Reflections on SYA

Tell me “Rent,” how DO you measure a year in the life?  A school year is such a long time, that try as I might nothing seems strong or evocative enough to capture the raw sense of what it means to be a high schooler studying abroad in France, what it feels like to be an outsider and an insider, to have feet on either side of the Atlantic and be pulled in so many directions it feels your heart may snap. But it doesn’t. Instead it’s pumped full of love, greasy, salted-buttery love by the local French, those elusively great, maddeningly curious creatures.
Fitting in with them is a game of chance, a series of trial and error. One shockingly non-rainy day, I’m wearing what my mom considers to be my sister’s uniform: plain long sleeve tshirt and black leggings. Simple enough, it’s camoflage back home in the bubble. But on the streets of Rennes, I feel naked, stripped bare by the sly glances of the chic adolescents also waiting for the bus that can’t seem to get here fast enough. Three minutes have never dragged by so slowly. It’s enough time for me to feel absolutely certain that the entire country hasn’t heard of dressing for comfort. As time goes on my wardrobe is drained of color, bit by by, painstakingly culled to conform to the firm French belief that black is the new black. Looking like you belong is the easy part. Nestle the leathery strap of a Longchamp in the crook of your right arm and you’re practically halfway there.  Better yet, snag a coveted sparkly tote without a clasp whose impracticality is overlooked by the French school girl masses, redeemed by a wider range of color options, adding shades of grey to the arsenal of black and navy staples. These colors are your golden ticket: like the pens obligatory to suive the lectures upon which French courses lean so heavily and the only colors acceptable in the traditional striped Marinière.
The modern French man or woman still dons this classic, one of the only remnants of the stereotypical Frenchman that has enraptured the western conscious for years, appearing throughout the media, the darling of old Hollywood and the eternally bright muse of the pre-second world war literary cavalry. Gone are the effortless smokers à la Audrey Hepburn, elegant in their self-harm. In their place are the swarms of sagging, Nike-wearing adolescents who roll their own cigarettes like they were born doing so. The hipsters have gone totally digital, preferring their smoke in artificially flavored shiny e-cig format. Mastering their look of disdain, superiority and carelessness is an art. Walking down the streets with your eyes focused on absolutely nothing requires a level of godlike self awareness. Add to that the struggle of preventing your one functioning earbud from falling out of your ear and you’ve got a one woman circus, a juggling semi-pro.
After a year abroad, I’d say send in the lions, my life is a juggling act- reconciling or rather tactfully suppressing the American-ness, while retaining the essence of yourself (which given my youth is rather unformed and fuzzy) and absorbing as much of the French as possible. The outward gestures come easy, by now my blood is probably 50% cheese and the weather in Britanny is predictably unpredictable but could never be considered warm, at least by my southern standards so the all black becomes the unofficial uniform of the deplaced Americans trying desperately I blend. It’s the inner heart and spirit of the French people that I’ve been earnestly seeking these past nine months. Striving to perfect my breathy “ouai”, the seemingly required moniker of French mothers. Avoiding the goth-look while clothed head to toe in black. Looking flawless despite the weather, time of day, or day of the week. And how do they avoid what I have dubbed the france 50, like the mythical freshman 15 but brought on by decadence rather than ramen? What’s their secret?
A whole school year and yet I fear I leave with more questions than answers, so I turn to my ratchet jar of speculoos for comfort (thus making me the opposite of rachitique)  to drown out the sorrows at having to part from this magical world which has so much still to be discovered. Au revoir. And in the words of my obvious twin, Arnold Schwartzeneger, I’ll be back.


...and now

…and now



From the first school trip...

From the first school trip…

the Original crew (from L-R: S.V, A.N, G.O, me, D.G and I.C)

…to the last.


Saying Goodbye

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.

I.S, Mr. Brochu (the SYA France's Resident Director),  and I on the last day of classes

I.S, Mr. Brochu (the SYA France’s Resident Director), and I on the last day of classes

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.

Graduation with R.R

“Graduation” with R.R

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


Today I Am Wiser

…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:

  • surround yourself with people who care about you and you will never be alone
  • what a triskell is
  • that winters can be long and depressing
  • the joys of speculoos
  • there is no such thing as a non-rainy season in Rennes
  • that the best crepes and galettes are found in Brittany
  • a long run and a hot cup of tea can help relieve most of life’s struggles
  • I am an expert in franglais and can no longer really speak proper English, so it seems
  • nine months is a seriously long time
  • nine months is no where near enough time
  • this too shall pass


Things I have yet to learn:

  • how to live without salted butter, French baguettes, half days on Wednesdays and my 65 new “relatives”
  • how to say goodbye
SYA France Class of 2014-- Ne me quitte pas

SYA France Class of 2014–
We did it #victory










(This format was inspired by one of my friend’s blogs: check it out!)

Running Through Time

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.

Forgot how much I love racing

Forgot how much I love racing

Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes (my host sister and my creation)

Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes (my host sister and my creation)

Someone at SYA got Girl Scout Cookies

Someone at SYA got Girl Scout Cookies. This is not a drill. (thank you cookie gods)

The blue skies streak returns!

The blue skies streak returns!

Life In France: A Whole New World

(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.

Halfway There

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.

My host-dog Lucky, the King

My host-dog Lucky, the King

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…

Lord of the Ring fèves, what could be better?

Lord of the Ring fèves, what could be better?

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….

Playing Dominoes with the most clever deaf lady, a 100 year old woman and my other Retirement Home pals

Playing Dominoes with the most clever deaf lady, a 100 year old woman and my other Retirement Home pals (P.C Sheryl)

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!