Junior Annie Reynolds Spends a Semester in Washington, DC


Reynolds participates in a guest speaker session alongside her peers from The School for Ethics and Global Leadership in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Annie Reynolds.

Louisa Sonsini, Opinions Editor

Throughout her sophomore year at Menlo, junior Annie Reynolds was itching to try something new. Eager to get out of the Silicon Valley bubble, she wanted to expose herself to a completely new environment filled with fresh opportunities. “I wanted to do something other than just going to Menlo for four years,” Reynolds said. 

During a sophomore class meeting, the admissions director of The School for Ethics and Global Leadership (SEGL) spoke about their exchange program. Reynolds was inspired by the presentation and saw it as an opportunity for herself. “I’ve been really interested in history and government for the past two years, so having a program that specialized in those areas […] definitely [drew] me in,” she said. 

SEGL aims to represent the diversity of the United States through a community of 24 individuals, and their overall mission is to inspire leadership and foster change. According to their website, “The Mission of The School for Ethics and Global Leadership is to provide intellectually motivated high school juniors who represent the diversity of the United States with the best possible opportunity to shape themselves into ethical leaders who create positive change in our world.”

By Monday, Feb. 17, 2020, Reynolds finalized her decision and went through with the application process. About one month later, she was accepted for the 2020 fall semester at SEGL.

Then COVID-19 hit. 

As schools began to shut down worldwide, Reynolds knew her experience would inevitably be impacted. But for Reynolds, the pandemic merely solidified her interest in the program. “Over the summer, I wasn’t seeing my friends every day and visiting my family members like I usually would,” she said. “So it made me a little bit less nervous to leave everything behind.”

From a logistical standpoint, her experience has been only slightly impacted by COVID-19 — unlike Menlo, SEGL has been having mostly in-person classes. Reynolds has also been able to explore the city of Washington, D.C., despite current circumstances. “I’ve been really lucky to be able to have this semester, for the most part, in person,” Reynolds said. “It’s also fun to have a change of scenery […] and explore every time I leave the dorms. It’s really cool to check out all of the monuments and significant sites.” 

For the most part, Reynold’s school day begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 4:40 p.m. However, on Wednesdays, the school hosts a special curriculum explicitly centered around leadership and ethics. This day is often intended for guest speakers with experience in national or international leadership. 

Reynolds views these guest speaker sessions as one of the biggest upsides of the program. “We had a guest speaker session with a former national security adviser who just started work at Facebook,” she said. “We got to ask him a lot of really cool questions about his work and, since he’s moving to the Bay Area, I’ll be able to connect with him in the future.” 

Aside from the academic perks of the program, Reynolds has enjoyed SEGL’s unique social environment. “There are 23 other kids who[m] I’ve bonded with so much. […] It’s pretty much a handpicked community of other high school juniors, so you’re guaranteed to form great connections,” she said. 

According to studies by the American Psychological Association (AHA), living abroad can enhance creativity and reduce intergroup bias, which are both reasons why many students choose to embark on exchange or abroad programs. Reynolds is in agreement with these findings and has seen her experience in D.C. as an enlightening one thus far. “When you are around people you haven’t known up to a [certain] point in your life, you definitely figure out who you are at the core of everything,” she said. 

Nonetheless, Reynolds is worried about returning to Menlo in the second semester. “I know that there’s definitely going to be a tough transition back to Menlo because some of the classes don’t translate over,” she said. Despite this concern, Reynolds is not too anxious because of her trust in Menlo’s flexibility. “Classes shouldn’t be the deciding factor [in choosing to participate in exchange programs] because Menlo will always work with you to transition back home,” she said.

Reynolds is one of only two Menlo students who have been a part of SEGL’s semester-long program, so she strives to get more members of the Menlo community involved. “I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in an abroad program, […] and I really hope that we get another Menlo student in the future.”