The expansion of GA’s international program has brought more than just exchanges with our sister schools in Poland, England and China. The examples below are just a few of the several Upper School students that have tested the international waters by visiting and studying in foreign countries this year on senior projects, summer trips or study abroad programs.
Spending the Year Abroad
It was a tough decision to make. Complete her senior year at Germantown Academy or spread her wings and become one of the very few students in GA history to spend a full academic year studying abroad? Although a little hesitant at first, Theodora Frangakis '13 wouldn’t change a thing about her decision to spend the year with School Year Abroad’s program in Zarogoza, Spain during 2012-13.
"At first I was just planning to go abroad during college; I didn't know that doing it in high school was even an option,” said Frangakis, who spent the year in the northeast of Spain with a host family that she LOVED, and was back in time for graduation. “A representative from the program came to GA when I was a junior and I knew it was something I was going to be really passionate about.
“It was extraordinary, unforgettable, phenomenal - just amazing! To be 17 years-old and live in a foreign country, away from everyone and everything you know, and figure it all out on your own was an incredible opportunity.”
Frangakis, who is a member of Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica (Spanish National Honor Society), spent the year studying alongside 70 other Americans. She took two classes in English (English and AP Calculus) and four classes in Spanish (Journalism, Art History, History of Spanish Cinema and Spanish).
“When I went to Spain I was really prepared,” said Frangakis. “I want my teachers at GA to know that I really appreciated the job they did, because I knew way more about Spain and the Spanish language than a lot of the other people in the program.
“I think my favorite part of school was the trips we took, because everything you learned became so relevant,” said Frangakis. “For example, anything I would learn in Art History I could go and see at the Museo del Prado in Madrid. That's what I love. It's not just in the book; you're living it.”
Assistant Head of School and Head of Upper School Rich Schellhas was familiar with this type of program as he also spent his senior year abroad.
“Theodora is an extraordinary language student, so it didn’t surprise me at all that she wanted to take her skills to the next level by completely immersing herself in the Spanish culture in Zaragoza,” said Schellhas. “I am so proud of the courage she demonstrated by leaving her family, friends and school for the entire year in order to truly become a global citizen, and I know that the experiences she gained, people she met and adventures she undertook will stay with her for the rest of her life!”
Frangakis already knows that no matter where her future takes her, starting with The George Washington University this fall, she will find use for her knowledge of all things Spanish.
“I am looking forward to passing my official Spanish proficiency test, and then, along with my other first language – Greek – I will be trilingual, which will be good for a job or teaching,” she said. “I love languages. I always want to learn more.”
Ashley Piszek spent a semester abroad during her sophomore year at GA. Here are some of her missives from her time “across the pond” —
"I chose to attend Rossall School, located in Fleetwood, England (45 minutes north of Manchester by car) for a semester abroad to challenge myself not only academically but also to grow as an individual and gain a new independent perspective on life. Rossall is an international school that has students from over 80 countries.
"The International Baccalaureate Program (IB) I was enrolled in was very rigorous and required a lot of prep time. The course structure was different in that there were two different classes for each subject so for English I learned about poetry from one teacher and plays with another. The days also were longer having 60-minute classes and 7 classes each day ending at 4:20. Wednesdays were the exception as there were only four classes but each class was longer than the regular day and activities were done on Wednesday. Prep Time (mandatory study time) began right after school until tea time and also 6:30 until 8:30pm daily. Lastly each student had to complete a certain number of activities each week such as sewing, French, chess club, and fitness.
"I loved the courses I took because, along with the normal mandatory classes, Rossall gave the IB students options of additional classes such as Business Management, Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Theory of Knowledge. I was very engaged in the Business Management class; it was challenging and gave me insight on what a career in finance would be like. I am very proud to be the recipient of the “Business Management Award” from Rossall School.
"I befriended students from many different countries. Most everyone spoke some English. I needed to use Google translate to speak with some of the foreign students though. My best friend from Rossall is British. She and I plan to visit each other during school breaks. We still talk daily.
"My advice to GA students who are interested in studying abroad is “DO IT!” I also would encourage them to persevere. Don’t get psyched out in the first few weeks. You will adjust, and it is worth the adjustment! Please take advantage of all experiences made available to you,
cultural visits, travel experiences, and immerse yourself in their world, as you will only have the chance for a brief period."