Reflecting on an impactful year in Europe

Student shares the memories of her experience in France


Sofia Bazant

Sofia Bazant enjoys Lille during her junior year of high school.

Sofia Bazant, Staff Writer

Three years ago today, I was a junior in high school living as a study abroad student in France. It was one of the most enriching experiences of my life.

It all began on Friday, Sept. 5, 2018, when I arrived in Paris for my study abroad orientation. I ate dinner in a hostel cafeteria with 300 other exchange students waiting to depart to our new French homes the following morning. Students from around the world sat dispersed among tables, connecting through broken French and bits of other languages. The air was palpable with nervous excitement as we all imagined the adventures that waited for us just around the corner.

Soon enough I was touring Le Cateau-Cambrésis, a modest countryside town in Northeastern France, home to the Matisse museum. 

My host parents welcomed me to the quiet center of their traditional red-brick village, while my two and three-year-old host sisters spoke excitedly over one another. My bedroom window overlooked an abandoned bed-and-breakfast with chipped pearl shutters, among the closely-packed buildings that evoked a city. Little did I know, these people would become my second family and the house my second home. 

My year abroad exposed me to a level of independence I had never experienced — my host parents encouraged me to be proactive and responsible on my own accord. 

On my first day of school — less than 48 hours after my arrival in France — I walked up the stairs by the iron gates of my school with no instructions other than to go to the front desk. After about four words, the woman at the desk exclaimed that I was “l’américaine” and sent me off with a classmate. I embraced this independence every day by exploring my town on my own and working hard in my classes.

I completely immersed myself completely in the language and culture. Everyone seemed to want to help me improve my French — during my first week, the baker at the local boulangerie said “une” with a smile when I ordered “un baguette”; my host family sparked intellectual conversations that would broaden my knowledge and language skills; we discussed our days at dinner and conversed about topics ranging from politics to pop culture. 

I carefully documented all memories and relationships from the year through photos and routine journal entries that I still possess. They are filled with photos of each vibrant sunset, from my house on the hill to photos of croissants I got for less than a euro during my 15-minute school breaks and everything in between. My photos were a way of slowing down and appreciating the little things in life.

My classmates became my best friends. I spent every class period with the same twenty students who shared a specialization for the baccalaureat, a French college entrance exam. At the end of the year, my friends made me a scrapbook of photos with goodbye notes that I keep in my room as a reminder of the beautiful relationships and memories that I’ll always cherish.

I also created my own elaborate photo album for my host family as a goodbye gift. Inside, I glued hundreds of photos from our activities, such as cooking new recipes together, playing board games in the house and traveling around France.

Reflecting on this time brings me unparalleled joy because I am unbelievably thankful for the experiences and relationships that brought me such an excitingly tumultuous year of memories. 

While I would need far more than a few short paragraphs to describe all that I gained in my time abroad, I feel that no amount of words could truly do justice to all that gained that year.

I hope that I will soon return to the people that made my junior year so wonderful and to the country that made it all happen.