One week. That’s how much time stands between me and two weeks of vacation. Exciting.
But on the other hand, that’s seven days until I’m ¾ of the way through my year abroad. Terrifying.
It’s crazy how the same stretch of time can have two such different connotations. As the time continues to fly by, people have begun talking about how close we are to the end. Honestly, the “there are less than 100 days left” conversations have snuck up on me. Despite all the ups and downs, the good weeks and the slow weeks, life at SYA has been chugging along in a comfortable routine for some time now. Even though I mark the passing of each week, it still shocks me to think that after this upcoming break, there’ll be only two months left.
This Sunday, I ran in my first road race in France. Meandering through a commune just outside the city limits with a friend and a hundred or so other women provided a great end to a week full of reflection. This race reminded me that, like I’ve said countless times, it’s not just the destination, but also the journey that matters. Yes, time is slipping away but I’m confident my classmates and I are going to make the most of why we have left, starting with our upcoming class trip to Paris. We’ve run a great race so far and we’re gearing up to finish strong. But it doesn’t matter when we finish, rather, it’s the way we finish and the route we’ve taken that we’ll remember.
This past week swooped in like a breath of fresh air, both literally and figuratively. For the longest time in a while, we had sun EVERY DAY. For Rennes, this was a monumental occasion. Granted, it still managed to shower us with hail one day and pour amidst a glowing sun the next, but I’ll take what I can get.
The fleeting moments of pretty-ish weather helped shed new light (look at me being all punny :P) on what is normally a very dreary stretch, between my birthday til Spring Break. It’s the longest the French go without a break, and the uninterrupted stretch of school was really starting to get to all the expatriate inhabitants of Villa Alverez; clearly, we have absorbed more of the French culture than we realize.
Despite our ever-deepening assimilation (or so I hope) into Frenchness, this week afforded me and my friends some moments of quiet (and not so quiet) Americanitude. As a whole, the French are much less outwordly celebratory about, well, everything, so the Olympics have passed by in a much quieter fashion than I am accustomed to. Nevertheless, a couple of my classmates pulled up a livestream on one of the school’s old desktops downstairs, slapped on a Do Not Touch sign and voilà, SYA’s very own Team USA viewing party. One day after lunch, a good 10 or so of us were crowded around this one computer enthusiastically commenting on the Men’s HalfPipe in anticipation of Shaun White.
And all of a sudden, it was Friday. As if it had been coordinated, almost everyone was sporting various shades of reds and the little mailbox/cubbyholes steadily filled up with little notes, pieces of candy and pink cake pops. It was the first time in a while that I think I’ve actually done something on Valentine’s Day with my friends, except we put our own spin on things. With only 10 boys in the whole SYA France Class this year, what else would you expect but a resounding rebranding to “Galentine’s Day”? 🙂 The evening was duly kicked off with festivities planned in celebration of my friend R.M’s birthday, however without the commercialized fanfare and hype we’re used to back home, it had sort of slipped our mind that the French in fact, do celebrate Valentine’s Day. Our Plan A, B, C and so on were all booked out, so it was with growling stomachs and immense relief that one super nice and decently prized Italian restaurant with deep plush chairs finally let us in.
Surrounded by my five Valentines, our stomachs bursting with food and sweets, cracking ourselves up over poetry and the smell of tea, I felt all warm and fuzzy. I was reminded of the Common App prompt we’d been asked to think about earlier that day and its reference to a place where you feel content. For me, nights like this past Valentine’s Day sum up the state of mind I associate with contentment. Being in France has further proved to me that those small moments that you’ll cherish forever make all the ups and downs so worth it. It’s almost like running cross country- I don’t mind the uphills as much because science tells me that what goes up, must come down. And so it is with life. With the right perspective, the struggle days fade but the golden memories remain.
Not all weeks are eventful or meaningful. Sometimes, in the grind of school, nothing noteworthy occurs because you’re bring swallowed by a planner bursting with assignments and due dates.
The weather last week was classic Bretagne. The days would start of surpringly lovely but by the time I reached home, the inevitable sprinkle would commence. I managed to profit from the few pretty hours and took some neat pictures. Les voilà!
(Cross posted from the SYA Admissions Blog, a short peek into why I chose SYA.)
“Yeah, life still comes with bumps in the road but I don’t despair as much as I used to, because I’m living in France.”
In the common room, one of my classmates uttered the above truism. Sure, life doesn’t stop its topsy-turvy course when one decides to cross the Atlantic, but just the mere fact that my problems can be easily remedied over a cup of chocolat chaud at my favorite café or with a walk in the medieval quarter of an European city steeped in history makes them that much more bearable. Snuggled up in my favorite spot against the space heater in the common room, surrounded by a mixture of French and English, laughter and groans, and people from all corners of the U.S and beyond, whom I would never have met had I not boarded that plane in Boston all those months ago, my heart swells.
