Studying abroad inspires, opens doors to ancient and modern cultures

At Wakefield Country Day School, languages old and new flow from children’s pencils, and foreign words roll from their tongues. Students find themselves enjoying the traditions of all cultures, joining in the festivities of International Day, Medieval Banquet, urban French film festivals, Spanish theater productions, or National Junior Classical League conventions.

“Modern foreign language instruction begins in preschool; Latin study begins in seventh grade,” reads the WCDS website. Students may pursue either Spanish or French, and they learn about other cultures from their peers, many of whom have come from China, Hong Kong, or Vietnam to study amidst the beauty of Huntly, Virginia.

Numerous students current and former, especially Aaron Corbett, Merriam Abboud, and Cailey Glennon, have found themselves inspired to take these strong foundations in language one step further.

Merriam Abboud poses for a picture with her friend, Miku Hata, and … a deer? “The deer here are nice. They don’t fear humans,” she says. Courtesy photo

Aaron Corbett, who graduated in 2016 and is now a finance major and a German minor at Indiana University, seemingly paved the way for a recent string of WCDS students to consider studying abroad.

Aaron smiles in front of a mural portraying both the American and German flags. He offers, “The craziest part of my study abroad was… how hard it was to leave a life in Germany.” Courtesy photo

For the 2013/2014 school year, he studied abroad through the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) program in Mainz, a small city located in south-central Germany near Frankfurt. CBYX is a U.S. State Department-funded congressional scholarship that allows 50 American students to live and study in Germany for a year.

While abroad, he took his school’s typical 10th grade student curriculum, and all of his classes except for English and French were taught in German.

Over the course of the year he had two host families, and he still keeps in touch with one of them through text message almost every single day.

“[The family] was a single mother and her son, both of whom had no experience with foreign students, which I think was a benefit for me, in that they just really lived their lives with me, rather than treating me as a ‘foreign student,’” he recalls.

Since his time studying abroad in Germany concluded, Aaron has begun studying Chinese through Indiana University’s Language Flagship program, a nationwide language program for university students to become fluent in languages vital to national security, such as Arabic, Turkish, Swahili, Russian, and others.

Unlike his time in Germany, where he was completely immersed in the German language, Aaron has spent most of his first year at IU studying Chinese in a classroom setting. “The ultimate goal is to be equally fluent in Chinese and German. I will just take a different path for each language to reach that goal,” he explains.

“I think for me, the intersection of German, French, Chinese, and English is going to make me very valuable in the job market, and will give me a unique perspective between Sino-European relations and business,” he foresees. “My most important personal goal is to always have a plan; it’s ok if it changes, as long as I have something to work towards. My current goal is to work in energy and infrastructure investment from Europe and China into Africa, because that will allow me to use my language and finance abilities, and combine it with my passion for traveling.”

Yet, even as Aaron looks forward to these future goals, he admits that his time studying abroad has changed the way he looks at the world and life.

“I think the biggest thing I took away from my year [abroad] was the ability to become incredibly adaptable to new situations, no matter how stressful or sudden. People are often afraid of what they don’t know, and some of the best things I have done since coming home from Germany have stemmed from me being willing to take a leap of faith and try something completely out of my comfort zone,” he says.

Aaron also explains that the European idea of “compartmentalization” has changed his productivity and his focus.

“Americans really don’t understand the concept of compartmentalization. We eat while we drive and send work emails in bed. I very much learned the idea of sitting down for meals, spending time with the family on Sunday, and doing one thing at a time. That idea of compartmentalization has helped to clear my mind,” he reflects.

Similar to Aaron, Merriam Abboud (‘17) decided to follow her passion for language abroad. Since June, she has been teaching English to Japanese students at the Eisu Gakkan School in Fukuyama, Hiroshima, Japan. On a typical day, she works in the library (where conversational English classes are held), translates books and passages, answers questions about the English language, and teaches students about modern Western cultures.

