane Meyer ’17 voiced the same opinion about his term abroad: “It changed my perspective so that grades seemed to matter less to me because I knew that there was more around me than just Hopkins.” Students who studied in semester schools say that they developed a heightened awareness of society and the world around them by spending time away from Hopkins.
Besides understanding that Hopkins is just a portion of what the world has to offer, The Hilltoppers also noted a change in their own behavior. “Students can grow both academically and socially as a result of a term-away program,” said Harpin. “Many students return from these programs with a new confidence, perspective, and sense of purpose.” Cecilia Giaimo ’17 said, “[The Mountain School] gave me other ways of thinking.”
Each teacher and student who was interviewed strongly recommended studying abroad. Spanish teacher Gabriela Gerstenfeld said “The cultural skills a student can acquire by emerging oneself into a community are invaluable, especially the ‘homestay’ ones, where a student lives with a local host family... For instance, buying food in a street market or asking for directions could be a class-lesson, but unless you have to do it in order to actually bring groceries home, it won’t be the same experience.” In addition to skipping a year in the language, “There is something unique about a student who has studied abroad,” said Gerstenfeld. Immersion in a language is the most effective technique, and many students take away invaluable social skills and lifelong friendships from their time abroad.”
The students mentioned as well as Gerstenfeld, who studied abroad as a child, called the experiences unique and life changing. They said they gained vital skills that they put to use frequently as they continued their lives. The programs also offer abundant financial aid and scholarships so that most people can enjoy the life changing experiences that studying abroad offers.
“The transition back was also pretty smooth.” Pliakas ’17 added. “My friends were great and it was nice to come back to Hopkins and the people I care about.” The students who studied away from Hopkins endorsed the study abroad programs, saying that in addition to building friendships abroad, they were able to continue their friendships back on The Hill. Study abroad programs have changed thousands of lives- academically, culturally and socially. How about yours?