Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

A YEAR ABROAD ; Part 2: Arriving in France Not What Study Abroad Student Had in Mind

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

A YEAR ABROAD ; Part 2: Arriving in France Not What Study Abroad Student Had in Mind

Article excerpt

Editor's note: This is the second part in a yearlong series by Kate Curry, a student at George Washington High School. This school year, Curry is completing her junior year of high school studying abroad in Rennes, France. The bus jolts along small twisting roads, traveling through neighborhoods and urban centers. It passes by fashionably dressed pedestrians, apartment buildings - some with flower boxes, laughing children, small boulangeries selling fresh bread, graffiti covered bridges, littered sidewalks and office buildings. It stops near a local high school lined with denim-and- black clad French teens lingering beneath a cloud of cigarette smoke.

How to get three suitcases over the cobblestone lane to the courtyard of the mansion turned schoolhouse?

Then there's meeting your new family, the awkward car ride home, the first dinner, the first shower, the first glimpse of my bedroom.

Will this new place ever feel like home?

In preparing for my year in France, I had a million expectations of how my life would be, some positive and some not so positive. I expected to hate the food, to not understand a word people were saying and to feel forever awkward around my host family. I thought I would immediately be best friends with my American classmates because I assumed they would be just like me.

Getting off the plane, I expected my biggest adjustments would be the language, the late and long dinners, and maybe the French greeting of bisous (kissing both cheeks of perfect strangers). I thought these cultural differences would be the hardest to get used to.

I could not have been more wrong.

I have been in France for just a few weeks now, but it feels like I left home forever ago. Although my life is much different than what I imagined, I actually have acclimated quickly.

It seems like all my life, I've set my alarm for 6:40 a.m., quickly dressed, rushed to the kitchen to make coffee and toast with raspberry jam, then run through the cold, dark morning to catch the city bus for my ride to school.

I realize now most of the expectations I had were wrong. For example, I love the food. Everything is prepared fresh, plus so many dishes involve bread, sugar and butter - my three favorite things.

I was wrong about not understanding the language. I pick up on a good 1 percent of what people are saying. It's just the other 99 percent that gives me problems. Surprisingly, that 1 percent is often enough for a short conversation - if charades are involved.

I didn't expect to win the host family lottery. They are the best. I absolutely adore them. I never expected them to genuinely make me feel happy. I think a good host family may truly be the secret to a successful study abroad experience.

Finally, I was wrong about immediately making best friends with my classmates. I have learned that just because someone chose to study in France for a year doesn't mean they chose to do so for the same reasons I did. …

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