The writer of this blog post is Tati D., originally from the Bay Area. Tati is now spending a year abroad in Beijing learning a second language. To follow Tati's own adventures, check out her personal blog Beijinged.
In America, we have Walmart. In China, we have Wumart. My first encounter with Wumart was due to a bus taken to the wrong location and curiosity. Since the second week within which I discovered Wumart, I've returned nearly once a week. There are two reasons I frequent this slightly odd location as a hangout spot: they have a food court with excellent Korean food and dumplings, and they sell bulk packages of snacks. The Wumart is located a convenient 2 bus stops from school, or just a twenty minute walk down the standard flat Beijing street. It also happens to be in the same building as the closest gym, at which a large amount of SYA students have a membership. Wumart's prime location is what led me to discover it. Thus, Wumart does indeed rank up there among my favorite hangout spots.
During lunch, however, there's no time to go to Wumart to grab food. If I eat out instead of at the cafeteria, I have to stay nearby. Down a block to the right of the school, if you walk far enough back in the hutong adjoining the campus, you encounter a restaurant. I discovered this place on the recommendation of my friend, who found it by aimlessly wandering down the hutong. Naturally, this restaurant has no food grade, and the food is some of the best Chinese food I've had in Beijing. I come to this restaurant at least once a week, (which adds up to a lot since my high school year abroad, is, well, a year) if not more often. I recommend the noodles and the dumplings here; I've yet to try a dish I don't like. If you can manage to snag a seat (it gets pretty busy around lunchtime), you're in for an excellent meal! Each dish is about 12 kuai, or $2 USD.
Sometimes (but only occasionally) I do things that, strangely, don't involve food. One such thing is visiting local parks. One of my favorite parks is Jingshan Park. You can take the subway to Tian'anmen Dong, walk out of exit B, make a left and cross the street, and take bus 5 to the park. Friendly locals will be keen to help you if you get lost or are unsure which stop to dismount at. I discovered this park thanks to my good friend TripAdvisor. At Jingshan Park, you can walk up to a temple area that was the center of old Beijing, see locals doing everyday activities such as singing (you can always talk to them, they're happy to converse with foreigners), or you can ride the carousel. I'm pretty sure you can guess which activity I spend the most time doing. Jingshan Park is a generally beautiful area that's very well kept up and I enjoy spending time at. There's a hutong up the street slightly that sells bing (sort of like Indian naan) and is fun to wander. In my opinion, the most appealing part of the park is the admissions price: students get 50% off. Instead of paying 2 kuai (about 30 American cents), students pay 1 kuai. After all, it's important to try and save an extra 15 cents when possible.
I generally visit a multitude of places within Beijing. Sanlitun, 798 Art District, and Houhai were previous favorite areas before I realized just how expensive they were. Since then, I've relegated myself to more reasonably priced areas, such as the ones above. Not to say that those tourist areas aren't worth a visit, because they most certainly are, but I currently don't find myself there too often. Beijing is a giant city, and I've only been here for two months. I have no doubt that by the end of the year, I will have discovered dozens of new places I enjoy, and the above listed places may or may not rank among them.
Abigail Hunter., from Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico writes about experiencing riding on public transportation for the first time in Rennes, France during her year studying abroad in high school.
Sticking out my wallet to signal a bus driver feels, to me, kind of like hailing the Knight Bus from Harry Potter.
At home I got my driver’s license in April, and I have driven myself nearly everywhere since, until I decided to study abroad. My only previous experience with public transportation occurred once a year until I was nine, when my family would do the Park ‘n’ Ride to the State Fair. So, naturally, when I hail the bus and climb onto it, fumbling for something to hold onto—a seat, a stanchion, anything—before the highly efficient driver sets off again, I feel like I’m boarding some kind of wizard invention.
I love it. The Rennes metro has utterly convinced me that Albuquerque could do well with one in order to cut down on the practice of driving everywhere. Here, I can hop on a bus or walk anywhere at any time, and take the metro to the library, a crêperie, or a café. I know exactly where to go now, I am certain of the stop, direction, and line without having to consult the miniature map I have carried in my wallet since the beginning of the school year.
