Imagine being able to live a completely different lifestyle in a country where no one knows you. This is exactly what three Venice High students did for their junior year. Sally Deng, Maria ‘Masha’ Egorenko, and Erin Hancock, through different programs, were able to experience a student’s life in China and Argentina respectively.
Through School Year Abroad (SYA), Deng went to live with a host family. This was an expensive experience to begin with, though. At the school Deng attended, tuition for one year was $40,000. Yet, thankfully, financial aid was awarded to Deng and she only had to pay around $1,300 in total. Most of what she had to pay was for her plane ticket.
Since her ethnicity is Chinese and she spoke mandarin at home, school wasn’t as difficult as it would have been if she didn’t know Mandarin and Cantonese. Even though she knew some Mandarin, it was still an adjustment for her since the students in Beijing have a different accent and spoke really fast.
“I have never remembered so much in a school year than I have in China,” said Deng. Everything she learned and experienced was unique and exiting. She loved her experience, since besides school, they traveled around China’s provinces. She remembers that for three weeks, the program took her to the province of Yunnan, where she was able to sit down with “non-typical” Chinese students, who did more than just study.
During their last year of high school, city students such the ones in Beijing have no social life, according to Deng. They have to take a final test, similar to the SATs in America that will determine what college they will attend, what job they will have basically their future.
Someone who wasn’t as fortunate to have a mandarin background was Egorenko. She had been studying Mandarin for only two years, here at school before she left to China. Even though she didn’t know mandarin before, the whole experience was very memorable.
“I got to make friends from all over the world, and the whole situation of us being away from home brought us closer,” said Egorenko. All the foreign exchange students had similar disadvantages when it came to school and had to help each other to improve their Mandarin skills and they also helped the native students with their English.
Fortunately for Egorenko, the price tag on this experience was relatively inexpensive since she got a scholarship from the state department for an intensive language program. It was competitive to get it, but she was one of the fortunate ones to receive it.
All the way on the other side of the world, Erin Hancock went to La Plata, Argentina from Feb. 2010 to Jan. 2011 also through the AFS program. Unfortunately, she only received a scholarship that’s awarded to students from Venice High, so her family still had to pay around $10,000.
“Everything is different over there” said Hancock.
A typical day consisted of waking up early to drink tea for breakfast, and to arrive at her private Catholic school at 7:20 am. There was about 90 students in her class, separated into three rooms: Arts, Humanities, and Economics.
Homework wasn’t that huge of a deal since school was typically over around 12:45. After school activities were playing sports, eating, and very popularly, English classes.
On weekends, parties from midnight to 5 a.m. were normal, she said.
Everyone who has been part of a foreign exchange program has come back with a different perspective that the average american teenager. The Venice students noted if someone has the privilege to go to to a foreign country for even one semester, they will never regret it. The friends, culture, and experience in the end is worth it, they said.