Ella S. is currently a senior at SYA France and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from University School of Nashville in Tennessee.
It’s been exactly a month and a half since I boarded the plane at the Boston Logan Airport with my two large suitcases and a nervous grin. My arrival here feels both like yesterday and a year ago. It’s been an incredible period of growth, excitement, and exploration, and while I could write a book about my experiences so far, I’ve decided to include a few highlights instead:
My host parents are absolutely amazing, and I could not be more happy. Leading up to my departure, I was most nervous about the time spent with the host families, especially meals, and not being able to speak to them. However, from the start they have been so welcoming and kind, and it’s unreal how close we’ve become in the past month and a half. Every morning my host dad and I discuss anything from French politics, to aliens existing, to our favorite rom-coms, over buttered baguette dipped in our coffees. My host mom taught me how to make galettes, a Bretagne specialty, and we’ve spent nights dancing to 2000s American music. They truly have been the bread and butter (which by the way is salted and very good here) of my experience.
With its close proximity to school, there’s really no excuse for not spending time at Parc du Thabor. Consisting of an immaculate garden, spacious lawns, an aviary, and lots of sunlight, it quickly became my go to spot to enjoy my after-school pain au chocolat or orangina, or to get a bit of homework done.
Lunch has consistently been the highlight of my day Monday through Friday. The food at the local high school, Jean Macé, is incredible, at least in comparison to cafeterias in America. My 5th lunch there I had escargot, and there is warm bread served every day. Perhaps the best part, I’ve recently discovered a coffee vending machine, where I can get what I call a “mochaccino” for 50 cents. It’s the perfect way to start my afternoon classes, especially on the cold and windy Bretagne days.
I’m convinced Rennes has the most beautiful public library in the entire world. As someone who used to live at coffee shops during the school year, I was pretty disappointed when I realized that doing work for hours at cafes here is not a thing. You don’t even see people with their laptops out! Yet that frustration all went away when I discovered Les Champs Libres. The 3rd through 6th floors provide more than a 180-degree views of Rennes, with floor to ceiling windows right next to large tables full of college students. Sometimes it’s a bit hard not to get distracted while gazing out at the autumn leaves and beautiful old buildings below. Also it’s one of the only places here that’s open on Sundays! But good luck getting a seat…
About three weeks in we had a “field trip” to the west of Bretagne (or Brittany, as it’s known in the U.S.), the region in which Rennes is situated. I had no idea that the west of France was this beautiful, and I was constantly amazed at the beauty of my surroundings. We stayed at a hotel overlooking the ocean, and one morning a few friends and I woke up early to watch the sunrise from atop a cliff, surrounded by fog. I didn’t know what was more impressive, the beautiful rugged landscape or our resident director’s ping pong skills.
A staple of the SYA experience, we took a bus in early October with our host siblings to Mont St. Michel and after a delightful sunny picnic, we prepared to cross the bay. Shoes and socks off, sunglasses on, we began the long walk the best way possible - by managing to almost get ourselves stuck in sand up to our knees. The water that lay atop the surface reflected the clear blue sky, and ranged from one inch to one foot. There were a few splash wars and mud smearing surprise attacks, but everyone made it back to the bus eventually. We all certainly slept well that night.
I’m writing this on a Sunday afternoon, sitting in my room, surrounded by a few photos of friends and family and souvenirs from the past month and a half here. This morning I ran a 10k, Tout Rennes Court, which is the only free race in France. My host parents cheered me on throughout the race, and although I certainly hadn’t trained enough, having the opportunity to run through the city was incredible. In a way, the race was pretty similar to my time here so far: not really prepared, challenging (in the best way), eye-opening, and so, so worth it.
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