How a High School Semester Abroad Changed My Life

July 18, 2015

For some students, the best academic learning experiences occur outside of the classroom. For ccg32, Barnard ‘19, taking a semester through CITYterm helped challenge her mentally, emotionally, and academically. By the end of the program, she gained new interests and hobbies, and had developed a brand new understanding of herself.

In January of 2014 I began the spring semester of my junior year at CITYterm, an intensive semester-long experience-­based learning program that uses New York City as a classroom and laboratory. We were taught to challenge ourselves academically and personally by taking risks and developing metacognitive skills, such as creating a dialogic relationship with the texts we read and drawing from diverse sources. Over the course of four months, I used the city not only to develop these valuable skills, but also to promote my own sense of adventure wherever and whenever I could. I experienced first-hand the different styles of learning, the pros and cons of a traditional schooling system, and above all the importance of experiential learning, which would later greatly influence my decision to attend college in New York City.

CITYterm’s curriculum emphasizes experiential learning and revolves around the study of NYC by using the “Urban Core,” a set of three classes: Urban Environments, the History of New York, and the Literature of New York. The curriculum functions on a six-day rotation Monday through Saturday, with three days spent in the classroom and three days spent in NYC actively exploring whatever students are learning about at the moment. Asides from this highly hands-on approach to learning, CITYterm also sets itself apart in that it doesn’t assign traditional letter grades to students’ work. Instead, teachers give extensive feedback on each assignment and provide students with a list of skills they should attempt to master by the end of the program. Rather than creating a uniform set of expectations every student must conform to, CITYterm encourages students to keep improving in the way that’s best for them personally, no matter what level they are at. During my time in NYC, I truly learned the meaning of taking charge of my education. Instead of obsessing over getting an “A,” which I had a tendency of doing at my traditional high school, I pushed myself to learn because I wanted to, not because I had to.

A perfect example of an assignment that embodies the principles of CITYterm was our final project. We were asked to write a paper exploring the history of something related to New York City. Because of my strong interest in finance, I decided to research the collapse of Merrill Lynch. Before CITYterm, my definition of a “diverse” pool of academic resources was limited to newspapers, books, and websites. But while taking my core classes at CITYterm, I was trained to think about not just the information I could find in written mediums, but also the points of view I could gather with the multitude of human and physical resources surrounding me. I interviewed a Senior Executive at Merrill Lynch, worked my way onto the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and visited the Museum of American Finance on Wall Street among other interesting places.

CITYterm showed me a vibrant world where people know how to take full advantage of their education to explore whatever interests them and gain as many new experiences as possible. This wonderful program taught me that taking advantage of what you have can lead you on an adventure of a brief moment or a lifetime. Most importantly, I learned that my adventurous spirit and motivation to learn could, and now does, live within me.

To learn more about CITYterm, please check out their website: If you found this piece interesting, leave us a comment below and tell us why!

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