Student Year Abroad: France

A bit over a month ago, a group of 57 frightened yet eager American high school students flew across the Atlantic Ocean to embark on arguably the most important year of our adolescent lives. When deciding to spend my junior year at School Year Abroad France, I thought extensively about all the croissants and coffee I would indulge in, traveling all around France and meeting amazing new people, and being able to carry a conversation with confidence. While all these dreams are being fulfilled, there was definitely an awkward transition period that I had neglected to consider. After living in Rennes for over a month, I’ve been able to reflect on some differences between fall at Thacher and fall at SYA France.

Academics & Activities

Nearly all of the courses at SYA are taught in the target language, with the exception of English and Math which are taught in English. In addition to AP French, English and Math, I take three elective courses: Art History, Political Science/Global Issues, and French Literature. Junior year is challenging, no matter where you are in the world, but the teachers here have been understanding and supportive (especially with the language barrier.) Unlike at Thacher, I don’t live a five-minute walk away from my teachers anymore, which makes scheduling meetings much harder. Another key difference has been getting involved in extracurriculars. SYA offers a few after-school clubs, but requires an activity outside of the school in hopes of improving our French and integrating into the community. There are endless options which makes it easy for everyone to find something they will enjoy, I’m signing up for a Zumba class at a nearby university!

Socializing Transportation

I never fully appreciated the close proximity of the Thacher community until living a 40-minute commute away from school. Getting to and from school by bus has become habitual; however, attempting to hang out on the weekends requires more planning than I imagined. There’s no such system quite as simple as Thacher’s Town Busses, so I have to check the bus schedule app before promising an adequate meeting time. Better yet, there is no Open Home or Indoor Committee to make sure there’s almost always a social event planned, which begs the question of figuring out how to spend social time. Rennes is far larger than Ojai, so my friends and I take advantage of this opportunity and always stumble upon something new and exciting to explore. Since arriving about five weeks ago, I’ve gotten extremely lost trying to walk home, taken the bus in the wrong direction, and accidentally hit several strangers with my huge backpack. With time though, I’ve gotten more comfortable with the French public transportation system, and in return, with my new city.

Dorm Life vs. French Family Life

Arguably one of the more drastic changes has been moving in with a French host family. I was nervous to transition from dorm life to a more traditional family life but my host family experience has been incredible! I live with two host parents who have three grown kids. They are both extremely supportive and understanding of how different my life here has been than what I am used to in the States. Communicating with them has been easier than I expected, which was a welcomed surprise. I have definitely had to adapt to not always having my friends around 24/7. After living with a great group of 40 girls in a dorm for the past two years, it was a bit of a shock to the system to move into a house with two French parents. There is no such a thing as Study Hall, so I’ve had to find a way to do all my homework and still talk to my host parents every day. Although we were quite literally strangers at first, I’ve bonded so much with my host parents already and look forward to seeing them every evening. Overall, I think a positive host family experience at SYA is one of the most important components to having a great year.

In essence, my life has changed a lot since arriving in Rennes. While some aspects of French life are taking a bit longer to get used to (i.e. eating dinner at 8pm and minimal snacking,) I am looking forward to creating memories with my host family and friends, and continuing to explore France.