I have already been able to give two people directions in French, and hold a conversation with the students on my crew team without having to resort to asking them to repeat what they said four times, like I did at the beginning. I haven’t even fallen in the water yet, which was entirely possible since I had never laid eyes on an oar before September.
Now, despite the blisters and sore arms, crew has become one of my favorite parts of the week. I have watched the colors along the canal change from green, back in early September, to red and yellow as the temperature gets colder. I am now a member of the club; I’m included in the ritual mass bisous at the beginning of every practice, and the coaches address me by name instead of calling me “l’américaine”.
Rennes is not entirely home, but before Rennes I had lived in New Mexico for all of my sixteen years. It takes a long time to undo that, but at the same time I can see my life as if it were a film: it is full of scenes on the water, walking through the rain, or maneuvering cobblestone streets that, to my mind, belong in a movie.
Tarah T., is a student from Deerfield Academy who is very excited about her high school year abroad in Spain. In this post, Tarah writes about how she has begun to felt comfortable in her new city, Zaragoza, even though she's only been there for two months.
Two months done.
I can’t believe it. These months have been the most surreal, amazing, fast, terrifying and absolutely exhilarating months of my life. Everything is different and amazing and I cannot believe that it is all happening to me. I never thought that my day would include waking up, going to the bus stop, traveling through the center of the city to go to my school in the center of a European city. My friends and I eat at beautiful cafés and take classes like bailes latinos. This year is a completely new world and I am so excited to receive the privilege to travel independently. Before our exploring of Spain and Europe, I have learned about Zaragoza and made it my second home. I understand the ins and outs and have really settled into mi nuevo barrio.
In Zaragoza, there is great food, wonderful sights and a beautiful atmosphere. When we go explore at night, we never fail to find an interesting new restaurant or see a sight that is eye catching because the graffiti is stunning. One of my favorite places is actually a café. It is a small café down the block, back behind the SYA Spain school. It is called Café El Criollo and I am in love. The atmosphere oozes sophistication and class. The outside is chic and very clean with all white on the doors and in the café. As you walk in there are beautifully crafted wooden chairs juxtaposed with crisp white tables in the hall that is right after the entrance. Further inside, there is the bar lined up with the possible food options and the trays for the cups prepared. The men that work there are kind and inviting with a warm Hola! as the chime of the entrance bells signify your arrival. I always order a café con leche and sit down. The atmosphere envelops me and I think I could spend all day there people watching. Whenever I enter that café I feel like I really am in Europe. The café con leche arrives. The café is a rich tan color with the milk drawn into the café in different shapes and designs. The experience is not only great for the tastes and smells, but aesthetically as well. The café titillates and excites the senses. Every time I leave I feel refreshed. It is a little piece of comfort in a big new place.
It is easy to forget that I am living in a different country for nine months because I have taken to my surroundings like a lion to his prey. The café reminds me in a beautiful way that I really am in Europe because at Deerfield, I wouldn’t be using my break from school to go and eat a croissant with a café con leche. It is another world and I am obsessed. It is surreal that slowly and surely I am becoming a resident of Spain. It shows me that I am in a different environment and that I am thriving. I am doing very well. It shows me how much I have learned because I can order food and have a conversation with a Spanish barista.
This is my home.
The writer of this blog post is Tati D.; originally from the Bay Area, Tati is now spending a year studying abroad in Beijing learning a second language. To follow Tati's own adventures, check out her personal blog Beijinged
I could never have predicted what life in Beijing is like. It's incredible to know that I am going to live in this chaotic and wonderful city for an entire year. My host family's house is finally beginning to seem like home. But in all honesty, I still can't believe that I now bike to school every morning, wearing a blue and white tracksuit, to start my day off with two hours of Chinese class. I'm mindblown by the fact that breakfast can cost me less than a dollar, I'm allowed to explore this city on my own, and I return home to be greeted in a language that often feels too foreign to even begin to understand. Yet despite the adjustments to my lifestyle, I am absolutely having the experience of a lifetime.