Ever since she began studying Japanese in an immersion school around 6 years ago, Merriam knew she wanted to teach English to students.

“It has become the common language of business and communication,” she says. “English gives students many opportunities on a more global scale. Japan was only natural for my first English teaching experience.”

Since she began her job earlier this summer, Merriam has had the opportunity to travel and partake in many important Japanese customs.

Recalling a visit to Hiroshima City, she remarks, “Hiroshima City was really eye opening. It was incredible to see how much they have recovered from World War II … It was really sensitive to be there, seeing the peace memorials and the few buildings left standing after [the use of] a nuclear weapon.”

In addition to Hiroshima City, Merriam has also visited Osaka, Kyoto, and some local places near Eisu Gakkan, and has partaken in the traditional “tea ceremonies,” in which one walks on tatami mats, or hand-sewn floorboard made out of rice straw, and mixes tea for whomever is hosting the ceremony.

“It involves a lot of spinning your bowl around a certain number of times, facing a certain direction, and other quirks that are unique to Japan. It is very interesting,” Merriam says.

Merriam and her friend Miku Hata share a meal. Merriam is vegan, so eating in Japan can be very difficult–her diet consists of mostly cabbage, rice, and sea vegetables. Courtesy photo

After more than a month abroad, Merriam has begun to notice the differences, and the allure, of both Japanese and Western cultures.

“I wish that America could use the same sustainability practices as Japan,” she laments. “Everything here is build to last, there is no litter, and people walk everywhere. There aren’t even trash cans on the street — the whole country probably produces the same amount of trash as just my six person family.”

Yet, Merriam admits that she has come to miss her home nestled atop a mountain near Sperryville.

“Oh my, I’m homesick,” she says. “I miss our trees and the way the mountains turn blue. I would really like to make a run to Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen right now, but it’s just a bit too far away . . . Generally adapting to a completely foreign environment where you are about a foot taller than everyone is hard. It’s difficult because you can never fit in.”

Merriam plans to return to Rappahannock from her overseas experience in August and will begin her first year at University of Virginia this upcoming fall.

While Merriam nears the end of her abroad experience this summer, Cailey Glennon (’20) is just now preparing for a foreign adventure of her own.

Cailey, who will be studying in Hong Kong in the Tuen Mun district through the American Field Service, plans to leave on August 17, and will return home on July 22, 2018.

“For me, deciding to study in another country for the year wasn’t necessarily a hard decision. My mom had gone to Ecuador with the Rotary Program when she was my age, and [my brother] Shane spent a year in France, so I was already very used to the idea of it before I had even made my decision. I found the situation in Hong Kong to be ideal because it’s a very different experience from [the experience] the majority of kids get who go to European countries,” she explains.

Cailey believes that the ability to interact with students and people of another culture will be the greatest benefit she will take away from her rapidly approaching experience abroad. She remarks, “I think being able to meet all the people, not only the other exchange students but also the kids in my school and my host family, is overall going to be beneficial to my experience there.”

While in Hong Kong, Cailey will be taking courses with other exchange students in Chinese language and culture.

“I will miss my family and friends, but I’m just excited to see new things,” Cailey says.

Indisputably, all three of these students will bring back to Rappahannock a newfound knowledge of the world that will help their school and community blossom. “When you learn a new language, literally a whole new world opens up,” Aaron describes.

Jessica Lindstrom, Principal of Wakefield Country Day School, commends all three of these students for furthering their education in language, praising: “A number of students, like Cailey, Aaron, Merriam, and others, have been motivated to go beyond the normal curriculum study . . As teachers we encourage them to do so and are proud of their pluck and initiative, hoping upon their return they will share with us the wisdom and perspectives they have gained from their unique experiences.”

About Monica Marciano 9 Articles
Monica Marciano is a rising second year at the University of Virginia from Front Royal, Va. She is the intern for Foothills Forum and Rappahannock News for the summer of 2017.