To the SYA France Class of 2015, what follows are a few nuggets of wisdom compiled with the benefit of hindsight. Take it to heart, or not. Either way, just know that you’re in for an amazing time. You’re probably never going to be an American high schooler in France again so take advantage of all the opportunities that come your way. This is truly a once in a lifetime experience.
- Always carry an umbrella because weather in Bretagne is bipolar. The times where the day started off sunny and ended with pouring rain are way too many.
- The map they give you is relatively useless.
In the beginning, just go out and wander around with some friends. You’ll stumble upon some neat things, especially on Saturdays (there’s always some protest or another happening), plus once you walk the city a couple times, it’s amazing how easily you can get everywhere. The bus system is pretty reliable depending on the line. To get into town from school, take the 1 or 9 from the Guéhenno stop which is right by Carrefour (or from Fac de Droit stop which is further down across from the cafeteria of the actual Fac de Droit).
- Don’t go out to lunch everyday unless you happen to have extra spending money.
St. Vincent and Jean Macé (the two local high schools whose cafeterias SYA students can eat at) have decent food for free (slash it’s included in your tuition). Downstairs at St. Vincent is like a school café, with amazing cookies and more fast-foodish options. Jean Macé often has warm baguettes and good desserts but don’t try and take two because at the beginning of the year the lunch ladies will be watching and counting. The only downside to eating at the French lycées are the ridiculous lines that require you to get there before the doors officially open if you want to avoid getting caught in the tidal wave of pushy, hungry teenagers and eat before class starts.
- On school trips, JP’s bus is the best. Hands down. Especially on the Loire. His commentary is stellar, there may be disco-teching involved, his son Pierre is super cool, he will wake you up by singing or by reading French children’s books into the microphone and we even had entire bus sing-alongs.
- Bring number 2 pencils and a planner if you are going to want one, because they only have super expensive fancier ones here. Pretty much everything else, except maybe certain brands of beauty products and hair stuff, can be acquired in Rennes if you forget or run out.
- Make a rough budget, either for just yourself or with your parents, sooner rather than later.
Trust me otherwise you’ll finish the first semester and be like what happened to all those euros I had? Food happened, that’s what
- Invest in a good coat, a hat, at least one scarf (yes boys, you too) and some warm socks (my friends from the northern states swear by Smart Wool). Despite the weather, the French generally look flawless and unless you want to stick out like an obvious foreigner, sweatshirts and yoga pants aren’t gonna cut it every day.
- No pain no gain applies pretty well to getting closer with your host family. You have to put in the effort but after giving it a month or so if it’s not working you CAN switch. I know a bunch of people who switched and were much happier, but I also know some people who decided to tough it out. Nothing’s perfect so it’s up to you. If things ever get too much, just know that you can even switch second semester if need be.
- Come prepared to write letters.
Receiving mail is like Christmas every time you get something. Until you’re actually here, you may not realize how far away from everything you are and it helps to get little messages from home. Everyone knew who got care packages and letters cuz we all checked the table daily hoping shamelessly that it was for us.
- Sometime in your first week you should figure out your phone situation.
You can buy a French mobicarte, which is basically a rechargeable SIM card that you can pay a plan for each month, you can just plug it into your American phone if it’s compatible or get a cheap little phone here. I would personally suggest either bringing an unlocked phone or getting a cheap one here and reimbursing your host family for a real phone plan. To get one, you need a French bank card so it has to be in your host fams name but I found that it was much cheaper MUCH cheaper. The provider Free has a plan where I paid 2€ a month had unlimited texting, their wifi (which shows up randomly all over France, especially at bus stops in Rennes) and a total of 1-2 hours of calling locally and to America. One of my classmates also recommends Orange for phone stuff, because the others are supposedly “way ratchet.” There’s one at Colombia (the Mall) and in the Centreville and others spread around here and there.
- Do something with your friends and/or your host family for Halloween, Thanksgiving and/or Christmas.
It’s a good way to share your traditions with others, experience the way the others celebrate and bond with the people you care about, who have helped make you feel at home. Plus who doesn’t love a good holiday?
- Around january, after the long-awaited Christmas break is over and almost everyone has had to say goodbye to their families again, a lot of people tend to get kinda depressed. I know in our year, a bunch of us only realized this afterwards and bemoaned not being able to mope together. Misery loves company so I’d suggest gathering those interested for like therapy sessions with hot cider and some chocolate when things get rough.
- Last year, a former SYA-er told us to be ready for things to “get weird” come second semester. I’m not 100% sure to what she was referring but weird is a pretty good descriptor for the inter-SYA relationships (platonic and non) that sprung up later in the year. Consider yourself warned.
- Independent travel. Do it.
Starting in october, you can go on trips over all of the free weekends once a month. Take advantage of this opportunity to see not only other cities in France, but also other parts of Europe.
- Everything is closed on sundays. Even Carrefour is only open til 1pm.
Just a little reminder that France used to be a strictly Catholic nation.
- Choose some kind of activity outside of school early on and stick with it.
Not only is it a decent way to meet French people, but it helps to have an extracurricular to clear your head when school gets a bit much.
- Y’all will have Netflix next year, but for some websites that don’t work outside the US (pandora radio, hulu, etc.) a bunch of my classmates suggest downloading an app at hola.org that will unblock them!
- Keep a journal or a blog or both. You’ll want to have a way to capture everything and something to look back on when the year is sadly over.
Thanks to my wonderful classmates for helping me put this together. Vous allez me manquez tellement.