The Chinese teachers I have here are the best Chinese teachers I've ever had; we use the words we learn in class in such that we learn to use them in real life. History, math, and English are similar to what I'm used to at my home school. But Chinese homework occupies most of my studying time. SYA China is the first time I have really, truly loved studying a language. Being able to use what I learn in the real world is an absolutely invaluable experience.
The people I most often use my Chinese with are my host parents. I have an older sister who is fluent in English, but she lives at the school she teaches at. So at my house, Chinese is the only language we speak. My parents have had twelve host students in the past, so they most likely understand a substantial amount of English; they occasionally drop hints that they understand more than they let on. Yet for learning purposes or just for convenience's sake, they only speak in Chinese. I'm in Chinese 3 out of a potential 5 levels after studying the language for three years (in reality, I studied it for five, but I had a bad teacher for the first two years). I can talk about most basic things, but interesting conversation topics often elude me. Therefore, there's a significant amount of discussion about the weather, food, and school. I love conversing with my parents; they're honestly some of the nicest people I've ever met. I feel incredibly lucky to have been placed with them.
One of the most amazing things about this experience is the city itself. I've been here in Beijing a month, and I still haven't run out of things to do or places to see. So far, some of my favorite places in the city are 798 Art District, Sanlitun, Houhai, Ghost Street, Jingshan Park, and a coffee shop near my house. Honestly, I'm not sure you could be bored by this city. There's always something to do.
I can't imagine what my life would be like if I hadn't come to China; so far, I feel that coming here is one of the best decisions I've ever made. Actually, that's not true. I could imagine exactly how my life would be if I hadn't chosen to do SYA - I've been attending the same school for eleven years, and as much as I love my school, I was ready for something new. I've undoubtedly found what I was looking for in Beijing - a new experience - and I can't wait to see what else the city has in store for me.
This blog post comes from Tanner L., a student studying in Zaragoza, Spain. Originally from California, Tanner is immersing himself in Spain during his high school year abroad. Read about his experience becoming one with a cafe in Zaragoza and follow his blog to read more about his adventures, En el Extranjero
The man at the counter of my favorite café is an expatriate from East Africa.
He’s lived in Zaragoza for five years, he tells me. In contrast, my school year abroad began in September.
He tells me the subtle and nuanced language of ordering a cup of coffee. (It’s not “puedo tener más café.” Apparently, that sounds like your asking permission to give birth to coffee. So don’t do that, that’s bad, he’ll say.)
He’s a baby-faced man with thin arms and sharp cheekbones. He gives me free hot water to steep my tea in. There’ll be moments when I ask him about East Africa. And he’ll respond, leaving the stories to generality (that, well, there’s poverty and war, yes… well, yes). He hints that he doesn’t want me to ask more questions. He’ll ask if I want anything more to eat.
I haven’t asked him his name, and he hasn’t asked me mine.
I come here whenever I can to write or work on college apps, and he’s always there. Early on Sunday mornings, when the sun’s coming up, or at closing time, 9:30 PM— he's there, smiling, behind the countertop.
This week's post comes from Nefertiti, a high school student from Minnesota studying abroad in Rennes, France.
Making real French friends has been on the top of my “to do in France while I’m here for 9 months” list, it’s true. My host sister, Claire, loves dragging me along with her friends. Don’t get me wrong; her friends are really cool and easy to talk to. But am I wrong to think that it might be a wee bit forced? I am the American here. Being nice to Claire automatically means being nice to me, of course. But I wanted to make French friends that I can call my own.
Now, the question stood at ‘in what way am I going to accomplish this?’ You see, when I want to do something, I’ll go to serious lengths to get it done. Especially when it comes to my France bucket list. This being at the top, I’m sure you can understand, or at least picture, how I was feeling.
