My Semester Abroad

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High School Abroad in France

Written By: Amaya Chadha

It started one night when my mum was lecturing me about some other silly method to climb the staircase of success she read somewhere or the other. I often choose to ignore what she has to say.  For some reason on the 24th of December 2022, I chose not to. I reflected on where I was and where I wanted to be. I started doing research and I felt a need for thrill, for change, for something just the right amount of scary. When I proposed the idea to my parents I’d never thought I would actually live halfway across the world by myself for 4 months. The application was long and frequently procrastinated because I wasn’t sure I could actually do it but here I am.  

Summing up the last 4 months of my life is a difficult one to do but  I’ll start at the beginning. The week before the start of the program was full of anticipation overloaded with fear. The goodbyes were so overanticipated, it almost made them easier. 

I remember the 3-day long orientation in Toulouse like it was yesterday. It felt like a lifetime, 72 hours getting to know all the people that like me, were gonna be spending the next 4 months in France. 

I also remember after such a long period of orientation, how quickly everything changed. All of a sudden all the host families were there and one by one, everyone started leaving. I saw my host family and the next thing I knew I was on an hour-long journey to my new home. My heart was beating so fast, it was the longest hour-long car ride. 

However,  upon arrival, the moment I saw fields of grass surrounding the house, the chickens in our backyard, and the absence of any kind of shop, town, or city was the moment my heart dropped. As someone who comes from a city in California, the countryside was something I’d only ever imagined on lasting road trips,  where I would stare out of the car window and wonder what life would be like on the other side of the glass pane. Now I was on the other side of the glass pane. That night was definitely the scariest night. I was in a house with people I did not know in our tiny town with a population of 250, and I was stuck there for the next 4 months of my life.

That weekend, we went to “la fête forraine” which was amazing to see how in a small neighboring town in the countryside of Occitanie there were huge carnival games, rides, and food stalls.. In addition to that, I also tried Chinese food for the first time in France and I think it’s safe to say it was an interesting experience. 

I had butterflies in my stomach the whole drive on the first day of school. I was so grateful that my host mom had come to drop me off. That day I was not bothered about anything other than talking to anyone I could. I remember being confused about some of the scholastic details that my teacher had explained and I couldn’t understand. I kept asking the boy next to me and trying to make conversation and by the end of the class he was so irritated, I don’t think he wanted anything to do with me. He is now one of my really good friends. I was open and went to talk to everyone, unbothered of their reactions or my grammatical mistakes; because there were plenty of unwelcoming reactions and grammatical mistakes. 

My first goal of the day was to find people to eat lunch with and I did so all was good. Later we had a sporting activity with the entire grade and I was in a group full of completely random people. I was still determined to keep my mindset the same. During these 4 hours of sport in the heat, I made a new friend. He’s the type of person who doesn’t stop making jokes and that was exactly what I needed that day. He is now still one of my really good friends. At the end of the day, my next obstacle had to be tackled. In addition to living in the countryside, My host family’s house was also far from my lycée. I had to find my way home. I safely got on the first bus and luckily there was only one stop. I got off with everyone else and then there was chaos. There were 7 different buses and everyone scrambling to get on their own I didn't even have the number for my second bus. Luckily talking to everyone paid off and one of the girls was kind enough to help me. I definitely irritated another person that day too, asking at every stop if that was my village. Luckily enough I made it back home that night. And with a few difficulties, I still made it back every other night after that. 

And somehow just like that, with an open mindset, I  made friends that first week of school. I remember inviting myself to go to the boulangerie with a group of girls. I was so scared they did not want me there- I don’t think they did. But that group of girls are now my best friends. 

I’ve spent the last few months in what feels like a movie, all the ups, downs, and around of one. As much as it has been difficult and surely will continue to be, the memories make it worth it. 

After a while, I got used to being in the middle of nowhere and I’ve actually started liking it. There is so much peace in the tranquility and nature, and even though I’m not in a city, there is always something going on. And the hour-long bus rides every day and night became my favorite thing. Watching the sunrise and sunset, talking, listening to music, looking around at where I had ended up.

I remember being so scared of the French people, with all the rude and unfriendly stereotypes we give them. But I also remember the time my bus was the only one that never showed up and I was offered a ride home by a friend’s mom who I barely knew. I  remember the time my lunch card didn’t work for me to eat lunch on a Wednesday and I didn’t have any cash on me but all these people who I barely knew put whatever change they had on them to make enough for my meal. Those people are now my closest friends. I remember the first time I took the bus, someone I didn't even know made sure I got on fine. I remember the first time I had to take the train by myself, my friends waited around to drop right onto the train so I wouldn’t get onto the wrong platform. I remember the first week I reached, I was invited by practical strangers from school to go see the fireworks and the fête forraine. I remember when I  missed the feeling of home on a holiday, my host family did their best to make it as authentic to chez moi as they could. These are only a few examples of the kindness I was shown, the moments that make it all worth it.  

Soon comes the worst, the end of this chapter. It is definitely over anticipated but I am enjoying every minute up until the last.  Goodbyes are always hard but all good things must come to an end.