This is it.
All that’s left are the final goodbyes, to my host family and my friends (who have become like family). Nine months later, here I am.
Last week was a whirlwind of assessments, scramming to enter just a few more grades into the book, walking casually into two APs and sleeping not a wink. Despite knowing that it was my last week of school in France, the fact that the structure still seemed relatively normal as opposed to the exam week I’m accustomed to back home made it harder for the reality to sink in.
On my last weekend in Rennes, I did my best to profitez. spending as much time as I could with my both host family and friends, soaking up all that is Rennes. True to form, the weekend was a weird one weather wise. It was sunny and beautiful then suddenly pouring at least five times on Saturday alone. Despite the crazy weather, I made myself get out of the house to wander around town with some friends. Because this is France, we ran into a marriage and two protests, one of which, being the curious kids we are, we decided to follow. Lots of gas ensued and we wisely changed tactics. That evening, I went out to a fancy crepe dinner with some of my closest friends from this program. After dinner, we swung by my friend G.O’s host to celebrate his birthday. It was a fabulous last “night out” in Rennes.
Today was our last official day of school. We received our diplomas at a lunch with all of our teachers. Words are not enough to express my emotions at how real this all was. Following lunch, I casually hung out with my classmates, jamming out and playing cards. In the evening, we celebrated at a French-American barbeque with our families, teachers and classmates: all the worlds collided for one last reunion*. The whole day had an eerie aura of normalcy– I can’t wrap my mind around the idea that this is over, that I won’t be seeing these streets in a few days, that when I wake up on Thursday I won’t go to double langue with the best group there was.
Peace out Rennes, it’s been real.
* the italics suggest the French definition of the word which is more of an everyday meeting than the English connotation implies
…because I have survived my junior year. Most people will extol the hardships of this penultimate year of high school, complaining about APs, the pressure of the impending college process and a heavy course load. “My” junior year was memorable and hard for other reasons, namely that I spent it taking most of my classes in a language that is not my first, in an old Victorian house located in Rennes, a city in the westernmost region of France, where I lived for nine months without my family. If you’ve read this blog before or have been keeping up with my adventures, this is old news, as is the fact that I can’t believe it’s over. Nine months seems like a long time at the start, even halfway through and especially during the dark winter months. But now that I’m at the end, I feel like nine months couldn’t have possibly already passed.
Things I know thanks to this year:
Things I have yet to learn:
(This format was inspired by one of my friend’s blogs: check it out!)
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.
(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.
Happy 2014! All week I’ve resolutely avoided writing the date because a small part of me refuses to believe that half of my year abroad is already over. I feel like I spent most of December counting down to Christmas break and my two weeks of freedom and family, then suddenly, I’m back at my place in front of the space heater in the school’s common room, seeking solace from rainy Rennes and reveling in the return of salted butter to my life.
As much as I love the holidays back home, I’d missed the long French celebratory lunches with endless aperitifs, bubbly drinks, and decadent desserts. I couldn’t wait for all that to start again…and I didn’t have to.The day I came back, jet-lagged, gross from all the traveling and really in no mental state to do much more than smile, nod and sleep, my host family and I celebrated Three Kings Day. After we did some belated Christmas present exchanging, where I introduced them all to Eos (#americanisation) and received some very French Yves Rocher products, we got down to the most important part of any celebration- the food. However, I was so sleep-addled that all I remember was the giant almond (Frangipane) Galette des Rois, aka Kings Cake, for dessert.
On the 5 or 6th of January, to commemorate the three kings/wise men and Epiphany, the Galette des Rois is sliced and served with each diner getting the piece assigned to them by the youngest member of the party who is randomly calling out names from underneath the table. This is to ensure no one cheats in the game of who has the fève. Literally translated as fava bean, the fève is a charm placed somewhere inside the cake and per tradition, the person(s) who find the fève in their slice are king/queen for the day and also traditionally buy the next galette whereupon the whole shebang recommences. As I proceeded to get back into French time and stay awake in class and fall asleep at night, these slices of cake were definitely the highlight of my week. I ate Galette des Rois four different times and in two different forms (brioche and frangipane). I’d say that’s a pretty accurate representation of my life here in Rennes. All the food, all the time…
I attempted to avoid adding to what my friends and I jokingly refer to as the France 15 (in reference to what is known as the Freshman 15 where first year college students away for the first time from home and three healthy meals a day often gain weight due to the changes in their diet) by spending at least one entire afternoon braving the throngs of Rennais out in the street for the Soldes. Previously unbeknownst to me, every year all over France, for a month starting in January, there are ridiculous sales everywhere. With sometimes as much as 70% off, acquiring the French fashions is actually within my means for a whole month. Unfortunately, for the first few days, it’s like Black Friday every day, which made for an amusing and exhausting experience.
From shopping, I squished myself into a bus and joined a few of my classmates at the retirement home, where we split up amongst the tables and joined the residents for a relaxing game of dominoes. It was kind of hilarious and good fun but it reminded me of how much I miss my grandmothers….
I’ve cemented these images of Three Kings Day, crazy sale day shopping sprees and learning how to play dominoes in my mind, hoping that sheer willpower will keep them there forever, amongst all my other wonderful memories of living in Rennes. Sitting in the loft bedroom that I’ve come to call my own, I keep trying to wrap my mind around the fact that somehow while I was eating and sleeping and breathing French, first semester slipped on by. But I won’t mourn the passing of half of my year too much (*cue instinctive hyperventilation cuz oh my god it’s half gone*) because after all, I have all of that and more ahead of me.
Here’s to 2014 and all the weird stories, new foods and fun French times to come. On y go y’all!