(Anya from Colorado studying in France)
We have so many truly amazing and talented young students at Aspect Foundation, but certain students really stand out from the pack. Today, we are putting the spotlight on an American student studying abroad, Anya from Colorado! Anya has been studying in Rochefort en Yvelines, France with the Le Moullec/Baltenneck family. We asked Anya several questions about her exchange year, see what she had to say below!
Tell us about your 1st few days in France!
During my first three days in France, my receiving organization (WEP) held an orientation in Paris, and I was able to meet other exchanges students who were going to study in France as well. I met some others from the USA, Australia, Czech Republic, Austria, and Italy. During orientation, we did some workshops as well as the typical Paris sightseeing: the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Musée d’Orsay, Notre-Dame, (the outside of) the Louvre, Champs Elysées, Montmartre + the Sacré Coeur, and the Catacombs. I became really good friends with all of the other students and it was really sad to part at the end of orientation!
Was it difficult to adjust to your new environment?
It wasn’t too difficult adjusting at home because my host family was there to help, but school was a bit harder in a new language and different classes from back home.
Tell us a little bit about your host family and new host home!
I have a younger host brother (11), a host sister my age (16), and a host mom and dad. They are the kindest people I’ve ever met and they love showing me cool new places! My host home is located in a small town which is made up of mostly houses, a couple family owned restaurants, and a boulangerie (bread shop).
Have you and your host family grown closer over this year?
Yes! Especially with my host sister! We share the love of music and dance, so we introduce each other to new bands and play a lot of ‘Just Dance’ together.
(Anya with her host siblings and out picking wild Muguet)
Why did you choose to study abroad in France?
I’ve been taking french at school for about 4 years now, and when I visited France in 2012, I loved it, so I really wanted to come back to improve my french and try the lifestyle.
What were your expectations of the lifestyle and culture of France before you arrived?
I was expecting it to be hard to adjust at first, but eventually I would get the hang of it. I was expecting my french to improve (maybe not fully bilingual, but a sufficient amount of improvement at least!), to try some good food, and to meet a lot of new people. I knew ahead of time that gastronomy is a big part of the culture here.
Would you say that your expectations matched the experience?
Yes! My french has definitely improved, I’ve fallen in love with everything I’ve eaten (especially the raclette and quiches!), and I’ve met so many people and made a lot of new friends.
Tell us about your host city Rochefort en Yvelines!
It’s a very small town like I said before, so I go to school in Rambouillet, about a 30 minute car ride or 45 minute bus ride away. Rambouillet is so lively and student oriented! There’s a big park in the middle, with the Château de Rambouillet where King Francis 1 died.
High School has to be pretty different in France from High School in the United States. Tell us about some of the biggest differences you have noticed!
The biggest difference I’ve noted is that in the states each student has their own schedule, and therefore the grade levels (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior) can mix, but here each grade level and filiere (like a major, students choose between literature, science, engineering, economics, etc) has a fixed schedule. So, each group (usually 2-4 groups depending how many students are in each filiere) of the Premiere L (first literature) has the same schedule and move to each class together in a ‘pack’. The filieres don’t usually mix, and the grade levels only mix in elective classes.
Another thing that shocked me was that if a teacher is sick or has a conflicting event, their class for that day is cancelled and there are no substitute teachers to fill in. At my school in the states, there’s always a sub to take over.
What are some of the similarities?
The class sizes are about the same, with about a 25:1 student teacher ratio. For lunches you have the option of buying lunch to eat at the cafeteria, bringing lunch from home, or buying lunch at the local Monoprix or boulangerie.
What aspect of your High School experience abroad do you wish that you could bring home with you to America?
I wish I could bring my dance elective back with me to the States, because it’s something my school doesn’t offer. I also enjoy the off periods we have in the recreational rooms (with tables and chairs) where kids can study, play cards with friends, or eat.
(Sunrise in Corsica, meditating in Bretagne, skiing in Corsica)
It looks like you have been able to do some traveling with your host family. Tell us about the places you’ve visited!
With my family, I’ve visited Corsica, Bretagne, Dordogne, and a little bit of Luxembourg + Belgium! In February, during our two weeks of winter vacation, we visited my host mom’s parents in Corsica, and the first week of April we visited my host dad’s parents.
Corsica was beautiful, I loved how close the beach, mountains and vineyards were. I woke up really early one morning with my host brother and dad to watch the sunrise over the beach, and it did not disappoint- bright pinks, purples, and oranges all over the sky! We actually skied twice at a small ski resort in the mountains! It was the first time my host siblings had ever gone skiing! It was hotter and more packed-down snow than in Colorado, but it was still fun!
Bretagne was also amazing, we ate a lot of good crepes and I even got to visit one of my friends from orientation.
The second week of vacation in April we drove down to Dordogne, and with my host family’s friends, we visited Lascaux (a cave with ancient cave paintings) and Gouffre de Padirac (a big hole in the ground which continues to an underground cave and boat ride).
The last weekend in April, my host mom’s family was having a reunion in the northwest of France, and because we were near the border of Belgium/Luxembourg, we spent a day walking around Luxembourg City and stopped to eat fries in Belgium! We also visited Reims, the unofficial capital of Champagne, and the Douaumont Ossuary (Battle of Verdun Memorial).
(Gouffre de Padirac, Luxembourg, Pairs, & Reims)
What are some of your favorite memories from this past year?
-The second week of being with my host family, they took me to see the International Massy Circus, which was super cool and unbelievable.
-In mid March, we went to the Stade de France and saw the France vs. Wales rugby match! It went overtime by 20 minutes, but France won!
-I tried escargot, rabbit, lamb, and frog legs all in one night.
-On May 1st (Labor Day here), it’s tradition to offer the flower Muguet (in english ‘Lily of the valley’) to your friends and family. Most people in the city go to their local flower shop or there are tons of people selling it in the streets, but since we live in the forest, we went out flower picking and we searched for it ourselves.
-My school does ‘Carnaval’ every year, where all the students dress up as characters and there’s a costume contest and school is let out early, so me and my friends did a group costume of Alice in Wonderland characters!
-I turned 16 this May, and my host sister threw me a surprise party!
(Anya with her orientation group and new friends)
Would you say that this exchange year has positively affected you?
Yes, I’ve definitely become more independent and confident in my ability to live abroad. I really want to attend university somewhere in Europe, and I’m thinking of France as one of my options. I feel at home living here!
With your exchange year nearly complete, we want to know if you have any advice for future exchange students!
Know that you’re going to be pushing your comfort zone! There are going to be things you find super interesting, and things you’re going to find different, and it’s important you keep your mind open and try everything. The first month or so is hard adjusting to the new culture, language, and environment, but trust that things will sort themselves out and that it will be worth it!
What advice would you give a student when faced with cultural differences that might be hard to understand or simply unexpected?
Don’t look at it as something bad, look at it as an opportunity to experience something new and exciting that your friends back home don’t get to experience.
Lastly, is there anything else you would like to say today?
Yes, I want to thank my host family for taking me in and opening up their life! I’m forever grateful for this experience and everything they’ve shown me, it’s been incredible and the best 6 months of my life! I’m so thankful for the connections we’ve made and can’t wait to come back and visit, and for them to visit me Colorado!
Do you know a standout student that you would like to see featured? Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.