… “Kentoc’h mervel eget bezañ saotret”, the motto of Bretagne in Breton language, or in English, “Rather Death than Dishonour”
I’ve finished more than a full week of my exchange and can confidently say that if the rest of the year continues as such, it will be an indescribably incredible experience.
There has been so much happening in the past ten days that I’m not even sure where to begin. While yes, the paperwork has been heavy (a warning I was given many times over before my departure) and there have been mild moments of culture shock, I’m nonetheless left elated that I made the decision to come to France on exchange.
The first week has been one of awkward first greetings, surprises at every turn, and random opportunities for an adventure. Even after such a short time here, I’ve no doubt that the most certain way to make the best experience out of an exchange is to simply open your eyes to any opportunity and just say, “Yes.” Without the confidence to take a chance and follow your new friends, whence they may hail, or to take the lead and suggest a new path to tread, you’ll find yourself left simply waiting for some adventure to find you, when you should be discovering it yourself.
Which is exactly how I met some amazing people here already. For the first two weeks of our time here at l’Institut des Études Politiques (l’IEP or SciencesPo) à Rennes, all of the exchange students (of which I hear there are almost 100), were expected to attend an integration course in French to prepare us for our classes and educate us about the city, and the region of Bretagne (Brittany). On my first day, I was invited to go out the same night with two people I had just met, and I don’t regret it for a minute. Even while we were out, the sheer fact that the four of us who went were German, Dutch, Japanese, and Canadian, led us to being invited to join a group of French people who were at the same place.
And so the week continued, more and more of us began meeting through our French course (divided into groups based on a placement test taken on the first day) and in the Grand Cloître (the large courtyard) of the university. Many of us faced the same challenges of navigating the city, getting cellphones or groceries (or for all of us, MORE identity photos to accompany forms), and in some cases, the search for internet (…I’ll explain in a later post). Because of the similar tasks we faced, it made no sense to go it alone when we could begin establishing friendships while accomplishing these small goals.
Which is precisely how I ended up at St Malo this weekend! An invitation which I very reluctantly accepted came only the day before a group of us decided to make the trip. I can’t explain exactly why I felt unsure of heading up to the coastal city, but looking back, I can’t believe I hesitated. St Malo is an incredible city in the north of Bretagne, with beautiful beaches, a walled part of the city, a castle, and is famous for being the birthplace of Chateaubriand (the famous writer) and, more notably for myself at least, Jacques Cartier (a name which every Canadian should know). Funnily enough, the Monday previous, when I had first gone out, the frenchman who invited us to join his group was from St Malo. He told us that the Malouins were very proud of their city, even to the point of having the expression, “Malouin d’abord, Breton après, Français s’il en reste.”
The day was fantastic. I met even more students on exchange (almost twenty of us went), and ate more than my share of the specialty of Bretagne : Galettes. A galette is almost the same as a crepe, except it uses dark wheat instead of white flour and is typically savory, or has salty ingredients, instead of fruits or chocolate. I had one for breakfast with egg and cheese in it, a sweet crepe of lemon and sugar in the afternoon, and for dinner, une galette auvergnate which was comprised of walnuts, crème fraiche, and a cheese, bleu d’auvergne. I can confidently say it was the best I’d ever had (though I am a bit of a cheese fanatic to be honest).
I finished my weekend by wandering, exploring, and getting completely lost in the streets of Rennes (the best method of discovery I’m told), in search of an open bakery (it was Sunday after all, the day of all things closed in France), and taking photographs. I met with some friends in the afternoon to have a coffee in one of the centre squares.
All in all, a relaxing finish to an amazing first week, and it was all because I ditched my timidity for the confidence to just say yes.
*I must conclude this post with a dedication. Zephyr, which is an association in charge of a sort of international exchange student integration and orientation at SciencesPo Rennes, is comprised of some incredible, friendly, and extraordinarily helpful people. For all of us exchange students, they’ve have greeted us at our ports of arrival whether it be plane, train, or automobile. They’ve helped us navigate the metro system, and some offered their cars to carry our luggage. They’ve have helped us meet other students or get settled into residence, and later took us shopping for our basics on the very first day. They helped us navigate the trickiness of bank accounts and insurance companies, and later offered to accompany us to have visas validated, apartments found, and in one case, to seek hospital treatment. They’ve have done all that and much more than I could have expected before arriving in Rennes, and I can’t imagine having gone through this process without their help.*
(If you’d like to check out some more of the photos that I’ve taken over the past week, here is the link to my tumblr account, where I’ll typically upload supplementary photos and notes as the year goes by.)