BHS students gain new perspectives, foster connections abroad


“Going to school in Spain opened me up to a lot of different opinions and a lot of different insights,” said Liam Graham, a Berkeley High School senior who spent a semester studying abroad at the American School of Madrid, an international school in Madrid, Spain. 

For BHS senior Emma Claus, studying abroad at Hiyoshigaoka High School for a year in Kyoto, Japan was an opportunity for her to continue learning the Japanese language. “Before COVID-19 I started learning Japanese, and it was something I was really passionate about …(BHS) didn’t offer Japanese (and) it’s really hard to learn a language by yourself,” said Claus. 

Annamaria Acosta-Ferezi was nominated by a teacher for a two-week-long international program in the Dominican Republic called Global Glimpse. Unlike traditional study abroad programs where students attend local schools, Global Glimpse gives students the opportunity to learn about a variety of systems, careers, and businesses in Latin American countries. 

“(I wanted to go because) it was an opportunity to grow and learn about new cultures, government policies, and foreign aid being used in (the Dominican Republic),” said Acosta-Ferezi. 

For Graham, making friends at his small international school was difficult at first. “It seemed like everyone kind of already had their friends so it took me a while to break into the new social scene … At first, people weren’t super friendly and welcoming. I’m used to this California ‘talk to everyone’ energy,” said Graham. 

Outside of school, Graham made connections with people through shared experiences and his hobbies like skateboarding and diving. “I got to keep doing diving while I was in Spain at an international aquatic center … I got to talk with other divers my age in Spanish … it was nice to have friends outside of school that spoke Spanish (because) it really pushed me to not rely on going to people who already spoke really good English,” said Graham.

At first, Claus found it difficult to adjust to the rigorous academics of her school in Kyoto, Japan. On top of the challenging classes and busy schedule, Claus was still learning Japanese which made it even more difficult for her to keep up with class. “It was really difficult to learn in school, and I ended up working towards being more social and doing a social experience rather than an academic one,” said Claus. 

Despite the language barrier, Claus still was able to find ways to connect with her peers. “We were doing miming, and if I couldn’t do it, I would explain bigger concepts with smaller words … People in my school were super friendly and they were really excited to talk even if we didn’t really understand,” said Claus. “You can relate to who you’re talking to because your peers are still your age and people want to interact.”

While in the Dominican Republic, Acosta-Ferezi made connections with the local teenagers. “I met some people who’d ask me for advice. That was a weird situation because we live very different lives, but at the end of the day, being an adolescent has its similar challenges wherever you are, and a lot of the feelings are the same,” said Acosta-Ferezi. 

Acosta-Ferezi also made connections with her peers from the Bay Area who were in her cohort.  “(Global Glimpse) works to bring together kids of different socioeconomic backgrounds and heritage backgrounds … that in itself was a rewarding experience because we all had our different interpretation of what we were seeing, and I felt like (I) became more empathetic with (my) own peers,” said Acosta-Ferezi.

Graham’s semester in Spain helped him improve his Spanish and broadened his perspective on the world. “Being in Berkeley, we’re definitely surrounded by people who share certain opinions on a lot of things (and) being able to live in another place in the world opens up your ability to have a more global mindset,” said Graham.

During her international program, Acosta-Ferezi built lasting friendships with her peers and learned more about careers she was interested in. “ I think it (was) a really rewarding experience and it makes you reflect a lot on your life here … The most rewarding (part) was (learning about) different careers like aid and development which is something I’d always been interested in,” said Acosta-Ferezi.

For Claus, spending a year in Japan was a memorable experience that inspired her to want to study abroad again in the future. “I’m totally gonna study abroad again in college … I think it’s really worth studying abroad for all the experiences and for learning about different cultures and languages,” said Claus.