Greetings from sleep-deprived me, resting up back in Rennes. What a week it’s been!
Seeing the Eiffel Tower, one of the wonders of the world, peek casually over the nearest building is truly something else. Despite this not being my first time in Paris, every time I see the ironworks looming in the distance, I regress to amateur tourist mode and snap a billion pics. By now, I have enough shots of the tower in a slew of different lights to exhibit them as a series.
The Eiffel Tower’s constant presence just reminded me that I was casually in Paris for the week– this whole “I live in France now” thing never ceases to blow my mind. In true French style, my classmates and I spent the school trip popping in and out of cafés and museums. As a mark of how we’ve progressed since our previous class excursion last fall and given that Paris is, well, Paris, we had an insane amount of freedom to wander, explore and choose which of the many fabulous exhibitions and notable landmarks we wanted to see.
Out of the many museums we visited, my favorites were the Palais de Tokyo, the Bill Viola exhibit at the Grand Palais and the Musée Rodin. When we went to the Palais de Tokyo, it was the beginning of Paris Fashion Week so, amongst the thought provoking, very modern current exhibits, there was a sort of live art aspect coming from the fashion show going on in the background with tall, “perfectly-eccentric” models mingling with the plebian crowds trying figure out (among other things) an art display where the entire objective is to steal a book. It was truly art like I’d never seen it before. At the Grand Palais, Bill Viola’s pieces were another form of art is never seen before. His edited videos and mise-en-scenes centering on the themes of self reflection and the passage of time had me mesmerized for minutes on end (not a small feat in a warm dark room, especially when I’m running on minimal sleep). Finally, the Musée de Rodin and all the sculptures were a sort of return to more traditional forms of art, although there’s nothing completely “traditional” about Rodin. My favorite part of the museum was the sculpture garden that really allowed you to soak up all the details in his work, which are incredible, especially when you consider the time period and the inflexibility of the medium.
Overall, this class trip for me was a real indication of how far we’ve come since stepping off that plane back in September. We maneuvered Paris with a sense of mind that tried its hardest to mask our foreign-ness. A couple of friends and I even remarked that we felt separated from the American tourists and closer to the harried locals. After around six months in Rennes, we had slowly adopted some French mannerisms, which became evident amidst the clash of cultures that is Paris.
Paris on your own is a magnificent thing, as I learned from getting purposefully lost multiple times, dipping in and out of the metro wen the stations looked cool. However, Paris with friends is equally amusing and Paris with Parisians is, in my mind, even more so. Once the SYA sanctioned portion of the trip was over, I had the opportunity to stay with some family and visit some family friends in and around Paris. It’s always nice to catch up and discuss politics and education (which somehow always come up, but hey, I’m not complaining :P))
This marvelous vacation, which is turning into a delicious combination of friendly reunions and forays into different cultures, continues with a little journey across Europe: direction Germany. Aufweiderzein!
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.
(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.
How the time flies! In just under a month, my first semester abroad will come to a close. I can’t believe that it has been three months already.
We have reached the point in the year where the honeymoon is over and the grind has all but just began. The past week was a constant mélange of rain, shivering temperatures, a surprising temporary lull in the workload and many, many cups of tea (so glad to have received a tumbler in my care package). This very wintry week (freak mini hail storm and all) was bookended by two more exciting events: my first visit to the famous Marché des Lices, and the school trip to Mont St. Michel.
Early Saturday morning, green tea in hand, I met my friends at Place des Lices for Rennes’ iconic weekend flower and produce market. I had been meaning to go to the marché since I first got here but host family trips to Dinard, standardized testing and less than ideal rainy weather had kept me from exploring it until now. Despite being a tad nippy, the marché was simply fabulous. Stalls on stalls of food vendors extended literally as far as I could see. There were separate sections devoted to a plethora of seafood, fruit/vegetable, and galette vendors. My favorite stalls however, had to be those selling large bottles of French orange and apple juice, the hot beverage push cart, the wild honey stand, the jam tasting area and the dried fruit vendor. One of my friends bought some delicious creamy “springtime” honey that we straight up ate out of the jar as we wandered in search of picnic lunch ingredients, soaking up all the interesting and delicious food surrounding us. In the end, I ended up with a hazelnut mocha shot, a cheese galette and a bag of dried “fruits” (ginger, coconut, strawberry, mango, fig and kiwi). France has underlined my love for all things cheese, chocolate and carbohydrate (the three “c”‘s) as well as brought out a previously dormant love for tea, jam and dried fruit. Is this what people meant when they said study abroad changes you? 😛
After starting out the week on such a high note, I ended it on an equally exciting note with our school trip to Mont St. Michel the following Saturday. Having crossed its baie almost a month ago (seems like just yesterday…) this time, we actually entered the abbey. Armed with multiple insulating layers, including hand warmers (is it obvious I’m from the south?), and with a whole week and a half’s worth of background knowledge on the history of the abbey and its architecture, we swarmed Mont St. Michel at the unearthly hour of 9ish (made unearthly because we had to wake up earlier than some school days). After walking with the columns in the cloître, following the light in the réfectoire, hugging the fat pillars and becoming frenemies with some hungry yet adorable little birds, I would proclaim our visit to Mont St. Michel an overall success.
Revisiting Mont St. Michel almost a month after our first “visit” really hit home the fact how long we’ve really been in France. Sometimes, caught up in what has become routine, I forget that time has kept on ticking and that life keeps on going back home [which I was doubly reminded of as it was my sister’s birthday earlier this week, the first one of hers I’ve ever missed 😦 ]..
Next week is sure to further shake me from my frozen in time reverie as I have already at least four assessments scheduled. As my peers back home are devouring Ben Franklin’s choice for the American national bird, I will, most probably, be discussing the French educational system. As the French would say, c’est la vie (that’s life). Come what may, I wouldn’t change this amazing opportunity to experience life in France for the world.
(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 Dictionary.com (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.
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.