School Year Abroad: Part 1

Maya L. '20 writes about her decision to study in France this year with the School Year Abroad program.

Just over one month ago, I boarded an airplane in Boston with 50 other students from all over the country, all of whom were probably just about as freaked out as I was. As the plane was taking off, I leaned against the window listening to my dramatic music, on the verge of tears. What had I gotten myself into? I was sitting on a plane going to Rennes, France, 5,541 miles from my house -- which I would not return to for nine months. In 12 hours I would meet my host family, with whom I had only exchanged a few emails, and see the city that would become my home for the next 9 months. The plane took off, and I waved goodbye to America, my family, and friends for the year.

To be completely honest, deciding to do School Year Abroad was, in a way, a very well thought out impulse decision. That probably doesn’t make sense, but let me explain what I mean. Of course, when deciding whether to go, I made a detailed list of pros and cons, talked to all of my mentors for advice, and agonized over what to do for weeks after I learned I had been accepted into the program. I loved all my friends, was going to be the varsity coxswain for my rowing team and had all my classes planned out for the next two years at Marlborough. On the other hand, I had the opportunity to live in France! I was completely torn between the two. But with two days left before I had to decide if I was going to leave or stay, my impulse kicked in, and I said why not go to France! I had remembered a girl who did the program a few years ago telling me that her year abroad taught her more about the world and herself than her 15 years of being alive had combined. I remembered her saying that ages 15 to 22 are your “sweet spot” in life, and you must take full advantage of these prime years. With that, the decision was made.

Let me tell you, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It sounds silly, but it did not even hit me that everything would be in FRENCH until the day I arrived. Talking to my host family somewhat resembled charades, and my first week of classes (all taught in French except math and English) was, as you can imagine, catastrophic for my poor, confused brain. It did not even truly hit me that I was actually sleeping in a bed in a house full of complete strangers who barely spoke English until one night at 1 a.m., about a week after arriving.

Maya with her host brother at Mont St. Michel.

As I have been here for a month now, I have already noticed some significant changes in my life. I can now understand probably about half of the things that are going on around me, and already I speak French with much more ease. I absolutely adore my host family, which has one boy my age and two 11-year-old twin boys. I love our Sunday night movies together, and the twins always keep me entertained with their obsessions with American music, Fortnite, and of course, dessert.

Additionally, I have found that since I’ve been here, suddenly I am interested in doing things I never would have pursued at home. Having already made the leap to live abroad, I figured I might as well take advantage of all the myriad opportunities to make the most of this short year. To name a few, I plan to do rowing, badminton, yearbook, Model UN, and I’m looking forward to taking cooking classes and to participating in a local teen discussion group. I am already surrounded by amazing friends just as eager to seek out new experiences and adventures as I am.

Last weekend our program took a 3-day trip to tour around Brittany. On both mornings of the trip, my friends and I woke up 2 hours before we had to and walked along the dramatic cliffs of the Brittany coast in hopes of watching the sunrise. Unfortunately, it was cloudy that weekend so we didn’t see any glimpse of the sun, but the quest itself was fun. All told, my first month in France has been an amazing experience, and I am eager to keep chasing sunrises in all my adventures in the year to come.

Maya with other School Year Abroad students at Cameret-Sur-Mer.

Maya with other School Year Abroad students at Cameret-Sur-Mer (on the coast of Brittany)

You can see more of Maya's first month in France on Youtube.

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