Aero: Dallas Zebrowski – France 2018 – Life at School

Aero: Dallas Zebrowski - France 2018 - Life at School

Aero: Dallas Zebrowski – France 2018 – Life at School

Dallas Zebrowski

Dallas Zebrowski

When asked to describe the quintessential French high-school experience, as viewed with the unbiased eye of a foreigner, the only relatable image that comes to mind is the stereotypical high school created by Hollywood for the silver screen. Whether a sit-com, movie, or soap-opera, crystal-clear themes of freedom, friendliness, and cheerfulness are broadcast through events such as after-class runs to the local café, instances like light-hearted inside jokes, and episodes of boisterous cross-table dialogue are shoved at the viewer. In America, we usually view these sorts of scenes with skepticism and humor, never foregoing the too-often made comment: “Real high schools are nothing like that.” Because, frankly speaking, American high-schools are nothing like the Hollywood portrayals. After-class runs to the local café never occur because students have further hours of sports and homework. And allowing students to go off school grounds between classes for a needed cup of Dunkin? The mere thought would send a school administrator into convulsions so violent that only the crime of wearing hat inside set them off worse. Concerning the instances of light-hearted inside jokes – most likely they are heavy-handed covert insults. The boisterous cross-table dialogue? Well the would, of course, be dispelled of by a monitor faster than an Olympic sprinter on eight Redbulls being chased by a cheetah.

But then, for two weeks in March of 2018, I went to France. But more importantly, I discovered during these two weeks that this romanticized Hollywood image does exist. There is a place where every student is at least cordial to one-another; where the day has not started before a trip to the local café; where everyone at the lunch table is friends. Only through international travel across an ocean was I able to find such a place. And I loved every minute I was there.

My first visit to the school in Vitré began with anticipation, as observing the French students in their classes was something I whole-heartedly interested to see. But, in actuality, my first visit began with a trip to the local café, due to my host-student’s morning classes being cancelled. Soon, another American student and their host arrived as we sat outside in the crisp morning air. After I observed the two Frenchmen and the American partake in the fundamental life necessity of enjoying an 8:15 a.m. hand-rolled French cigarette, we went inside and ordered some expresso. Soon, other French students arrived, and I watched the newcomers indulge in another life necessity – an 8:30 a.m. pint of beer. Once everyone finished their respective vices, we headed up the hill from the café to the school.

I make mention of the cigarette/beer/expresso occasion because it caused me to develop an assumption that I soon discovered was completely wrong. I assumed that my associates were the cool kids, the renegades, the (as The Outsiders so eloquently put it) Socs. But, more importantly, I assumed that my associates would act like the American interpretation of the cool kids.

Upon arriving at the school, I separated from my host student, joined my American compatriots, and sat down to observe what I was waiting for: a real French class. To answer the general, icebreaker questions posted on Blackboard, the class was how I expected it to be. Class-size, technology use, materials were all about how I expected – not astronomically different from America. Besides for the obvious difference of being in French, everything was just as how I imagined. But then I went off the beaten path.

Later in the week, I separated from the Americans and sat-in on two of my host-student’s classes: Business Management and Law. The class size was, method of instruction, and materials were all like an American classroom. However, it was the student-instruction interaction which was my primary focus of attention. Previously, I was informed by multiple sources of the relationship between students and teachers in France; the teacher was nothing-else than an authoritative figure who ran the classroom with a strictness and efficiency second only to the infamous Catholic nuns described to us by our beloved Grandparents. The lowly students are then engaged in a constant struggle to absorb information and master the subject, while the instructor offers constructive criticism. While the former sentence does contain a slight (and I do mean slight, in the truest sense) amount of hyperbole, the scene I witnessed within my host-student’s class shattered this notion. The students were constantly talking through-out the class, and very often became disruptive. The teacher was in a constant struggle to quiet them, but her efforts were to no avail. In America, the actions of both classes would be unacceptable, and I personally believed that both classes were being unacceptably rude to the professor.

But, on a significantly more positive note, I was blown away by the English class in which Amanda, Piper, and myself did a panel discussion. The knowledge the students possessed was astonishing, and their articulation of American politics and issues was deeply impressive. Furthermore, I felt as if I was having an intelligent conversation with a group of scholars, something that, frankly, is difficult to find on an American college campus. Recently some of the class sought me out on Snapchat, and we have been periodically messaging. We will probably not stay in touch, but their messages are nearly all identical and greatly pleasing to read: we were mutually impressed by one-another, we mutually defeated the respective stereotypes regarding our nations and our people, and we both had an excellent time doing it. I had the professor take photograph of the French class and the Americans together, and while it turned out horribly, I will hang on to that photograph for a time to come.

Now, on to the food, an essential portion to any media regarding France. The school lunches were fantastic. In what seems to be typical French style, a full meal was provided to each student; no “the pizza sauce counts as a vegetable” here. Furthermore, the diversity of sustenance I encountered in my four, short days at the school was borderline intoxicating. Fresh salad, excellent deserts, soup, and relatively fresh bread, not including the main course, and two side dishes. I hope the French students appreciate what they have, as I believe the French correspondents that travel to America will be disappointed by the offerings in American educational institutions.

But to wrap up this rant, I would like to end on my wrong assumption, and how Hollywood does exist. During my time at the school, I witnessed the things I once thought were Hollywood creations; the café runs, the boisterous lunch table conversation, the light-hearted inside jokes. One place that may be permanently burned into my mind is the smoking area beside the school. While slowly destroying their lungs, I saw the people, who I once deemed to be the “cool kids” laugh and joke with the obvious nerds. I watched my host student laugh and joke with others, who I am guessing, would never indulge in a pre-9:00 a.m. pint. It was here, enveloped in a carcinogenic fog, that I realized that my assumption was wrong. The cool kids got along with the nerds, the jocks with the musicians, etc. To be honest, I am not sure that those labels even exist in France, as all I could see were students getting along with one another. So, to end on a good note, it is clear to me that the mutually exclusive cliques, so prevalent within the American educational system, are absent in France, and that I was wrong on two counts – that the “cool kids” are not like their American counterparts, and that Hollywood does exist across an ocean.

Dallas Zebrowski
Study Abroad – France 2018 @ FLCC

World Languages @ FLCC: France Study Abroad 2018

(Click here to browse the entire FLCC @ France 2018 Gallery!)