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Menlo Students Abroad During the 2017-2018 School Year

Buenos+Aires.+Photo+courtesy+of+Max+Chou.
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Menlo Students Abroad During the 2017-2018 School Year

Buenos Aires. Photo courtesy of Max Chou.

Buenos Aires. Photo courtesy of Max Chou.

Buenos Aires. Photo courtesy of Max Chou.

Buenos Aires. Photo courtesy of Max Chou.

Page Wolfenden, Staff Writer

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Leaving for a semester or year to travel abroad has become a trend among Menlo students, especially in the last several years. In the 2017-18 school year, three Menlo students decided to take their studies abroad: current juniors Chris Ponterio, James Leupold and Max Chou.

For his second semester of sophomore year, Ponterio traveled to London, England with his two sisters and mom, renting an apartment near his international school. “I went abroad because I wanted an experience somewhere other than the United States, and I had never been out of the country before,” Ponterio said. Another reason for his decision was the fact that he would get to share this experience with his family. “My sister is going off to college soon, so this was one of the last experiences that I will share with her before she is off at college.”

Chris Ponterio with his two sisters. Photo courtesy of Chris Ponterio.

While his academic life did not have any major changes, the social aspect of Ponterio’s experience in London differed greatly from here in California. “I took basically the same types of classes. U.S. history was a little different because it was from their perspective, [but] overall it was similar to Menlo,” Ponterio said. “Socially, it was very different because there were kids from all over the world. There were kids from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, all over the place. One of my greatest takeaways was just meeting all new kids over there and getting to talk to them and hear their stories.” Ponterio recommends going abroad for other students. “It takes you out of the bubble you are in right now […] and you see what life is like outside of the country, and even California, and how different it can really be,” Ponterio said.  

Also studying abroad last year was Leupold, who spent a year in Zaragoza, Spain. “I took Spanish at Menlo for two years, and I thought Spain would be really cool,” Leupold said. Like Ponterio, Leupold had a desire for a change. “I thought my life at Menlo was very repetitive. I really wasn’t pushing myself and getting out of my comfort zone, which I thought I would be able to do living by myself abroad,” Leupold said.

Photo of Leupold and friends on a ski trip in Cerler, Aragon. Photo courtesy of James Leupold.

Leupold explained that his classes themselves did not vary greatly from the types of classes offered at Menlo. The main difference in curriculum that he highlighted was that most of his classes were in Spanish. “I took History of Spanish Art, Environmental Science, AP Spanish Language and AP Spanish Literature, all fully in Spanish. Those [last] two just didn’t really speak English.”

The most significant change in Leupolds life was his daily schedule. “I woke up at a similar time, and school started at 8:30 a.m. The difference comes with a break, a ‘descansa’, which was at 10:00 a.m. Then I would have lunch around 1:30 p.m. until 2:30 p.m., and school would end at 4:30 p.m. […] I would have dinner around 9:30 p.m. Those were the weekdays. Weekends were different, I would probably go out with friends and have dinner around 10:30 […] which is pretty late for American standards.”

Leupold and friends at prom in Ligüerre de Cinca. Photo courtesy of James Leupold.

Leupold had already been abroad to England in eighth grade. “The second time, I really dove into it and I think I learned alot about myself, like how I deal with living without my family and also just adapting to a new culture where I didn’t speak the language at first,” Leupold said.

Chou also traveled abroad for a year, but spent his two semesters in different places, the first in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the second in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “I wanted to experience different accents, foods, and geographies, so I decided to go to two very different countries during my year abroad,” Chou said. He chose two spanish-speaking countries, explaining, “I wanted to become fluent in Spanish and felt that the best way to understand and speak the language was to immerse myself by studying abroad.”

Photo of Chou’s classroom in the Dominican Republic. Photo courtesy of Max Chou.

Before his year abroad, Chou had already experienced living away from home with a host family. “During my summer after 9th grade, I did a three-week program in Spain through School Year Abroad and loved the experience of living with a host family and practicing my Spanish,” Chou said. This experience inspired Chou to take a full gap year after his sophomore year.

“It is unusual to take a gap year in the middle of high school as opposed to after high school, [but] I am hoping to play baseball in college so this was the best time for me to take a gap year,” Chou said. Chou applied his love for baseball to his studies in Santo Domingo. “[I] wanted to understand how the Dominican Republic, a small Caribbean country, produces so many successful baseball players,” Chou said.

Each semester offered something different to Chou. “My second semester in Argentina was a completely different experience from my first semester,” Chou said. “My daily diet changed from rice and beans to steak, steak, and more steak, and I found myself living in a cosmopolitan, urban city with significant European influences instead of a tropical island.”

Max Chou in Buenos Aires. Photo courtesy of Max Chou.

Despite these differences, Chou’s academic life was similar in both places. “While I was in each country, I attended Spanish language institutes that specialized in teaching Spanish rather than going to a local high school. This is because I was also taking AP Chemistry, AP Statistics, and Honors Pre-Calculus through an online high-school provider,” Chou said.

Like Ponterio and Leupold, Chou felt that the experience was extremely impactful. “There were so many benefits from going abroad; besides becoming fluent in Spanish, I grew as a person and learned how to be responsible for myself while living with my host families,” Chou said. “I think that the personal growth of having to make decisions in unfamiliar and even uncomfortable situations is the most impactful benefit from my year abroad.”

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Menlo Students Abroad During the 2017-2018 School Year