Isabelle M. is currently a junior at SYA France and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Wilmington Friends School in Delaware.
The world is a forest. I am a river, trickling between rocks, roots, and rubbage at varying speeds. When it rains, I move quicker, the currents of the sky joining to push me faster, faster, faster—until I crash, face-first, into a man-made dam blocking my path. The dam constricts me, keeps me from flowing or expanding. Next time it rains, I do not accumulate speed as I did before, but instead, the droplets join my stagnant body and I grow, pushing uncomfortably up against the banks. Every week, the rain comes and adds to my forces. It is suffocating, staying here, trapped, as I grow larger and larger, and it feels that I will be constrained here forever. It continues to rain. I continue to grow. It seems endless—that is, until I begin to overflow. The currents of my limbs stretch and reach over the dam, and finally, I have space to ripple; I have space to breathe. Finally, I am free.
When my river, my life, finally overflowed, I went to Rennes, France. I arrived just over a month ago, and life here is nothing like I imagined. Prior to my departure, I knew this journey would allot me new freedoms–I counted on it, in fact–but I could never have anticipated exactly how those freedoms would manifest. I expected to receive superficial freedoms: the freedom to hang out with friends after school, the freedom to eat what I wanted when I wanted, etc. I did receive these freedoms, but I received plenty of others as well.
The most notable freedom SYA has given me is the freedom to re-examine my identity through a lense no longer filtered by how my family and American classmates view me. A common line in “new-kid” centric media is “you’re so lucky you’re new, you can be whoever you want to be…” and that is somewhat how I expected my SYA experience to turn out. I thought that the moment I set foot on French soil, the girl my family and friends knew would be gone, and that in her place, there would stand a blank slate, prepared for anything. This was not the case. Instead, I found that rather than being entirely reset as a human, it was merely the restraints my former environment had placed on me that were erased, the pieces of my identity I had crafted merely to cope disappearing with them. The identity that was left behind is who I truly am.
Now, with these new freedoms and a newfound sense of identity, I have a clearer understanding of my values. In the United States, I never had the energy to go out with friends on the weekends. I worked hard all week, I stressed over assignments, I carefully crafted the image I presented of myself to my teachers, and when time finally came for fun, I was too tired to do anything but sleep in late and waste the day away. Somehow, arriving in France has entirely changed my outlook. Those pieces of my identity, the sticks and stones that formerly flowed along the current beside me, must have been stuck behind the dam as I rose up and over. I still care about grades, tests, and homework, but for the first time since elementary school, I can see that the world is larger than the textbook in front of me claims. Suddenly, I have energy to have fun. Two weekends ago, I went over to a friend’s house with a few other people. We made dumplings, ate dinner, and watched a movie. I stayed out until midnight, but it did not matter. I had finished my homework the day before just because I wanted to–something unheard of to the procrastination-prone former version of me–and I still had energy left for the rest of the weekend.
I have only been with School Year Abroad in Rennes, France, for just over a month, but in this short time, so much has changed. This river of my life is accumulating speed once more, flowing, rippling, and growing wherever it pleases. That is not to say my time here has been free of struggles, but just as with the dam, I have risen each time, crossing over every rock and under every bridge. I no longer fear what is to come, for now I know, no matter what obstacles cross my path, every river leads to the freedom of the ocean.
- Campus Reporters
- SYA France