Maxine A. is currently a junior at SYA France from Canterbury School (FL). Read more of her work throughout the year here.
When it gets dark out, on the highway as we drive from Paris to Rennes, lights flash in our faces, illuminating the bridge of a nose for a split second. Fog takes up most of my vision and this time, I am not the one driving. My brother's hand is draped over the steering wheel with all of the experience I do not possess. The landscape of France is hidden under shadows, lit up for half-seconds in orange and red. We speed past road signs and other cars. I feel safer than ever.
Let the language occupy your mind
Poignancy, like the memory of this drive, splatters my mind like upon a blank canvas. The past four months have begun to melt under the heat lamp of time, but still they rest in strong feelings, unfamiliar smells that have become familiar, restaurants that now evoke more emotions than I'd like to admit. The streets of Rennes go topsy-turvy in my mental map, where my walk to school is flagged with landmarks. I have blended into the fray of life in France and everyday becomes more and more telling of this.
As I show my own parents around Rennes, there is a power-shift, wherein I direct our movement. This is new and exciting and I bask in being able to communicate the best out of the group when purchasing a chocolate beignet. I can't remember a time when my mind did not accommodate two languages, two ways of expression. I can't imagine that there was such a time, when my inner dialogue didn't switch erratically between French, English, and some hybrid of the two. The French language is now a part of my daily life as much as the mundane solving of a math problem. It lives tucked in the cushy membrane of my grey matter and does not seem to plan on leaving anytime soon.
Embrace the challenge
My time in France is half-way up. To a future SYA-er reading this: do everything. Always ask for help when you need it (the French are much less unpleasant than whatever dated stereotypes still exist). Let the language occupy your mind until you realize the last sentence you've typed for your English paper was certainly not English. Go everywhere, not just the city-center. Use one Saturday by staying on your bus until the last stop, where you will then get off and wait for the next one to bring you back in the rain. It's okay: embrace rain, embrace waiting, embrace challenge.
Share the experience with your family: old and new
We arrive in Rennes later that night, tired from bickering and hazy from the car's sway. My family marvels at the lights that line the streets, Christmas in full bloom under the navy blue sky. I feel a sense of pride in their admiration of the city, the fact that my home is a place of wonder for them. At this moment, I, too, am taken aback by the beauty of Rennes. The streets I walk everyday become something of a different sense with my American family to accompany me. We walk up the steps to greet my host family, wine in hand, and I watch as they kiss each other's cheeks, feeling more and more grateful every second for my two families, new and old.