GUEST BLOG - SARAH COLLINS

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High School Gap Year

High School Gap Year

Hi and Welcome! My name is Sarah and I am a gap student with CIEE. After my year in Toulouse I will be going to the University of Colorado at Boulder to study elementary education.

I have been living in Toulouse, France for the past three months. When I was asked to write a guest blog post it took me a while to discover how I wanted to start and what I wanted to focus on. I could write about my host family, my work at Secours Populaire (a local nonprofit), our excursions with CIEE, what I’ve learned about my culture and French culture- the list goes on! Instead I thought maybe the best way to accurately portray my experience was to give some insight on my daily life here in Toulouse. One thing I love about my gap year is that each day is different! I do have a general routine, but there is much more variety day-to-day than my time in high school. I included two days, because, as I said every day is different and one day just didn’t seem enough! I hope you enjoy reading and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to send an email and ask.

Monday

7:30 Early start for the beginning of the week! I have about 45 minutes to an hour in the morning to get dressed, ready, and eat breakfast before heading out to work

8:30 Walk down the street to the metro to head to Secours Populaire. (Another awesome thing about Toulouse is the public transportation system! It is super easy and extremely accessible.) Secours Populaire is a nonprofit in France helping low to no income residents of Toulouse with food security, shelter, job support, mental health aid, and more. Every Monday mornings from 9-12 the doors are opened for the homeless in the community to come have breakfast and get new clothes, shoes, and anything else needed such as tents, hygiene products, and sleeping bags.

9:00 Arrive at Secours Populaire to start helping the homeless find the clothes and supplies they are looking for, and serving breakfast. I’ve learned a lot about migration and the politics behind immigration by doing this. Many of the homeless in Toulouse are not actually French but rather have come here from different countries.

12:00 Clean up and head home for a quick lunch!

2:00 Back at work, except the afternoons are completely different. In the afternoon, I work at Secours Populaire’s food shop. All the food here is given by the aid of the European Union and donated by grocery stores in the area. Low to no income families can come here once a month and depending on their situation and the number of family members pay a small fee or none at all to use the shop. They have a meeting with a social worker when they first begin and then are given a colored card corresponding to the amount of people in their family. The color of the card is important because some of the food in the shop is rationed. Meaning you take a certain amount depending on how many members of your family, and that is where the volunteers come in! We are there to assist one family at a time through the shop and help explain to them the system. I also love playing and watching the little kids who come in with their moms or dads! This is usually my favorite part of the day. I have met people from all around the world and heard some unbelievable stories of migration, hardship and hope. There are refugees and immigrants from Iran, Albania, Iraq, Pakistan, Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan and more.

5:00 Hop on the metro and head over to my friend’s house to catch up and chill for a little.

7:00 Back to my house. Usually at this time my host family is home and I hang out with my host dad in the kitchen while he cooks dinner.

8:00 Dinner time (yum!) The whole family sits down for dinner at around 8 or 8:30 almost every night depending on everyone’s schedule. In my home stay I live with my mom and dad who are both teachers, and two brothers ages 15 and 19. I also have two sisters (19 and 23) but they are both studying in Lyon. Also at our house is an Iranian refugee who is 20. There are a lot of kids so we are always having fun and our house is really lively with friends coming in and out!

9:00 Catch up with my host mom and whoever else is in the living room.

10:30 Head to my room to relax before bed and then lights out for tomorrow.

Tuesday

9:30 Wake up and if I’m feeling motivated I try to go for a run in my neighborhood. I take the metro a lot so I find that running is really cool way to explore more of the city and the suburbs.

11:00 After I’ve showered and changed its time to get some work done!! Wednesday I teach two different English lessons and Tuesday mornings are usually the best time for me to get my lesson plans done. One lesson is for four kids and the other is for a group of adults at a community center. These are things CIEE helped me find but they aren’t mandatory. I want to be a teacher so CIEE helped me find some unique teaching opportunities in the community. I also am a teacher’s aide at a local middle school for three hours Wednesday morning which has allowed me to see the difference in the French school system and culture vs American.

12:30 Time to make myself lunch and then head out again for Secours Populaire. Sometimes my host brother is home from classes and we can eat together.

2:00 Shift Starts at Secours Populaire. I’m no longer taking French classes in Toulouse but I get plenty of practice at my work. I speak only in French because all the other volunteers and employees are French. However, there are times when there is a refugee or immigrant who can speak better English than French so sometimes I get to practice my translating skills.

5:00 Meet some friends downtown to grab a snack and walk around. There are always different markets and things happening at Place du Capitole, the main square in Toulouse.

7:30 Head home and the rest of my night is usually the same as Monday nights.

This was just two days out of my week so I hope you can catch a glimpse but truly every day is different! Some days I have activities with CIEE in the afternoon which can be anything from cooking classes to museum visits. Sometimes I stop by one of the many farmers’ markets here in Toulouse or go to check out something happening in the city center. Or some days I get to see my friends more than other. Safe to say I am never bored!

Thank you so much for reading and any questions do not hesitate to ask!

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