Annika J. is currently a junior at SYA France and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Lakeside School in Washington.
Before coming to France, everyone told me that the most difficult time of the year was the holidays: Thanksgiving, and then the entire month of December. People told me that during that period, students often became homesick as they were missing out on cherished celebrations they had typically spent with their American families. I didn’t think this could be true - yes, I’d be missing out on the classic Thanksgiving dinner but it’s just one meal, I thought to myself. It turns out that I wasn’t immune, and homesickness eventually did hit me hard, along with other SYA students. But, I’m getting through it with the help of the community I’m part of here in France and know that next year I’ll be homesick for SYA instead!
During Thanksgiving week, all of my friends back home in Seattle were out of school. It was difficult for me to receive texts and calls from them wanting to reconnect because I was still in class. But, it was just a regular week in Rennes. I was jealous of the fact they had a whole week off school and wanted to be there to enjoy it with them. It feels extremely strange to have school on Thanksgiving day, skipping over a holiday that holds so much importance to many American families. For me, I got through the week by chatting with my SYA friends - almost everyone was feeling the exact same way as me, missing their friends and families (and Thanksgiving break, of course). We all agreed that, while it was strange to completely pass over a holiday, it made it easier to get past this wave of homesickness by being there for each other and continuing to focus on the immersion experience.
Yet, on Thanksgiving day I walked around Rennes in a slump, missing my mom’s mashed potatoes and my stepdad’s dinner rolls. This was the first holiday I’d spent without my parents and I wished to be home with them. I talked to my host mom that morning about how much I missed my real mom and wanted to be with her to celebrate the holidays. My host mom, understanding my slump, decided to surprise me with the most perfect gift I could’ve asked for. When I got home that night, she had decorated the entire house for the Christmas season (something I absolutely love) and made me both gallettes (a savory buckwheat crepe native to the Bretagne region) and crepes with confiture. I was beyond ecstatic - even though it wasn’t a special day for my host mom, she still made the immensely kind gesture to somehow make Thanksgiving day special for me, and I will be forever thankful.
The next day all of SYA France went on a fieldwork trip with the school to Dinard, a town not too far from the coast, to visit a vocational high school and celebrate Thanksgiving. This day has been my favorite France so far, and will certainly become one of my favorite memories of my abroad experience. As soon as we arrived at the high school we played Thanksgiving trivia games and learned how to create holiday-themed centerpieces for the dinner table. Next came the highlight of the day: the cooking students at this high school revealed the fantastic Thanksgiving meal they had prepared! They served us everything: from turkey to corn to mashed potatoes to sweet potatoes to stuffing to cranberry sauce - all extremely decadent and delicious. We ate our meals at long family-style tables and got the chance to speak with the students who had made the Thanksgiving meal. Immediately after eating, we returned the kind gesture to the French students. Many of us volunteered to give a little presentation about where we come from, the culture and traditions of Thanksgiving in our homes, what American high school is like, why we chose to come to France and so much more!
By the end of this Thanksgiving season experience, I finally understood that the community I have here in Rennes is very strong. Whether it be my friends, the SYA France teachers, or my host mom, everyone is very supportive and wants the best for those around them. While my holiday season may not have been exactly the same as back home, I am so thankful for the new world I have developed around me and wouldn’t trade it for anything. And to everyone, in France, the United States, or wherever you may be: happy holidays!
- Campus Reporters
- SYA France