A viking in France

One student’s experiences studying in France last semester


Photo courtesy Audrey Feledy

My classmates and I walked for three hours in quicksand to Mont St. Michel.

By Audrey Feledy

When I stepped off of the plane on September 4, I couldn’t believe where I was. After all those months of telling people I would be living in France for a year, I was finally here — albeit in the airport, but it still counted.

The program I chose to attend is called School Year Abroad. I’d been wanting to go abroad so that I could experience something bigger than the “Bethesda Bubble.” It’s not a common thing for students to do when they’re in high school, but this program really sold me because of the different trips they organize almost every month. Aside from myself, 40 other kids from the U.S. are living in Rennes, France, the capital of the Brittany region. School take place in the program’s school house for nine months. Teachers will instruct all of our classes in French, except for English and math. 

My friends, parents, teachers — they all asked the same stream of questions. How are you going to be okay leaving for so long? Why are you going to France when you can barely speak the language? 

The truth is, I had no idea how I was going to manage any of it. It was unbelievable to me how I had made this huge of a decision on a whim. I was apprehensive thinking of the unknown; I had never set foot in Europe before, and aside from my mere four years of MCPS French classes, the language was a mystery to me. 

The items in my suitcase were almost spilling out, and as I struggled to pull my luggage through the crowded airport, I realized my much-anticipated adventure had truly arrived. I was over 3,000 miles from my family, friends and the language I knew. Luckily, I had one ready-made friend on the trip — we had met for coffee before, and it put me at ease that other people were as nervous as I was.      

The scent of cigarettes filled the airport, which made me feel dizzy. I didn’t sleep at all on the plane ride to Paris, but I was determined to stay awake for most of the following bus ride to the school house, where we would meet our host families. I watched the views of the French signs and graffiti walls float by my window. As our bus entered the city of Rennes, I recognized the stone streets and old buildings from the pictures I had researched months before.

Though the sights were spectacular, I was still worried. I was anxious about meeting my host mom, living in a new house, in a new room, with someone I didn’t know.

At the schoolhouse, the other students and I waited for our host parents, comparing what gifts we had brought them from the states. We met our teachers, who welcomed us with pain au chocolate and orange juice. One by one, our host families arrived at the school. Finally it was my turn. My host mom greeted me the way French people do — with bisous, or, in English, a kiss on each cheek. At first, I felt like a burden, constantly asking her to repeat what she had just said, no matter how slowly she spoke. I was going to have to get used to these foreign words flying at me.

That night, I lay in my bed for the first time and I tried to imagine who I would be at the end of these nine months. I would be able to speak French well by then and navigate through the city. I would be more independent, and more able to adapt to new situations. I realized that the unknowns in Europe were more exciting than the routine of my daily life back home. So I settled down and thought about making this new place my own.