Rams on the Rise, January 2020

Rams on the Rise

Where in the world are Port Chester High School students Abilene Guzman and Syed Mehdi?

Currently, the two students are at PCHS, but that is not always the case. This past summer, they were part of The Experiment in International Living, an immersive summer abroad program. The two traveled to different places in Asia. More recently, the two were in London for the New Year’s Day Parade, participating in the Saints Brigade, a drum and bugle corps based in Port Chester. Where will they go next?

Abilene, a junior, will finish her high school education in June 2021, although she is looking at the possibility of traveling abroad again this summer. Syed, a senior, may travel to a family wedding in Pakistan over the summer before heading off to college.

Before they jet off to a new and exciting destinations, the two sat down to talk about their unique experience traveling to Asia.

Abilene, who visited Thailand, said she was surprised to look out a window and see monkeys running around in a similar fashion to the squirrels she sees at home in New York. They were not the only animal she became familiar with during her month-long adventure in July. She was also able to spend time with rescued elephants at a sanctuary where they spend the rest of their days being cared for and protected from abuse.

Syed traveled to Japan where he spent time with local high school-aged students and enjoyed learning about their perspectives on world events.

When Abilene applied to The Experiment in International Living, she had three countries on her wish list: Vietnam, Thailand and Japan. Abilene, who attended Port Chester’s Thomas Edison Elementary School, said that the program also offered visits to several Latin American countries; however, due to her fluency in Spanish, she knew she could travel always there on her own. For her summer abroad, she was looking for something completely different.

Part of the experience for both students was to stay with local families. Abilene’s host families lived in a variety of locations, some rural and some urban. She also had the opportunity to teach English to young students at a school.

“I got attached to a few of them and there were tears when I had to leave,” she said.

She also learned to cook some Thai dishes, which required her to shop for the ingredients she needed. She said that shopping in a market for unfamiliar items and attempting to communicate to shopkeepers was an interesting experience.

Syed was also immersed in Japanese culture during his trip abroad. He had a three-day orientation and a week-long language class.

“They made it interesting,” he said of the instructors. “They only spoke in Japanese.”

Like Abilene, Syed also enjoyed homestays with local families and was required to shop on his own too. He visited a Japanese high school, which gave him an opportunity to practice his Japanese while also learning about teen life in the country.

Syed, who attended John F. Kennedy Elementary School, said that he was motivated by friends who had traveled, including his own sister, who had visited China.

“Also, in history class, I learned about ancient Japanese history and I was interested in that,” he said, adding that Japan was his first choice of places to visit, followed by France and China.

“I was really intrigued to go to another country,” Abilene said of what inspired her to apply to the program. “The details scared me at first because a month is a pretty long time.”

After meeting with officials from the organization, the representatives were very persuasive and since Abilene did not have any plans for the summer, she thought it would be a good time to go.

Both students visited Buddhist temples in their respective countries. Abilene noted that she visited 15 temples – each one more fascinating than the last. “They were huge,” she said. “There were Buddha statues everywhere and each one was so different. I did a meditation retreat at one.”

One of the temples Syed visited was atop a mountain, requiring him and his group to hike there. At another temple, there was a purification ritual taking place, and he joined in the celebration.

“When I came back, my confidence was way up,” Syed said, adding that having to speak in Japanese contributed to his new attitude. He said too, that he now has a more global perspective.

Abilene shared a similar sentiment: “I ended up appreciating the little things we have here. I feel like I came back a little nicer. They call Thailand ‘the land of smiles.’ They are not interested in material things. At home, I’m more appreciative of my family and less interested in material things now.”

Although she has time to make a decision, Abilene said her recent travels have her thinking about one day teaching English outside of the United States.

Syed is planning on majoring in biomedical engineering at either SUNY Stony Brook or SUNY Binghamton while he continues to travel the world and study abroad.