When I told my friends in America that I was considering leaving the sanctity of the only school I’d ever known for nine months abroad, they thought I was crazy. Why would anyone leave the comfort of their home any sooner than they had to, they wondered. I had my answers ready: because I loved French and loved to travel, because I wanted to try something new, and because I knew that Atlanta, GA was not my whole world and I wanted to delve deeper into the world outside my school’s bubble. And what a world that is! — I’ll be walking to the Musée de Beaux Arts for my Art History Class or going out on a weekend with all of Rennes, with a wide grin on my face (despite my best efforts to master the stoic French pout), thinking, who’s the crazy one now?
Some days, I feel like pinching myself—on good days, it’s like I’m in a waking dream. That’s what this was for me, in a way. Spending a whole year in France was something I’d been dreaming of since I was in Elementary School. For me, whenever I thought of high school, it was coupled with the glossy illusion of croissants 24/7 and all the famous sights to see. To a point, School Year Abroad has fulfilled my dreams and more. I spent a week in the fall with my classmates exploring the medieval castles we’d spent the past month studying and have plans to spend my two weeks of “winter vacation” in March discovering other parts of my wonderful new country and its world-class European surroundings.
But to be sure, spending a year in France is not all fine dining and gallivanting around Europe. Sure, pastries every day sounds good to begin with, but then the realization hits that this isn’t just another vacation. As your parents, teachers and the laundry list of upcoming projects will certainly remind you, School Year Abroad is a study abroad program. School is still more or less school, no matter which side of the Atlantic you’re on. Knowing I’m in France doesn’t make getting up at six in the morning to take the bus to school any easier. Weekends remain busy as my classmates and I attempt to catch up on sleep and work and still have social lives. The world keeps on spinning: Units come and go, and slowly, the languages start to blur together and things will inevitably get stressful but c’est la vie.
Truly living in Europe as a young American may not always be as simple and perfect as the old 90’s movies made it out to be, but that’s what makes it exciting. If living in France were too much like my life back home, it wouldn’t be worth it. Making the decision to embrace a path different from the conveyor belt many of my peers back home are comfortably riding helped me discover a whole new world. Like a modern day Jasmine, boarding my magic carpet/airplane and going to SYA has lent me a fuller perspective on life, given me a better sense of the world I live in and helped me acquire skills that I’ll use for the rest of my life. For starters, I’ve managed to achieve an incredible grasp on a beautiful Romance language—my host family’s goal is to have me bi-lingual by the end of the year. I’ve also fallen in love with a new city, befriended a new culture and met 65 kindred spirits. I’ll take that over another handful of AP credits any day.
If last week we hit our stride, this week announced the start of the full force grind. There is now only one month between us and two weeks of vacation. As the pace began to pick back up at school, I noticed that I have sunk even deeper into the pot of French immersion, starting with a personal resolve to speak nothing but French (at school, at home, and when just out with my friends).
Last Friday, a friend and I, in an attempt to get out despite the never-ending rain, went to the movies. No, I still haven’t seen Frozen, The Wolf of Wall Street or other American box office successes but instead, I lost myself in the world of French fashion with the Yves Saint Laurent movie. Although it was more focused on his escapades, conquests and general debauchery, it was a cute snapshot of the tumultuous life of a man who revolutionized high end women’s fashion, told in non-subtitled French. Woo!
That weekend, my host parents and their friends threw a dance party where I got to help out and, of course, even though it was a British-themed soirée, I spoke French into the wee hours of the morning. The French party hard– over the course of the evening, I became quite adept at popping champagne. My dinner consisted of bread, champagne and of course, dessert. I feel myself becoming French-er by the minute. 🙂
My week of late nights and minimal sleep, key characteristics of procrastination and/or a busy life, continued at the Model United Nations conference, ILYMUN. Ten of my classmates and I ventured to Lyon to discuss various African crises. Although English was the official language, being surrounded with the constant presence of native French speakers, I found I spoke mostly French the whole trip, even to my American classmates. Furthermore, I met the coolest people from all over Europe, through my committee, my amazing Lyonnaise host family and general conference encounters. I now have friends from Lyon, Toulouse, Bulgaria, Spain, Denmark and beyond.
Studying abroad in high school has afforded me all these wonderful opportunities. If I wasn’t studying in France, my movies, and parties would all be in English accompanied by the same lovely people I’ve known since toddler-hood. Sure I would still probably attend MUN conferences, but I wouldn’t have any where near this level of international exposure. This is the real world, outside the comfort of my hometown bubble, where not everyone will agree with you and not everyone will speak your language, but the fun is muddling through this tricky consortium called life, together.