Sewickley Academy student selected for international education

Friday, September 20, 2019 | 6:01 AM


It was a dare from a friend at Sewickley Academy that led Ella Zhou to study abroad in India a year ago.

That experience led to another journey overseas this year for Ella, 16, who is spending her final two years of high school at the United World College-Red Cross Nordic campus in Flekke, Norway.

“It’s such a rare opportunity, especially to travel abroad in high school, and then to be able to travel abroad for two years,” said Ella, of Indiana, Pa., on a Skype call from Norway with the Sewickley Herald. “It was an easy decision.”

Ella, who attended Sewickley Academy her freshman and sophomore year, was new at the school when a friend who also was applying for the U.S. Department of State’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship dared her to apply.

She thought, “What the heck?… I’m probably not going to get in, and plus, I didn’t have anything to do that summer.”

To her surprise, they bothgot in.

Ella spent seven weeks last summer in Pune, India, studying intensive language courses in Hindi.

It was on that trip that she met someone studying at the United World College program. With 18 campuses across the world, the program is a place where students from across the globe come together to attend their junior and senior year of high school.

“I never really saw myself traveling internationally,” said Ella.

But the experience she had in India changed everything.

There were 18 youths from across the U.S. with all different backgrounds who found commonalities, she said.

Being abroad for a short time, she realized that she began to try things she normally wouldn’t at home.

“That kind of experience was really interesting and mind blowing to look around and see all of these other people that, if I ran into at home, I might not have been friends with,” she said.

Learning about the United World College program, Ella decided to apply.

She knew it would take years — and lots of money — to travel to 100 different countries and get to know people at each. At the school, she’d have the opportunity to get to know that many cultures in one place.

Ella was one of 55 U.S. students selected as a Davis Scholar, receiving a $50,000 merit-based scholarship to help offset the cost of her two years, said Carl-Martin Nelson, who works at the school’s U.S. campus, which awarded the scholarship.

“They’re actually selected on their desire to change the world,” Nelson said. “We really want to create the next generation of global leaders.”

While half of the Davis Scholar recipients attend UWC-USA in New Mexico, the other half go abroad.

Ella, whose parents moved to the U.S. from China when they were in their 30s, wanted to experience a part of the world she didn’t already know.

The Norway school shares a campus with a rehabilitation center, Ella said. As part of her extra academic commitments, she provides tours of her school to people in the rehabilitation center.

Ella lives in a student village, with five houses and eight rooms in each. In each room, there are five students from across the world.

Lessons are taught in English.

There’s so much to do after school and on weekends, Ella wants to partake in it all. She doesn’t want to miss any experiences.

The living situation is preparing her for college, she said. And being with people from so many countries, she’s hoping to get a better understanding of their cultures.

“It’s really important to me that I’m able to cultivate myself in a way that I’m able to meet anyone and have some sort of understanding (of them),” she said. She also hopes to shed any “internal biases and prejudices” that she might have during her time abroad.

While Ella plans to return to the U.S. for college, she knows that all could change over the next two years as she sees more of the world.

“I don’t really know where I’m going to end up,” she said.