Angelina Freeman, class of ‘20 

Angelina is one student who does not back down from a challenge—she spent her junior year in Indonesia, on a prestigious Department of State scholarship (YES Abroad). She attended school, lived with a host family, and learned the Indonesian language and culture. 

Angelina’s experiences showed her that: 

a) she can do anything she sets her mind to, and 

b) she wants to live and work abroad in her future career. 

Now, she is preparing to fly to Jordan for the entire summer, to further her studies in Arabic. 

What motivated Angelina to apply for a study abroad scholarship in the first place? 

Angelina says that her 9th grade language teacher, Ms. Hennigan, was a big reason behind her decision. “She is the best human ever! I wanted to be like her.” 

Because of respect and admiration for Ms. Hennigan, Angelina became motivated to learn multiple languages. Ms. Hennigan speaks Basque, Spanish, and French, as well as English. 

That year, as Angelina was recovering from a gymnastics-related injury, she started researching French summer programs. As Angelina started to figure out what it would cost, her parents had said, “you can go if you find a way to not make us pay for it.” 

“Anyone with $15,000 can apply and go to virtually any country. But money is a big barrier to studying abroad. There are programs that are cheaper than others, like Rotary, but your family has to take a student as part of an exchange.”

Says Angelina
Menaul School Class of ’20 – Angelina Freeman, bottom row, 2nd from right

Determined, she started Googling “scholarships” for study abroad. The daughter of her mom’s friend had done one of the Department of State programs, and Angelina decided to apply for three: YES Abroad, NSLI-Y, as well as a study abroad program to Germany

In retrospect, it wasn’t “the end of the world” to apply to all three, but in her opinion, she made some mistakes. She recycled some of the essays rather than tailoring them specifically to each program. Overall, it was not that hard to write the essays and get the teacher recommendations she needed. “It was only slightly harder than a college application, and the essay topics were along the lines of, ‘what would you do in this situation’”, so she feels like it is doable for most students to apply. 

When making a decision about which college she would attend, Angelina says that she was encouraged to apply “everywhere” so she had lots of options to choose from. American University gave good financial aid and had programs she was interested in even if she wasn’t quite sure yet. The location was good—in a major city (Washington, D.C.) for studying politics or government.  

It wasn’t so far away that she couldn’t come home pretty easily, and her mom has friends in the D.C. area. She knew she didn’t want to drive, so public transportation was important. As the pandemic hit, she found that American was better prepared to handle communications with students than other colleges she applied to, which sealed her decision. They conducted online Q & A sessions and seemed to know what they were doing. 

The first semester was “not very fun.” She was reading around 100 pages for just one class, as homework. For the first class alone, she read a 30-page article. Doing classes online was intimidating—some students are more outspoken and competitive, and people participating just to sound smart. It was hard to not feel judged. She mentioned “classism”, in that the students who attended prestigious east coast boarding schools sounded way smarter than she did, and it was really hard to make friends online. 

But Angelina held her own! Second semester was better in person. There was a little less reading, and it was rewarding to come out with good grades and new confidence. She is looking forward to going to restaurants on campus, and there will be many opportunities to do activities on the east coast that she’s been wanting to do. D.C. is so close in proximity to other cities, and she is excited to explore. 

What about the decision to buy a one-way ticket to Jordan, to study Arabic from June to August? 

Angelina took beginning level Arabic courses in her first semester and is part of the Arabic club. Her Arabic professor sends out resources, which is how she found out about the summer program, which would allow her to immerse herself in the language while staying on track to graduate on time. She had an option to study for half the summer, but “that’s not my thing”. She wanted full immersion for a longer time period, to get the most out of her experience. 

The school in Jordan, the Sijal Institute, helped plan a homestay and figuring out the logistics. “They are very responsive.” When considering that she only ever chooses difficult things for herself to do, she said, “The alphabet really threw me off for a while. Even though we learned the name of the letter and the sound it makes, when it comes to saying it aloud and writing it are very challenging, even if you recognize it.” 

In her opinion, it is not harder than Indonesian, and they share some similar grammatical constructs and vocabulary. “I took years and years of French, but don’t speak it well. Even though the Department of State categorizes Arabic a “5” in difficulty (out of 5), she is sure that the immersion will make it easier—but she is humble when considering her own ability with language, making it clear that it is an uphill climb either way. 

Long term goals? “I’m maybe still piecing it together. Global health in grad school? I know I want to live abroad, bounce around, learn lots of languages.” She’s considering a career in Foreign Service, though “there are lots of downsides to that”, it’s an example of the type of job that would fit how she wants to live her life. 

If you were to tell 9th grade Angelina that she would be studying Arabic in Jordan, in the summer of 2021 (during a global pandemic, no less) she might not have believed you. 

Advice to future students interested in study abroad? 

“If you see a program that looks cool, apply to it. Get close to your teachers, you’ll do better in the class and you are more likely to get good letters of rec as well as advice.” 

A key takeaway from Angelina’s experiences: if you are interested in study abroad, “just go for it”. You have to try in order to make it happen—these amazing opportunities won’t just fall in your lap. A bit of forethought now, will open many doors for you in the future that you might not even think are possible. 

Angelina’s example should show that anything is possible, with the right mix of determination and support. 

Speaking of support, if you are a Menaul School student curious about study abroad programs, International Admission Director Laura Hille will meet with you, help you develop a plan, and guide you through the application process. Email LHille@menaulschool.org

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *