I don’t mean to offend anyone, but my junior year was better than yours. I spent it at School Year Abroad in Rennes, France.
If you enjoy meeting new people, experiencing freedom and gaining a more open perspective of the world, then you’ll like SYA.
My friend Matthew Kelson ‘14 had participated in SYA the previous year and told me that I should, but I still wasn’t convinced. Was I ready to put my life in Los Angeles on pause and go to France? Could I leave my mom? What if I didn’t make friends? What if no one understood me? I had travelled before, but this was different. Still, I decided to push aside all of my worries and signed myself up. And let me tell you, that was the best decision I have ever made.
My first day, I was as nervous as my first day at Harvard-Westlake in seventh grade, but I soon realized that everyone was just as lost as I was. During our first lunch, one girl said she was full, and everyone succumbed to peer pressure and left the table with their plates barely touched. I was left with my soon-to-be best friend, Flora, from Charleston, a Taylor Swift look-alike who unexpectedly listened to Neutral Milk Hotel and Dodos and was way cooler than I was.
My first host family was a full house — parents, four sisters and one brother. I thought I could easily fit into the family, but all they did was watch television, and none of my host siblings wanted to talk to me. As a result, I changed my host family, and my new family gave me space and a lot of freedom, while still caring about me.
For some reason, seven girls and I just clicked, and we became the best of best friends. Every day for lunch, we’d go to the nearby park or downtown, and after school, we’d stay out drinking coffee just to enjoy the five months we had left. For New Year’s, three of us went to Paris and rented an apartment on Rue de la Roquette just next to Bastille. Forget all the taking-instagrams-at-Tour-Eiffel junk; we went to boat parties on the Seine, met plenty of rad Parisians and pretended the world was ours.
Every month, we would visit another place. I visited Berlin, London, Sicily, Nice, Amsterdam, Brussels, Aix-en-Provence, Cassis, Marseille, Avignon and a handful of châteaux and cathedrals around France. When I traveled with my friends, we never stayed at hotels but rented hip apartments. We knew that traveling wasn’t about luxury and sightseeing. It was about discovering small shops and restaurants and connecting with the people there.
The farewell with my friends was the saddest goodbye, even though I knew I would see them in the summer. I cried and waved until my friends disappeared into the street. In retrospect, I don’t think I cried because I couldn’t see them for a few months but because I knew we would never have the same experience. During our last week in Paris, I had enjoyed every second spent walking along the Seine, biking around Fontenay and listening to live music in the forest with the French boy I had sworn I wouldn’t fall in love with. But I was very close to doing so.
Coming back to Los Angeles was somewhat okay because I got to see my family and my friends, but I couldn’t help but compare my life here to the almost perfect one I had there. I am going to sound very cliché, but I feel like such an outsider. I see the people, and most of them care only about the social scene and their image. I guess that’s part of being a kid in Los Angeles, but it’s sad to see people think this city is the only place that exists. In the end, it’s okay because I know my journey has just begun and I can still visit more places.
Hey world, you ready?