Gretchen M. is currently a junior at SYA France and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in Illinois.
Continuous rows of fencing-foil-shaped trees left my field of view in furious blurs. My seat and window on the coach style double decker bus served as a film roll of SYA France’s Bretagne trip; a never-ending line of square framed content. The foil-shaped trees I focused on so intensely are called peupliers, or poplars, a name which came from a hurried Google search and some deductive reasoning. A tree that persisted in my memory from almost every movie depicting French wealth, English nobility or an Italian countryside, a tree which for me, was strange to see in such numerous quantities and I guess, in person. This trip was aptly called an orientation trip, aimed to help the students of the SYA France campus orient themselves to their new environment as well as orient themselves with their new lives. A large expectation for a four day trip I know, but for me it was more than exceeded. The evening prior to our departure was inexplicably strange. The thought of me placing the same three pairs of pants, four shirts, a pair of shorts, a swimsuit and pajamas into a black travel sized duffle that I had only just unpacked, was baffling.
My wobbly and uncaffeinated climb up the rounded stairs of the double decker bus early the next morning felt equally as strange, it was as if my climb marked the beginning of a vacation from my vacation. As the bus maneuvered through the small and narrow streets of Rennes that I couldn’t even begin to track yet alone pronounce, I had never felt more foreign. I had been anticipating that this displacement would eventually crash on my psyche in treacherous intervals but what I had not anticipated was the calmness surrounding it’s arrival. I was content then to just see what happened, to go with the bus, to accept my circumstances.
My preoccupation didn't allow me to fully digest my surroundings but our arrival to the cliffs of Caramet-sur-Mer yanked me quickly from whatever haze I had been in for the last few weeks into an intense awareness of the crisp sea air. A quick change from sweats to a bathing suit in my hotel room preceded a long run on the widest and flattest beach I have ever seen, with a cradling of cliffs that create a comforting bowl, spilling only out into the sea. The surreality of my circumstances became more of a recognition of the privilege I had to be here in the moment. Dancing in bitter water with people I now know will be present for many important milestones in years to come. Specifically, I remember the repeated mantra that ran through my head “it's a Thursday night in September, and I’m running on a beach in France. What is life.” What is life, a short sentence whose curtness perfectly encapsulates the wonder, joy and vastness of feelings still yet to be discovered through new experiences at SYA. The amazement only doubled on my run the next morning as I felt my size from the top of our hike. The recognition of how small I was in relation to the world took me out of my thoughts and into my physicality. The foggy-stuckness that I had felt after two years of online school faded as clarity replaced it. The air I was feeling and breathing was new, circulating into a newness that would become my home.
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