A few weeks back, we posted a great article by Stefano about his Semester Abroad spent studying at Sciences Po in Paris. Not only did Stefano make fantastic use of his time in Paris, he also managed to spend some of his holiday time accompanying a French high school trip to Lourdes to add to the experiences of his Semester Abroad:’
‘Spending a semester abroad, in France, has by far been one of the most eventful adventures of my academic life. When students have to choose a country for their foreign study experiences they usually, and rightly, focus on a number of factors to help them decide, from the linguistic region to the quality of teaching, from the costs of living to the different courses offered at the host institutions and so on and so forth. If I were to give any piece of advice to students considering any experience abroad, I would recommend you to keep a very open-minded approach to all the elements you may want to consider throughout your decisional process. Why? The reason is pretty straightforward and I hope not to fall into too much of a cliché: the best part of setting off to a new destination is not knowing where your path is going to lead you. In other words, there is nothing better than starting a journey keeping eyes and mind open to all the different adventures you might find along the way.
In my case, I had to choose among partner-institutions in France, Switzerland, Morocco and Canada and I eventually decided to apply for SciencesPo, in Paris. In a previous article on this blog I have already described what a semester in the Ville Lumière looks like, but spending those months abroad entailed so much more than just experiencing a new, thrilling, student life. Living and studying in France, especially in Paris, offers a wide range of opportunities for everyone, such as museums, parks, exhibitions, great food and a lovely culture to discover more and more.
But I did not imagine how eventful and powerful this semester could be.
Leaving aside all the marvellous opportunities I enjoyed while studying at SciencesPo, I would like to share another experience that made my time in France even more remarkable (and I did not even think that could be possible, to be honest).
It is a story of travels, of journeys within this journey and of how incredible life can be sometimes. I really wish to thank the Stirling’s French Department for having given me both the opportunity to study in Paris and the skills to get the most out my adventures there.
It all started one evening as I was walking back to my flat right outside Paris with my French friend and host when he asked me whether I was interested in working for his former High School in Meudon, since he knew of my previous working experiences with pupils and youth groups abroad. From that moment in time, so many things happened that it is not even that easy to recall them all on paper.
So, let us proceed step by step.
Shortly after that conversation, I went to a meeting with the High School’s Principal in order to get to know each other and, most importantly, to present me the project they were looking for help with. Following on from this initial presentation and other meetings, I eventually managed to get hired as Group Leader and Pastoral Animator in my friend’s former Catholic High School. It sounds like a job like many others; it has been a mission. Yes, a mission: something in between an apostolic journey and a potential new Mission Impossible movie, for two main reasons. The first is of a religious nature: when I accepted to embark on this new adventure I joined a cheerful and lively team of six leaders whose duty was to take a group of 50 French pupils to Lourdes, for a week-long pilgrimage, within a huge event (the so called FRATERNEL) organised by the Catholic Dioceses of the Ile-de-France which gathered more than 10000 French young people to sing, pray, have fun and reflect upon the upcoming Synod of Bishops in Rome; Pope Francis himself sent us a letter and a video-message to thank us for this great opportunity!
The second reason I would describe this journey as like an imaginary new Tom Cruise movie relates to the challenges of bringing 50 French teenagers to Lourdes (by night bus and then by night train), being totally immersed in the language (as well as the more colloquial slang young people would use), 24/7 on duty and still having enough energy to sing, jump, dance, shout out all our joy on the wave of enthusiasm with the other 10000+ jeun.es français.es.
After a not-so-comfortable night bus journey, we thus got to Lourdes where we spent a fully packed week of events, activities, Masses and exploring excursions that left us all exhausted but happy as we have never felt before. Words and pictures will hardly describe how thrilling and energetic the atmosphere was. It was all new for me: I had never been to Lourdes, neither to that part of France, I had never worked alongside French colleagues nor with French pupils, I had never heard of the Hopen and Glorious rock-pop bands and I had never been surrounded by such an enthusiastic crowd. For the first time in my life, I was also in charge of small pastoral groups of 10 pupils each…and they were understandably all French; I have enjoyed this experience so much, trust me! We managed to carry out interesting projects (before, during and after Lourdes) with all groups, despite accents and Verlan. So it must be true, after all: communication is the key and knowing different languages can really bridge people and communities.
Best satisfaction? The pupils’ joy and the mutual understanding to think bigger, all together; the feeling of having given a lot, to have grown as a person and not just linguistically. I think it is thus safe to say that we all taught something to each other. We shared a journey, not just through France, but in life and this is something I think we will all cherish forever.
The journey back to Meudon-Paris was not any more comfortable, but it was alright in the end: we had too many songs to sing to worry about our travel home.’
Many, many thanks to Stefano for sharing this with us and for taking the time to send us another great blog post!