One of the first weeks here my school told us about the many opportunities for extracurricular programs. I have always been the type of person who cannot just sit around and do nothing. Just the other day my host mom told me I never sleep, “Tu ne dors jamais!” I responded with telling her that it’s normal, “Je sais. C’est normale”. Besides I didn’t sign up for a year abroad to sleep.
With that being said my host mom helped me find some activities that might interest me; sports take up most of my life back home, but I wanted to do something different for a change. I told her that dance would be something cool to try. The problem was choosing which kind of dance. Belly dancing, Reggae-Soul, Ballroom, Ballet, Salsa, Breakdancing, and I can go on.
The first ones involve serious control of the upper body, something I literally cannot do. I decided to pass on breakdancing as well, in fear of my life. I kept looking and looking, until I came across Hip-hop.
Before my first class, it was all I could think about. The day came and I was shaking like I don’t know what. Everyone was warming up, looking super cool, while I was chugging water to calm the ever-rising nerves of mine. At the time my French wasn’t very good so my host mom came with and introduced me to the teacher. Luckily for me he knows English! Score.
He told me how he spent a year traveling the U.S. teaching Hip-hop workshops. Of course, he had no idea where Minnesota was. I told him not to worry and I reassured him that most people don’t. As the class went on, he was surprised at how good I was for a first-timer. He continued asking me to demonstrate the dance for everyone. That surely gave me some confidence. He always found it cool to constantly tell everyone that I’m American, and that surely started the question-asking. “Where are you from?”, “What school do you go to?”, “How long are you staying here?”, the usual. I was the new puppy everyone wanted to pet. Again, no one knew where Minnesota was.
The second time around, I felt like I could do anything. We were split into groups and I was paired with a girl who looked younger than me, but was actually two years older. “Hi, I’m Etienne, like the town,” she said. “I’m Nefertiti, like the queen. Probably haven’t heard of her. You can call me Nef” is what I responded with. As I struggled to explain the steps in French to her, she stopped me and said she is fluent in English so I don’t have to kill myself trying to speak French. I laughed hysterically and said that she should have told me that from the beginning. I’ve been going to the class for two hours, every Tuesday now. That’s how it all started. It’s completely worth every single minute.
A couple weeks ago on my way to school, I saw her on my bus. I caught the number 9 and took my usual seat, to see her sitting right across from me. You know that game where you both look at each other at different times to see if it is who you think it is, or if it’s just your imagination? Yeah, we did that for a good 10 minutes. I finally realized that it was actually her. So excited, I quickly greeted her with bisous. Now, everyday I leave a seat open for her right next to me. Sometimes she isn’t there. But when she is, it makes my mornings that much better. We talk and make a ton of noise all the way to school. Then on Tuesdays, we do the same at dance class. I found out that she lives really close to me. So sometimes we hang out, watch movies, and eat our feelings with an abundance of pizza and candy. It’s nice to be able to do that with someone.
“Making real French friends. Check.”
Now that’s off the list.
Studying abroad in China, Meave L., writes about an excellent honey-pumpkin muffin shop she has discovered in Beijing! Originally from South West High School, Meave is a world away in China.
Fengmi Nangua Gao 蜂蜜南瓜蛋糕
Among the numerous baozi vendors, teashops, and Chinese restaurants in my school’s neighborhood in Beijing, I did not expect to discover the infamous honey-pumpkin muffin shop, “Fengmi Nangua Gao”. It is not really even a shop, nor would I consider it street food. It is literally a hole in the wall, one-man business, which my friends and I refer to as the “Lukou Nangua place,” meaning the pumpkin place at the intersection.
The guy running it, Mr. Zhu, is probably one of the happiest people I’ve ever seen. He never speaks, but simply smiles a rotten-toothed grin as he flips the baked muffins over with his spatula, a cooling process he does about five hundred times a day. He only has two 4 x 6 trays and one oven—each customer probably buys an average of ten muffins, so after every two or three people there is usually about a fifteen minute wait for the next batch. A few feet away from the vending counter there is a mountain of pumpkins, a makeshift bench, and a rusty knife. When Mr. Zhu runs out of pumpkin batter, sometimes the wait turns into twenty minutes since he has to manually slice the pumpkins while we all watch him in anticipation.
