Story Central

Expecting the Unexpected

SYA’s first Alvarez Global Scholars make the best of an unprecedented year.

They say that when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. Like many of their classmates, SYA’s very first Alvarez Global Scholars will tell you that they also made traditional cider, cheese, lifelong friends, and memories that will help shape how they ultimately see the world.

Frances Lebowitz IT’20 of Berkeley, Calif. and Annika Milliman FR’20 of Hanover, N.H., traveled to Viterbo and Rennes, respectively, last fall thanks to a generous financial aid endowment established by Carlos and Malú Alvarez FR’00P through The Campaign for SYA. Each year going forward, two outstanding public high school students who couldn’t otherwise afford an SYA education will receive a full scholarship to study abroad.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic forced an abrupt exit from their campuses and a subsequent shift to online learning, both 2020 Alvarez Global Scholars agree that their six months abroad provided an invaluable experience. They have set the bar high for this new scholarship program, finding the silver lining while navigating an incredibly challenging year.

Frances Lebowitz IT’20:
“One of the most magical things about Italy is that you just never get used to its beauty,” said Lebowitz, who had been looking forward to traveling to Cyprus to study the conflict between Southern Cyprus and Northern Cyprus when the pandemic altered her plans. She did, however, have the opportunity to go behind the scenes at a cheese factory in Parma, and explore the science involved in creating the perfect sourdough starter in her agroecology class.

“Rather than dwell on the ‘what could have beens,’ I’ve decided to simply be thankful for the life-changing six months I was able to spend in Italy,” she said. “It might sound unrealistic, corny even, but I changed and matured more in that time than I have in my entire life, and SYA has truly changed my life forever.”

As the youngest in her family at home, Lebowitz was thrilled to have a little brother — and five cats — in Viterbo.  Since leaving Italy, she has been checking in regularly with her host family via WhatsApp. “Getting to be a part of someone else’s family is always a privilege, and I feel fortunate that I was able to experience that through SYA’” she said. “From my classmates, to my teachers, to local professors, I have met more extremely dedicated people this year than I have in my whole life.”

In advance of her junior year at Berkeley High School (Calif.), Lebowitz has enrolled in some online summer courses as she begins the college search process. “Ironically, one of my greatest career aspirations is to become an epidemiologist or an infectious disease specialist,” she said. “My other career interest is to be a pediatric emergency doctor or a pediatric oncologist.”

“Rather than dwell on the ‘what could have beens,’ I’ve decided to simply be thankful for the life-changing six months I was able to spend in Italy.”


Annika Milliman FR’20:

“My SYA experience may have been cut short, but in the time that I did have, I gained the most wonderful life memories and moments,” said Milliman, who, with her Rennes classmates, had a front row seat to France’s nationwide labor strike demonstrations last December.

“The French grèves (protests) I attended while at SYA highlighted the importance of experiential learning,” she explained. “All at once, we were taking risks and gaining valuable insight on a crucial aspect of the French culture. This immersion allowed me and my classmates to go beyond what we read of the grèves on the front page of the New York Times or Le Monde.”

“In experiencing these grèves first-hand,” she continued, “we gained much more than simple knowledge and facts, we gained an understanding of the power of a protest.”

As she adjusts to life back home in the U.S., which includes summer work as a nanny, lots of biking and spending time with her friends (at a distance, of course), the Hanover High School (N.H.) rising senior says she is considering attending a smaller liberal arts college and possibly law school.

“I am looking at schools with strong international programs so that I can go back to France and hopefully complete a full year abroad,” she said, “and I am also hoping that working abroad, whether that be in France or another country, will happen as well.”

Had her time in Rennes been extended, Milliman was looking forward to improving her French language skills, spending more time traveling with her new friends and seeing the blue skies and sun of Bretagne.

“I will forever value this opportunity to go abroad, make new friends and find out more about who I am.” she said. “I’ve come to realize that expecting the unexpected is about the only thing I can do in these uncertain times.”


With student aid as the top initiative of The Campaign for SYA, resources like the Malú and Carlos Alvarez Global Scholars Fund will help ensure that deserving students from diverse backgrounds have access to an SYA education, regardless of their financial barriers. Learn more about SYA financial aid opportunities here.