Expanding the study-abroad experience to high school

Junior Hayden Ryan spends first semester in Argentina

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First semester of junior year has a notoriously challenging reputation. Difficult classes, preparing for the ACT/SAT, and starting discussions about the college process all contribute to a very hectic schedule.

However, junior Hayden Ryan had a very different first semester than the average junior. He spent it abroad in Argentina.

Ryan believes his semester abroad was just as challenging as the first semester of his NT peers, but in a different way.

“[The semester abroad] was difficult because I thought it was going to be an extended vacation, but I didn’t realize how hard it would be adapting to a school in Spanish,” said Ryan.

Another difficulty Ryan experienced was navigating social situations and meeting new people.

“[The Argentinians] were so open and welcoming to me. They weren’t like, ‘who’s this Yankee,’ ‘who is this guy from the other side of the world?’ They were like, ‘awesome, let’s invite him over,’” said Ryan.

He also had to adjust to a different schedule. For example, in Argentina, Ryan and his host family usually ate dinner at 10 P.M., quite a bit later than the 6 or 7 P.M. he was used to.

After overcoming the initial culture shock, Ryan was able to fully enjoy his time in Argentina. He spent the first part of his time abroad in school, and the second part was summer break.

Summer provided Ryan with time to explore his surroundings. He went around the town with new friends, and he tried local fare such as maté, a traditional South American caffeinated drink.

By the end of his time abroad, Ryan said that he was so used to living in Argentina that coming home to the US was an adjustment.

“It was so weird. I had changed so much, but New Trier [stayed] the same,” said Ryan.

His time in Argentina helped him grow more confident in himself and his social skills and taught him the importance of family and friends, he said.

“I show people that [I’m] glad to see them, in whatever kind of way that might be, whether that’s doing the dishes, so [my] mom doesn’t have to do them, or something else,” said Ryan.

Ryan first realized he wanted to study abroad when he attended a film camp. There, he met kids from all over the world: Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Brazil, and more.

“That opened my eyes to the potential and all the opportunities to see the world. There’s so much cool stuff outside of America,” said Ryan.

He looked for a study abroad program that seemed like a good fit, and he found AFS-USA. Ryan said that the application process was surprisingly straightforward.

There were a few steps such as writing a short essay, submitting a picture of himself, filling out paperwork, and an interview with an AFS employee. Later, he was matched with a host family.

Ryan encourages other students to study abroad, but he does warn that spending time abroad is not always easy. Some kids don’t get along well with their host families, or sometimes the cultural transition can be too drastic.

Therefore, he cautions against students deciding to study abroad on a whim. Learning the language and other preparation is key.

However, when all of these aspects are considered, Ryan does believe that interested students should make the leap.

“No one ever accomplished anything worthwhile by being cozy and comfortable. You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone if you’re ever going to grow,” said Ryan.

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