I remember the first time I went there, which was the first week of school, I waited in such a long line that it snaked several meters along the sidewalk. When it was my turn, I asked for two muffins and waited patiently as he took his time with his perfected cooling process, laughing at me a little for ordering just two. He weighed them on his scale, probably the most expensive piece of equipment in his business, and told me the price was eight yuan, the equivalent of one dollar, or 50 cents per muffin. I’m sure that if he raised the price the line would still be the same length.
Besides doubao (red bean bread), nangua muffins are arguably the most comforting food Beijing has to offer. Foreigners and Chinese people alike love these muffins, although strangely nobody knows where they come from. Never seeing another pumpkin muffin shop in all of Beijing, I am almost positive Mr. Zhu invented the nangua muffin recipe, which he must have stashed in a secret hiding spot. Nonetheless, my classmates and I have found these muffins are the perfect solution for almost anything. C- on an English Essay? Nangua muffins. Don’t have enough money for a real lunch? Nangua muffins. Miss Mommy’s cooking? Nangua muffins. It’s difficult to describe the specific taste of a pumpkin muffin, but generally speaking it tastes like everything is going to be all right. Thank you Mr. Zhu.
Waverly, originally from St.Paul's School, is on a mission to assimilate into her new home in Viterbo, Italy. As she navigates her way through the narrow streets of the city, she slowly feels more at home.
Mission: To assimilate into Viterbo, Italy for nine months.
Mission Status: 25% Complete.
Phase 1: Meet Italians. I’m not exactly a social butterfly. Exactly, I’m a social hermit. It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s just that whenever I open my mouth my foot immediately plants itself within. I’ve tried everything to change this. I’ve tried telling jokes (they always come out offensive), telling stories (they always make me seem even more boring than I already am), and I have even tried small talk about the weather (which is never successful because to this day, I don’t understand Celsius). Seeing as how I can’t even talk to Americans, trying to socialize with Italians was not even really worth the effort. Lucky for me, there is no effort involved. Putting aside the impossibility of interacting with Italians in Italy, SYA extends teenage Italians to you on a silver platter. You work with them, share buses with them, and, even if you are as socially challenged as me, find yourself becoming friends with them. If anything, having the language barrier makes that easier. If they don’t understand you they can’t find your jokes offensive, stories boring, or small talk insipid. They just laugh at your accent (and you laugh right along with them because, let’s be real, it IS pretty bad).
Phase 2: Eat like a local. This can be interpreted two ways. The first is actually consuming the same foods that they do. This will happen without you even trying. The host families are locals and so they are, of course, going to serve you local cuisine. As I’ve said already and will doubtless say again, it’s amazing. Italian cuisine is the byproduct of carbs, salt, olive oil, and God. You just can’t beat it and honestly, it’s worth every little cm added to your waistline.
The second way that this can be interpreted is eating the local cuisine in a manner similar to that of an Italian. Where the previous was unavoidable, this is impossible. Firstly, Italians don’t walk and eat. That just isn’t a part of their culture. And you may very well think 'it can’t be that hard to just not walk and eat.' But imagine having to catch a bus in half an hour, having a wicked craving for pizza Bianca (my personal favorite), and wanting to stop by that really cute shoe store five minutes away. You’re going to make the right decision. You’re going to buy that pizza, walk over to that shoe store, and eat along the way. You’ll fail at the assimilation part of SYA but you’ll gain pizza Bianca and shoe store shopping and that makes it worth it.
Secondly, Italians eat pasta with elegance and ease that you will never be able to achieve, at least not in two months. I’m still not even positive how it’s done and we eat pasta practically every day. They twist and turn their forks with the precision of a surgeon and raise the forks to their mouths with all of the grace of a dancer and somehow manage to never get tomato sauce on their chin. I suspect witchcraft, but in a Catholic country I’m hesitant to make my suspicions known.
