As an English teacher, Kimberly Baker (above) understands the power of reflective writing. She joined the SYA faculty in 2011, teaching three years in Zaragoza and four in Rennes. Over that time, she’s watched hundreds of students grapple with life in a different language—homesickness and exhilaration and everything in between.
From Baker’s perspective, English class helps students analyze the ebb and flow of their experience. While practicing the essay form, students ask questions and gain insights that help cement their intercultural learning. “In fact,” she says, “research confirms that the most effective study abroad experience includes a reflective component in the native language.”
“We can help students go farther as learners if we become more intentional with our advising program.”— Kimberly Baker
Now Baker is working to apply this research beyond English class. She heads the faculty team responsible for SYA’s first comprehensive student advising program. Currently in its pilot year, the program implements common themes and activities on all four campuses. Baker designed the advising curriculum to complement SYA’s academic curriculum in support of experiential, place-based learning.
“Everything intersects at SYA,” Baker explains, “and our role as mentors and guides must extend beyond the classroom. Whether we’re talking about field work, life with a host family, or extracurricular activities, these conversations are interrelated. We can help students go farther as learners if we become more intentional with our advising program.”
SYA’s advising structure now includes four group meetings per month with roughly seven students per faculty advisor. Two meetings are devoted to the advising curriculum; the others to weekly school business. Month by month, topics mirror the school year, beginning with issues like goal-setting and culture shock and later incorporating capstone project skills and the return home.
Baker reports that the team will make some small adjustments for next year, but on the whole the structure has been a great success. Long term, SYA wants to make a larger investment in faculty professional development to keep teachers up-to-speed on adolescent development and mentoring.
“Because SYA believes in student-driven learning, we want our advising to be highly personal,” she explains. “The point is to equip students to define and pursue their own growth—not just at SYA, but throughout life. They may not recognize it right away, but SYA is an experience that will keep giving. When they leave, it’s not the end; it’s the beginning of many great years ahead. If they’ve learned to live within the global reality that we as humans share, and to reflect on their own values and beliefs within that context, then we’ve fulfilled our mission.”