As a Providence Day “lifer,” Emma Przybylo ’20 had experienced many aspects of the global curriculum: She’d been a French language-learner since fifth grade; experienced a Round Square International exchange in Switzerland in eighth grade; and took a Global Education spring break trip to South Africa in ninth grade. As the 2018-19 school year beckoned, she sought an adventurous next step: an entire year abroad.
She is now one of six PD students who have expanded their experiences through School Year Abroad, a national study-abroad program offering high school students school-year stays in France, China, Italy, or Spain. “I have always wanted to live in France, so it gave me that opportunity to speak a foreign language and live with a different family and be in that culture,” she says.
Internationally-minded PD students don’t necessarily need to pack enough suitcases for a year, of course. Under the Global Education umbrella, Providence Day faculty and staff lead global trips offering experiences with language, science, culture, or service over spring break or during the summer. This year’s global trip destinations include Australia, Spain, France, and South Africa. And through PD’s partnership with the Round Square international network of schools, select middle and upper school students also are able to attend international conferences, participate in service abroad, and engage in reciprocal school exchanges around the world.
But for some, like Emma, an even more immersive experience proved irresistible after her parents urged her to consider it. “I wanted to give it a chance, and instantly I knew I was meant to be there,” she says. And now, after participating in the School Year Abroad (SYA) program in Rennes, France and returning to PD for her senior year, she’s glad she took the step. “I feel more confident, independent, and very comfortable doing things by myself.”
‘I have a second family now’
One of the highlights of Emma’s year, she says, was the ability to travel easily. “Every six weeks there was a twoweek break in the French education system. During the first week, we would go on a school trip with our grade to around Bretagne, Loire Valley, Paris, or the south of France, and the second week I would travel with friends from SYA on the train.” Not all of Emma’s travel went smoothly, with nearly-missed trains and overweight carry-on baggage causing her to throw away heavy items at an airline gate, but the overall experience was positive, she says.
Each student lives with a single host family, but every student at the high school is also participating in the School Year Abroad program. The school has 70 students, most of them juniors but also some sophomores and seniors. “It was kind of an American high school but you take four to six classes in the target language and only English and math are taught in English,” she says. “I took the classes I would take here but the electives were in French. French Literature was really interesting – I really loved it – French History through Reconstruction and then Environmental Science.”
The experience brings all participants together: “You meet everybody and you are friends with everybody. It was kind of like we were all in one grade.”
Living with another family was far easier than Emma expected. Her host family had four siblings; the oldest was 18 years old and in military school, so he only came home on weekends, a second brother who was 14, and two sisters ages 13 and 12. Emma says, “I hung out with the girls a lot. We watched movies and I helped them with homework. It was a good bond – I still talk to them and even saw them this summer in Miami. I have a second family now and I miss them a lot.”
The only English-speaking member of Emma’s host family was the father, so Emma could help her two younger host siblings with English homework if they needed it, but spoke French exclusively at home.
In order to combat homesickness, students are not supposed to visit their own home during the course of the program. “My family came to France for Christmas. I would talk to my mom and dad once a week so I didn’t really get homesick,” Emma says. “I think the length of time is very doable.”
The most surprising part of the experience to Emma is that “It wasn’t that hard to speak French; PD prepares you really well.” She continues: “After the first night I realized I am here to learn and it’s fine to make a mistake – if I make a mistake, I make a mistake. The teachers want to help you and the host family understands it’s not your first language. My host family said that my French really improved since I first got there.”
Emma is definitely not finished with global traveling. She hopes to study abroad again in college, possibly through an architecture program where she could continue speaking French.
‘The PD experience has prepared our children’
Emma’s parents, Sunita and Phil Przybylo, are grateful for the ways their daughter’s experience has shaped her. “Emma returned to the U.S. after 268 days abroad more mature, independent, and confident,” says Sunita Przybylo.
PD’s strong support of global experiences is a key part of the reason the Przybylos have been so dedicated to the school. Phil Przybylo has served as an Annual Fund volunteer; Sunita has served the Parents Association by chairing the annual auction twice; managing Spring Fling; overseeing faculty/staff appreciation, Middle School support and service-learning; and serving as a Lower School room parent, library volunteer, and a member of the PA Executive Committee.
She hopes to stay involved as a volunteer after Emma graduates, following her 15-year tradition of supporting Providence Day starting with her son Alex ’18. “Our children have benefited from education and life lessons in the classroom and through many school-sanctioned events and trips,” Sunita says. “We feel that the PD experience has prepared our children to be high-functioning global citizens that will make differences in the world. Phil and I have both willingly been involved in activities supporting PD throughout our children’s time there. We are grateful for the village that supported, encouraged, and educated our children. It has been a privilege to be members of the PD community.”
And Emma has some advice to other students considering a year abroad: “If you have even the slightest interest, apply,” she says. “I was the type of person who never thought I could do it…. Even with fear about being gone for nine months or speaking the language – do it.”
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