Phase 3: Be involved. This is by far the easiest to accomplish and also by far the most underrated. Your first few weeks you’re going to stay with your host families, get to know them, get them to know you. But eventually you have to branch out and try activities in Viterbo. I have friends who took cooking classes (this will make your family back home happy), hiking trips (sounds like torture to me but I hear the instructor is really cute), and photography classes (for the more artsy-inclined).
I myself have found bliss in helping at a local soup kitchen, where I meet all sorts of people: immigrants who don’t speak a word of Italian, elderly couples who are a little down on their luck, and college students who are tired of the Italian equivalent of Ramen noodles. I know that from working at the kitchen, I can get a different kind of perspective, see the Italy that gets overshadowed by fashion shows and soccer tournaments. I get to see where Italy and America and every other country in the world converge, the homeless and hungry. How Italy treats the least among them tells you more about the country and it’s attitudes than visiting the Coliseum ever could. Italy treats their poor with respect and genuine warmth; that realization has made me love the country all the more. Doing what you love in a foreign country connects you to the country in ways that you would not have ever thought.
Phase 4: Stop feeling like a tourist. This is something that I’m not quite sure that I’ve accomplished. Don’t get me wrong, I identify with Italy. I root for them in soccer (not to would be to gamble with my health), changed my Facebook location (and language, every bit helps when it comes to figuring out Italian prepositions), and even join in on the nightly bashing of the government. But to this day, and probably for the rest of my life, I see Americans and Italians differently. I still get giddy when I see an Italian boy.
The first academic quarter of SYA Italy has just passed and I have to say, I’m conflicted. I mean, of course it stinks that I only have seven months left here, but on the other hand, I have accomplished so much. This, like all things in life, relates to chocolate (which, like life itself, is better in Italy). It’s like being a quarter through a chocolate bar. I’m sad because so much of the chocolate bar is gone, happy because ‘hey, I just ate chocolate’, and excited because I still have three whole quarters of chocolate left to go.
While studying abraod in Zaragoza, Spain, Sarah T., got the opportunity to visit Ajo, home to the Pueblos. Faced with no internet access, Sarah learned to enjoy the time she had with her host family, eating freshly prepared food and seeing beautiful sites. Originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, Sarah chronicles her adventures in Spain in her blog, No Entiendo
I’d heard horror stories about getting “pueblo-ed.” My friends talked about no internet access, but student guide mentioned never having time to do homework, and past students told me about the endless conversations in Spanish I didn’t have a chance in understanding. So when my family told a few weeks ago their plans to go to their version of the pueblo for the long weekend, I was terrified. Not only did I not want to miss out on the Halloween festivities (so American, I know), but I had never been alone with my family for that long, completely cut off from any English speakers. And thanks to being told well in advance, I had plenty of time to psych myself out about how much I would hate the weekend. So as we piled into the car on Thursday afternoon and set off, I found the fading light perfectly metaphorical for the fading hope I had about and chance of enjoying the weekend. Three and a half hours later, we pulled into a random restaurant on some road that I was told essentially encompassed the entire pueblo. It was pitch black outside, and for all I knew, we could have still been in Zaragoza. But when I woke up the next morning, I was proven very wrong.
The scenery of Ajo, the pueblo, is probably the prettiest place I have ever seen, ever. It’s a little town of no more than 1,000 full time residents about 30 minutes from Santander, the capital of Cantabria, which is a comunidad autónoma on the northern coast of Spain. Fun fact: Ajo is the northernmost point in Spain! The landscape is a wonderful combination of rolling green hills filled with cows and sheep and dramatic cliffs that drop off into a sea with waves over 20 feet. I felt like someone had put me a Lord of the Rings movie, or something like that. It even has the quintessential lighthouse on the cape.
