Five seniors spent their junior years traveling and studying abroad

Julia Cherner

Seniors Delaney Benstead, Taylor Benstead, Mia Samson, Ryan Swanson, and Marisa Robinow each spent portions of their junior year studying abroad. The Bark spoke to them about the highlights and challenges of their experiences and why they made the decision to take time off from Redwood. All five of them said they would recommend the experience of living in a foreign country and cited immersion as the best way to learn a language.

Delaney Benstead – France

Delaney Benstead and her twin, Taylor, both decided to leave their lives in Marin to study abroad their junior year. Delaney chose to go to France with School Year Abroad because she had been studying French at Redwood.

Senior Delaney Benstead spent her junior year studying in Rennes, France.
Senior Delaney Benstead spent her junior year studying in Rennes, France.

 

She stayed with a French host family and studied at an American school with 70 other students, but all of her classes, excluding English and Precalculus, were taught in French.

“[The trip] was intense coming from only two years of French. Delaney said. “From day one, they would say instructions like ‘We are going to the train station and this is how you get there’ in French and I had no idea what they were talking about. It was kind of a shock and I needed to figure stuff out really quickly.”

Delaney added that her 16-year-old host sister helped her immerse herself in the French language because they chatted every morning while taking the bus to school together.

Because the French education system is structured differently, with six to seven weeks of school and then two weeks off for break, Delaney was able to travel both with the group and with friends.

“The first week we usually did field trips and the second week we could go wherever we wanted with whomever we wanted,” Delaney explained. “For my February break, I went to Rome, Italy, and I stayed there with friends for a week and I also visited my sister, who lived in Italy. I got to see her school and I visited her host family.”

Delaney said that while experiencing a new culture was great, she found it hard to connect with people, even her host sister, due to difference in customs.

“It’s kind of a trade-off. Culture was hard, but also great at the same time. The French are a lot colder than I thought they would be, meaning it wasn’t the easiest to talk to them,” Delaney said. “In America, if I’m upset with my family I can just say what’s upsetting me and talk about it. With my host family, if they were ever upset we wouldn’t even talk about it, we’d just sit in silence.”

Delaney recommends the experience of studying or living abroad to everyone who can.

“You just grow so much as a person living somewhere you don’t know the language.  Your perspectives change immensely,” she said.

Taylor Benstead – Italy

Like her sister, Taylor Benstead also spent her year abroad with School Year Abroad, but in Italy.

Celebrating New Year's Eve, sisters Taylor and Delaney Benstead overlook the town of Rennes, France from a bridge.
Celebrating New Year’s Eve, sisters Taylor and Delaney Benstead overlook the town of Rennes, France from a bridge.

 

“I’ve always wondered about what else is out there, like the classic ‘Marin Bubble,’ but I never really thought of it as a bubble, I thought of it more as a building block,” Taylor said. “I got to build off of that and see what else is out there.”

Taylor said that the biggest challenge for her was the responsibility of being independent from her family back home.

“One of the first things we did was go to Rome,” Taylor said. “They basically said, ‘Here’s your assignment. Go figure it out and we’ll see you in school on Monday.’ So we had to figure out where all these things were––it was basically a scavenger hunt around the whole city––and how to get back.”

Taylor said that through the challenges, she learned much more than what a school could provide, and came to see the value in “getting lost.”

“Getting lost is not the worst thing, whether it be direction-wise, whether it be situation-wise,” Taylor said. “That’s one of the main things I learned. Exploring different opportunities and getting lost are some of the best things that could happen to you because you get to figure out things in new ways.”

Because of her decision to immerse herself as much as she could, Taylor became very close with her host family. She said that the language barrier is only as hard as you make it.

“If you surrender to each situation to each circumstance and say, ‘Oh, I just don’t understand,’ you’re just limiting yourself and your opportunities,” Taylor said. “I would recommend pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and taking risks. Those are some of the most important learning tools in the world.”

Mia Samson – Spain

Mia Samson spent her junior year studying abroad in Spain with Rotary Youth Exchange. She lived with a Spanish family while a student from Spain stayed with her family in the United States.

