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.


We Are All Pilgrims

(My second Campus Reporter post on slowly immersing myself into Rennes went up today. Originally posted on the SYA Admissions Blog.)

The word pilgrim conjures up images of stormy seas, the stereotypical first thanksgiving and “really stylish” old Protestant habits. But according to (obviously the foremost authority on definitions) a pilgrim is simply “a traveler or wanderer, especially in a foreign place,” more specifically, a newcomer. Given that definition, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a picture of SYA students right next to the word pilgrim in the dictionary. Traveler? Check. Newcomer? Check. Foreign place? Check. Welcome aboard the 21st Century Mayflower.


Recently, SYA France’s college counselor, Mme. Solter talked to us about pilgrimages in preparation for our crossing of the Bay of Mont St. Michel. The journey we traced to the monastery is one that many religious pilgrims had made before us, and Mme. Solter urged us to reflect during the walk on how it fits into our personal pilgrimage.


The crossing was a breath of fresh, cold Briton air. A large expanse of quick sand, water and “vase” (a unique mud-like mixture that can turn quick-sand deadly in a flash) was the perfect place for us to let off steam, enjoy the arrival of the crisp Rennes fall and bond with the host siblings with whom we traversed the bay.


Mont St. Michel with my host sister (photo credits to L.G)

Mont St. Michel with my host sister (photo credits to L.G)

As we trekked through the mud and sand, I did reflect on how far my classmates and I had come. This 8km hike represented the linguistic progress and everything we’d done in our first month. For starters, I had found among 60-odd strangers close to 60 fast new friends.


A few weeks earlier, at the two-week mark, my classmates and I passed the State Department’s average duration of stay for a tourist and thus commenced our transformation into true Rennais. That weekend, we piled ironically into two large tourist buses headed for the end of the earth (Finistère, Bretagne). Our trip around Brittany, the region we now call home, included a trek to Pointe du Raz (the closest point in France to the U.S), a Miro exhibit, multiple gorgeous ancient cathedrals and a sculpture scavenger hunt around our first chateau- comme c’est francais! After the trip, we had the weighty sensation of having passed the tipping point. Not just passing through, we were truly here to stay, in France, for a year.


Like the settlers at Plymouth on the first thanksgiving, in a sense, we SYA-ers are all pilgrims slowly becoming at home in a world that is to us, just over a month old. We’ve explored our department (from Ille et Vilaine to Finistère), eagerly been initiated into its unique gastronomy (including but not limited to the famous Briton galettes and Kouingaman, the butter cake) and absorbed its rich culture and history (complete with covert nationalist plots), and bit by bit, have inserted ourselves into la vie Rennais. Now, as I walk down la Boulevard de La Duchesse Anne with Bastille blasting in my ear, fumbling in my bag for my Kori Go card without breaking stride, feeling the crunch of leaves under my feet as I try not to get hit by a bus that in true Rennes style doesn’t seem to approve of the pedestrian’s right of way, I can’t help but feel like these are my streets and my city. And for that sense of belonging, I am thankful.

I am here

I am here