Zoe Barbati participated in Putney’s pre-college summer program at Amherst College in 2011. The Pre-College enrichment program’s international community had a particularly positive impact on Zoe and it reignited her interest in the Spanish language. After a stellar summer as a student on this summer academic program at Amherst College, she will be joining Putney once more on our high school summer language immersion program in Costa Rica in 2012. Read on as Zoe describes her experience at Amherst and gives advice to future students.
First off, can you tell us a little bit about your experience as a participant in Putney’s 2011 summer Pre-College enrichment program at Amherst College?
Having the opportunity to spend part of my summer on a pre-college summer program at Amherst College was easily one of the best experiences I’ve had. I was eager to spend the three weeks away from my home in Pennsylvania, but I remember coming on the first day extremely nervous and thinking about everything that could possibly go wrong. However, as soon as I got there I felt at ease because everyone was so genial and welcoming. It was easy to make friends because everyone was in the same position, coming to Amherst from literally all over the world. I had no idea that people came to Pre-College Excel Amherst internationally, so it was amazing to become friends with people from places like Spain, France, and Italy.
I really loved Pre-College Excel Amherst because there was a perfect balance between free time and planned activity time. This was great because you never found yourself bored, but at the same time you weren’t being forced from place to place without any down time. Amherst is a beautiful college town and college campus, so it was awesome that we got to walk into town and get a meal or shop around in between our classes or in the evening. The classes were all really engaging and because you got to choose what classes you signed up for, you got to immerse yourself in something you were really interested in. I took psychology and video production which were two classes I never had time to take in school, but interested me immensely. On the weekends, we went away on excursions. These were also a lot of fun because we got to pick the trip we went on and what we did when we were there. I chose to go to Montreal for the first weekend and we all went to Boston for the second weekend.
Overall, I had an amazing experience with the Pre-College enrichment program at Amherst College and I cannot say enough about how much I loved my summer there.
What excursions or other experiences stood out as your favorites during the summer program at Amherst College?
First of all, I really loved Montreal. It is a place I would probably never go with my family, so it was nice to get to see the city. I remember the first day we were there we walked into the Old City, and it happened to be Canada Day. There was a huge celebration that we accidentally stumbled upon and got to join in with.
I also did the soccer clinic – which I loved. It was really laid back and as long as you were willing to give the effort you could join in and play. I had signed up to keep up my fitness heading into my high school and club soccer seasons and it was great to have the opportunity to play soccer while at Amherst.
What was your social experience like? Can you talk a little bit about the diversity and community of the Pre-College summer program at Amherst College?
As I said before, I had no idea that such a significant portion of the people on the pre-college program at Amherst College were international students. I would say about one third of the students came from outside of the U.S., coming from all over Europe, Asia, and South America. This was fantastic and provided for an amazing social experience. I can now say I have friends all over the world because of the people I met. My roommate was from the U.S., but the girl who was in the room next to us was from Spain so my roommate and I would visit her room every night and we’d all talk. Another thing that sticks out in my mind was during lunch one day, my friend and I were sitting in one of the TV rooms in the dining hall watching the Women’s World Cup, USA vs France. The room was crowded, mainly with people from a soccer camp that was also using the Amherst College campus. Just as the French National Team walked out onto the pitch for the game, three of the French boys burst into the room and starting singing La Marseillaise as loud as they could then left the room as quickly as they came, much to the bewilderment of all the people there. All of this made for amazing atmosphere and community at Excel. Everyday, you grew closer to all the other people there and at the end it was a very tearful goodbye because we all felt like one big family.
Do you still keep in touch with anyone from the summer program?
Of course! There are a few people that I became really good friends with and I’m still in close touch with, and we have a facebook group for everyone who went on the program so we can all keep in touch with one another.
You’ll be joining us again this summer on our high school summer language program in Costa Rica. What made you choose this particular summer program?
I’m very excited to go to Costa Rica this summer because I really want to improve my Spanish! Before Pre-College Excel Amherst, I took Spanish and I was decent at it, but I had no interest in pursuing it past high school. During the program at Amherst however, I became friends with some of the students from Spain, and I would always talk to them (mostly in English, but bits and pieces in Spanish). That’s when language and specifically the Spanish language really began to fascinate me for the first time. I realized how amazing it would if, by the time I am an adult, I could speak fluent Spanish. I have made this my goal and going to Costa Rica is certainly a good start. The main reason I picked Costa Rica was that I wanted a program that really focused on improving my Spanish – something which seemed to be the basis of the Language Learning trips.
What are your hopes for the summer in Costa Rica?
This summer I really want to improve my conversational Spanish. The Spanish we learn at school is typically very “textbook” and formal. I know a lot of vocabulary words and grammatical concepts, but it’s still hard for me to have a conversation in Spanish with people. I am also really excited to learn more practical Spanish and informal Spanish.
Do you have any advice for future pre-college enrichment progra students?
I would say the best thing you can do is be as open and friendly as possible. There are so many amazing and interesting people there, so try to make friends with as many of them of as you can. Don’t be nervous and remember almost everyone comes to the program not knowing a single person, just like you probably will. Also, get involved with as many activities and excursions as you can because there are so many things there that you would maybe never get to do regularly. Last of all, never be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.