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A year abroad in France

By Sarah McIntosh
Published: September 2007

Since I’ve come back home, many people have asked how about my year in Rennes, France. I always answer that it was spectacular, the best junior year I could have hoped for.

I was lucky enough to live with an amazing host family, the Verdiers.

My host mother, Catherine, was very interesting. One time, when the family and our friends were going out to a party in downtown Rennes, she missed the turn into the parking lot. On the biggest thoroughfare in Rennes, she fearlessly put her car into reverse, forcing the other cars to back-up, and got us a fantastic parking spot.She was every inch the typical French mother, and she supported us through thick and thin. 

My sister Clotilde was a typical adolescent. Through her, I came to see how oppressive the French school system is. She was an incredibly smart, creative girl, and in the States she would have found real success in both school and extracurriculars.

Unfortunately in France, she was forced to waste hours memorizing history textbooks verbatim, all so she would succeed on her “bac,” the final exam which every French student must pass in order to graduate high school and move on to college. I recently found out that she passed it with honors.

Guillaume, my older brother, also struggled with the French school system, and, to a far greater extent than his sister, tried to cop out of it.

He quit school, and went to a special school to train to be a pilot at the age of fifteen. Guillaume did eventually reenter the standard schools. He joined the reserves, and wants to work in business someday.

And then there was my father, Denis. He was a military man with a collection of military hats from around the world. My personal favorite of these hats was the Soviet Union soldier’s hat.

He had gone to one the Grandes À°coles , the elite schools that are the French equivalent of the Ivy League. Denis was at first rather disturbed to have a host daughter in his house, and didn’t quite know what to do about it.

By the end of the year we had become close, and he told me that he thought it was an incredibly benificial experience, and that he planned to host another child next year. I was so proud that they liked me and wanted to repeat the experience.

My host family was beyond anything I could have expected, and so much better than I had imagined, but they were not the only ones who made my year abroad so special.

I cannot honestly describe the next group of people as friends, but more as comrades. While I was in France, I started rock-climbing. The people I met there were colorful characters who were struggling against the odds to live a decent life.

Many of them were from poor families, and were trying to make some extra cash from rock-climbing competition. We had different moral codes–they once explained to me that it was perfectly alright to steal from one of the grands magasins, but not from a family run business.

In spite of these moral differences, I like to think we found a common ground: poetry. All French school teachers make you memorize poetry, and it was the conversation topic that made me buddies with these climbers (they prefer Rimbaud to Verlaine).

My year abroad was the best of my life partly because I was in France (rest assured, on a daily basis I miss the bakeries and clothing stores), but mainly because of these people, whom became so dear to me in spite of what seemed, at times, like tremendous differences. I owe so much to these people and am truly thankful for this incredible experience .

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