As some might know, I am currently abroad in Rennes, France, which is about a 90-minute train ride from Paris. During my stay, I have been fully immersed in all aspects of the life of a French high school student ranging from living with my host family who I adore, to eating in the cafeteria of the French high school, to even taking the majority of my classes in French. My time here has really opened my eyes to the experiences of others from different cultures and how they might intertwine with those I deem typical in my day-to-day life.
This past week I had the opportunity to attend a local high school for the day while shadowing a student in all of their classes. At Lycee Jean Macé, students attend school from 8 a.m. in the morning to the daunting hour of 6 p.m. Individual classes can go on for as long as two hours with a short five-minute break to hold you off for the second portion of the period. Having gone to BB&N, a school that runs from 8 a.m. to a reasonable 3:25 p.m. I couldn’t possibly imagine how these students had the strength to endure such grueling days while incorporating sports in the middle of the day and still studying when they arrived back home.
My day started at 8 a.m. with my partner Tillio, who despite the fact that he seemed very approachable, for the first few hours only got nods from me anytime he spoke. It had been so long since I had seen a public school, let alone in a different country where your mother tongue is one that not many know fluently.
The universal human desire to look and stare at new changes in an environment was very difficult for me to handle. For so long, I had been used to where I was back in Boston at BB&N and this felt like a restart. The students laughed, whispered, and briefly listened to the presentations of their peers while the teacher attempted to make use of those strenuous 120 minutes. I can’t completely describe the energy in that class. It felt both organized and disorganized at the same time to the point where when the teacher began her lecture, I could not understand a single word. It was as though a loud vacuum had sucked up her ability to have the floor to speak. However, to my surprise, every single student in the class could write notes down and elaborate on the teacher’s stream of consciousness.
During my next class I got a prime opportunity to use my English knowledge to thrive where the French kids struggled. My excitement made me grin from ear-to-ear; for the first time in my whole two-and-a-half months in France, I had the language upper hand. Throughout the whole class, I was truly fascinated by the fact that the language I had been using practically my whole life was the same language these kids were still trying to attain fluency in. The stutters, mistakes, and loss of thought helped me understand we are never alone in our experiences, and we just need to find those who share the same experiences and bond over the struggle.