Luckily, I had no time to worry about whatever was happening in Zaragoza, because my parents were intent on showing me the best of the area. We first went down to the beach, then drove through Santander to a pueblo called Santillana, which is apparently the prettiest pueblo in Spain, although there are a lot of those. My mother eagerly had me try all the local foods, including a delicious cheesecake called quesada, which is less sweet and little cheesier. On our way home, after stopping by the beaches of Santander, we stopped by their friend’s farm to pick up enough vegetables to feed a small nation. Almost all of the vegetables we eat back home come from their farm. Then we went next store to pick up fish caught that day at one of the beaches we had visited. And then if things couldn’t get anymore local, we went to the barn down the road to get milk. The bottles were still warm when we brought them to the car! The lunch we had the next day was made of food picked/caught within the last 24 hours in a mile radius of the house. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten food that fresh!
I not only survived the pueblo, I honestly enjoyed it. Four days without any excuse to head to my room or access to the internet meant I spent every minute with my family, bonding with them and just hanging out. On the last day when my dad was doing yard work, he asked me to help, and while that seems silly, it was the first time in my high school year abroad that they had asked me to do something that their kids had to do too. I felt like I was becoming part of the family, which really was the best part of the pueblo.
Tara S., a student studying abroad at SYA France reflects on how she has immersed to the culture of her host city Rennes. From the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia, Tara is experiencing many new foods, activities, languages and adventures while abroad. To follow all of her adventures, check out her blog Life's About the Journey.
The word pilgrim conjures up images of stormy seas, the stereotypical first Thanksgiving and "really stylish" old Protestant habits. But according to Dictionary.com (obviously the foremost authority on definitions) a pilgrim is simply "a traveler or wanderer, especially in a foreign place," more specifically, a newcomer. Given that definition, I wouldn't be surprised to see a picture of SYA students right next to the word pilgrim in the dictionary. Traveler? Check. Newcomer? Check. Foreign place? Check. Welcome aboard the 21st Century Mayflower.
Recently, SYA France's college counselor, Mme. Solter talked to us about pilgrimages in preparation for our crossing of the Bay of Mont St. Michel. The journey we traced to the monastery is one that many religious pilgrims had made before us, and Mme. Solter urged us to reflect during the walk on how it fits into our personal pilgrimage.
The crossing was a breath of fresh, cold Briton air. A large expanse of quick sand, water and "vase" (a unique mud-like mixture that can turn quick-sand deadly in a flash) was the perfect place for us to let off steam, enjoy the arrival of the crisp Rennes fall and bond with the host siblings with whom we traversed the bay.
As we trekked through the mud and sand, I did reflect on how far my classmates and I had come. This 8km hike represented the linguistic progress and everything we'd done in our first month. For starters, I had found among 60-odd strangers close to 60 fast new friends.
A few weeks earlier, at the two-week mark, my classmates and I passed the State Department’s average duration of stay for a tourist and thus commenced our transformation into true Rennais. That weekend, we piled ironically into two large tourist buses headed for the end of the earth (Finistère, Bretagne). Our trip around Brittany, the region we now call home, included a trek to Pointe du Raz (the closest point in France to the U.S), a Miro exhibit, multiple gorgeous ancient cathedrals and a sculpture scavenger hunt around our first chateau- comme c'est francais! After the trip, we had the weighty sensation of having passed the tipping point. Not just passing through, we were truly here to stay, in France, for a year.
Like the settlers at Plymouth on the first Thanksgiving, in a sense, we SYA-ers are all pilgrims slowly becoming at home in a world that is to us, just over a month old. We've explored our department (from Ille et Vilaine to Finistère), eagerly been initiated into its unique gastronomy (including but not limited to the famous Briton galettes and Kouingaman, the butter cake) and absorbed its rich culture and history (complete with covert nationalist plots), and bit by bit, have inserted ourselves into la vie Rennais. Now, as I walk down la Boulevard de La Duchesse Anne with Bastille blasting in my ear, fumbling in my bag for my Kori Go card without breaking stride, feeling the crunch of leaves under my feet as I try not to get hit by a bus that in true Rennes style doesn't seem to approve of the pedestrian's right of way, I can't help but feel like these are my streets and my city. And for that sense of belonging, I am thankful.