Fiona Sullivan Headed to Ghana to Study
When Fiona Sullivan was a freshman at Amherst Central High School, she knew she wanted to study abroad for her senior year. She also knew what it would take - she would have to do four years of classwork in three years. Calling herself "very driven," she doubled up on English and social studies courses, completed her required science classes by eighth-grade and front loaded her electives. She also passed all her classes and became eligible, as a junior, to graduate a year early.
In September, she is using her "senior" year to study abroad in Ghana, Africa through the U.S. Department of State's Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Abroad (YES Abroad) program. She won the Kennedy-Lugar Scholarship, a fully-funded award that is on par with the Fulbright Scholar Program for adults. She will live with a host family in Ghana and attend school from September through June 2019.
"I will still graduate and walk with my Amherst High School class in 2019," she said. "I knew as a freshman that I wanted to apply to the program. I had heard about it from former students who did a similar program."
Her travel experience so far is not that broad. She went on a service trip with the ACHS Foreign Language Department to Costa Rica for 5-6 days last year and she's been to Toronto.
Known as fearless Fiona, the 16-year old looks forward to the food, experiencing a different culture of people, living with the host family (who she has not yet met) and seeing things in a new perspective. She is familiar with the food through her African dance instructor who is from Ghana. In her scholarship application, she ranked Ghana as her first choice due to her background with African dance.
Her school hours will be 7 am to 3 p.m. and her year will have a cultural focus. She is required to learn a regional dialect and she chose Twi, (pronounced twee), a dialect of the Akan language spoken in southern and central Ghana. She'll have to wear a school uniform which she said takes away worrying about clothing choices for school.
"An opportunity likes this opens up their world to all different perspectives that they would never be able to experience within the U.S. or in our community," said Timothy Wiles, dean of students at Amherst Central High School. "Amherst prides itself on developing well-rounded students, there's no better test than going all the way around the world. My hope is that she takes all that she learns and carries that forward to her career and college. Fiona is truly unique and I could not think of a better person to be going on this trip."
Fiona's favorite subject has always been social studies and she especially loved her government classes with teacher Anne Ward, who participated in the Netherlands Fulbright Scholar program. Fiona was also in the Spanish club, tennis team, DECA, and the Red Cross club.
She has not applied to college yet. She will apply in the fall and wants to study international relations with a minor in criminal justice. She wants a career where she can work with many different people and travel the world. As an alumni of the state department study abroad program, she will have future connections for internships or job offers.
She has one older brother who also has the wanderlust and studied abroad in college traveling to India for a three-month national outdoor student leadership program.
"A lot of people are saying that they could not do it. I'm excited," she said.