Roaming the streets of Cordoba, a town two hours outside of Murcia, Spain, senior Mia Samson and her friend admire the architecture.
Roaming the streets of Cordoba, a town two hours outside of Murcia, Spain, senior Mia Samson and her friend admire the architecture.

“Going into the year, I just did not know Spanish,” Samson said. “I was always the worst in my Spanish class. But I got there, and you just pick up the language so fast.”

Samson attended a Spanish school and all of her classes were taught in Spanish. She said that when you’re immersed in a language, you have no choice but to speak it.

“It was a lot of hand motions at the beginning but you just really pick it up easily because you have to communicate,” Samson said. “I had a host family, so I had to tell them what I needed. [Communicating in Spanish] wasn’t a ‘have-to’ after a while, it became a ‘want-to’ and I was spending my nights on different translator apps just trying learn more of the language and immerse myself.”

Samson said that—while being away from and seeing people go through experiences she wasn’t a part of was hard—she faced one of the biggest challenges when she returned and wanted to share her experiences with her friends but didn’t know how.

“It’s unexplainable––you can’t explain a whole year,” Samson explained. “Everything changes around you––where you are, your people, your language. All of the sudden your life just drops and it’s a whole new one. You change everything. It’s hard coming back and your friends not really understanding that completely.”

Ryan Swanson – Spain

For  Ryan Swanson, the decision to study abroad was quite last-minute. Two months before the school year began, he decided he wanted a change and ended up choosing to spend his junior year in Spain. He didn’t go with a program because he already knew a family living in Spain. Swanson lived with them for the year and played tennis.

Touring Barcelona, Spain, senior Ryan Swanson and his other visit the Catedral de Barcelona.
Touring Barcelona, Spain, senior Ryan Swanson and his mother visit the Catedral de Barcelona.

Swanson attended a Spanish public high school with two of his host siblings, one of whom is now staying with his family in Marin this year. He said that the biggest challenge of the experience was getting situated there.

“I had to get acquainted really fast, it was kind of a live or die situation,” Swanson said. “So I had to learn Spanish and figure everything out very quickly.”

Though Swanson had minimal experience with Spanish, he had taken two years of French previous to his trip, which he said helped him learn Spanish faster.

“I was fluent after about 4 months. You have to when you’re in Spain,” Swanson said.

Swanson said it was hard to have enough self-motivation to move to another country when he was unfamiliar with the language. However, he believes the experience is ultimately worth it.

“It’s hard to push yourself to where you’re comfortable living in another country and stay committed to that idea,” Swanson said. “Overall I had an amazing experience. I learned the language, experienced a new culture, and it changed my life. Making yourself do it is the hardest part.”

Marisa Robinow – Israel

Marisa Robinow decided to spend the second semester of her junior year in Israel with a program of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) called EIE High School in Israel.

Pictured here at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel, senior Marisa Robinow spent her second semester studying in Israel.
Pictured here at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel, senior Marisa Robinow spent her second semester studying in Israel.

 

“I’ve been going to Jewish summer camp for 10 summers and I loved it,” Robinow said. “It’s exposed me to a new side of the Jewish community. It was my junior year and I was kind of sick of the same old thing. I had always heard so much about Israel and I always wanted to go there.”

Her four-month trip consisted of 11 hours of schooling a day, and twice-a-week field trips around and outside of Israel. Robinow and 72 other students in the program hiked Masada, a historically significant site, spent a week in Poland visiting Holocaust concentration camps, and swam in the Dead Sea, among many other trips.

“We’d go to the places we were learning about in Jewish history and see what had happened there, which was really cool,” Robinow said.

Robinow said she only knew very basic Hebrew going into the trip, but the experience of living in Israel and immersing herself in the language made her much more confident in speaking and writing it.

“I learned so much more [Hebrew] outside of the classroom, being in Israel and hearing people speak and living in the land and learning the culture,” Robinow said.

Robinow added that while leaving home for the trip was a tough decision for her to make, she ultimately felt she would miss out on more by staying at Redwood.  

“I would recommend pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, taking risks––those are some of the most important learning tools in the world,” Robinow said.