When I said goodbye to my parents and friends 5 weeks ago, it was with the expectation that I would see them again. There were no pangs of homesickness, hardly any tears, and no desire to stay.

Now, 5 weeks later, I have said goodbye to people that I will never see again. I’ve said goodbye to the Irish boys that left a week after I arrived, the little Spanish boys that left a week before I did, the Swedish and Spanish boy that were staying in Biarritz when I left. They were all people that I shared a house with, people I ate dinner with. I was closer with some than others, but they were all a huge part of my experience abroad. I’ve said bye to the first group of two-week students. These were formal goodbyes, with pictures and number-exchanges and dozens of hugs. They live all over the country, from Atlanta to Chicago to New York City to Boston. Some of them, I’ll see again, others will just be followers on my Instagram and phantom contacts in my phone. I said goodbye to a dozen girls at the Paris airport, all of us a little stressed from our impending flights. I’ve said bye to the SPI students who were staying in Biarritz, one of my best friends in the program included. She lives in California, our relationship confined to Snapchat and FaceTime and texting until one of us happens to  visit the other side of the country. I’ve said bye to my roommate and other best friend in the program. I cried when she left, even though she lives a five hour drive from me.

I’ve said by to my program directors, one of whom I got really close with. Another person I won’t see again.

I said au revoir to my host family. My host mom Hermine, and my host dad Alex promised me a bed and food and hospitality the next time I am in Biarritz, told me to call them the next time I am in France. My little host sister Uma gave me a drawing. I don’t know if I am going to return to Biarritz in the near future, or even France. I will never be able to give Uma a drawing in return.

I bade farewell to Biarritz, the town that I love with all my heart. I said bye to the beaches, the people I met on those beaches, the stores, the shopkeepers, the cobblestones outside the doors, my apartment, my school, the students, the teachers, the cat that lived on the corner and would give me the stink eye if I got a little too close. People I met in instances, places I became acquainted with over shopping trips or afternoons in the sun.

I have never been so sad to leave somewhere in my life. There were many, many tears-and there continue to be. I’m already homesick, even though this place was only my home for a month. The only thing I want to do in the world is stay, and that’s the only thing that I can’t do.

My experience abroad has changed me, and not only in the people that I’ve met and the places that I have been. I have the confidence to go up to strangers and initiate conversation, the charge to navigate a foreign bus system without incident, even the trivial ability to identify any aspect of the Basque culture. I am now a speaker of two languages; I will never be the girl who “took French in high school.” I now have a home in two countries. And I am now in possession of the skills that will push me into a future that will undoubtedly and intricately involve France. I am a different person because I had to say those goodbyes, and although they were the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life, they were entirely worth it.


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The Last Week

In school, I got moved up another level! Learned even more verb tenses this week, to make the total that I’ve learned 7. SEVEN new verb tenses in FOUR weeks, holy crap.

Here’s our week:

  • Monday: We visited St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a Basque village considered one of the most beautiful in France and a stop on the Camino de Santiago, the Catholic pilgrimage. We got a tour of the city and walked around its outer walls, learning the history as we went along. We then got free time to get a snack, buy some gifts, and watch the pilgrims walk by. That night, we went to the beach and made new friends.
  • Tuesday: The weather wasn’t that good in the early afternoon, so I decided to explore the Hotel Palais. The hotel was once a vacation home for Napoleon III, and all of the decadence and luxury was still there. Needless to say, I felt a little out of place. The weather cleared up so we spent the late afternoon at the beach before returning home for dinner. We went out again afterwards, and were rewarded for our walking by a particularly beautiful sunset.
  • Wednesday: We took the bus to Bayonne again. This time, though, we visited a chocolate museum. The museum tour ended with chocolate sampling-the best part. We then had free time to shop and eat, and then a small group of us walked to a medieval market and delighted in the costumed vendors, medieval goods, and cannon demonstrations. That night, a group of us took the bus to Anglet to watch the Bastille Day fireworks (a day early). It was amazing, and on the bus ride back we met a group of French boys and made arrangements to hang over the next two days.
  • Thursday: LA FETE NATIONALE! We didn’t have school today due to the Bastille Day celebrations, so SPI had a bring-your-own-lunch picnic on the beach. We spent the rest of the day on the beach, returned home for dinner, and ventured out again for the fireworks in Biarritz. There were thousands of people crowded onto the beach, and I had a wild night of fireworks, new friends, and strange interactions.
  • Friday: Our last day in Biarritz. Alexa left this morning because she was going to India. I cried, but don’t worry, I wasn’t wearing any makeup. No activity after school, so I went to the beach for an hour and went shopping for last-minute gifts. That night, we went to the SPI-hosted going-away party. I cried, but don’t worry, I didn’t mess up my makeup. I spent the night on the beach with friends before meeting the French boys we had met on the bus the other night.
  • Saturday: I said goodbye to my host family. I was really trying not to cry, but it was a serious struggle. My host mom drove me through Biarritz for the last time and to the train station. As soon as she left, I started crying. Many other girls were crying as they said their goodbyes too.

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Week 3, Déjà Vu, and the Final

The new month and week students have arrived, which means more friends!

In school, I got moved up a level. It’s a bit more challenging, and I’ve learned 5 new verb tenses in this week alone. However, my French is getting so much better that it’s barely a challenge. My host parents say that they’ve noticed an improvement; I’m starting conversations now instead of just replying to questions, and when I do respond to a question, I have more to say than just “Ouais” or “Bien!” If I meet French teenagers on the beach, I try speaking in French instead of immediately asking if they speak English. I understand almost all conversation around me, although some details are hazy and sometimes instructions are lost on me.

The week went as follows:

  • Monday: We took the bus to Bidart, a charming Basque village. We were given a tour by a native, and saw the church, a look-out point, a pelote court, and Basque architecture before grabbing a bite to eat at the local boulangerie.
  • Tuesday: I went out to ice cream with Samantha, our director. We chatted in French and after we went on a short shopping mission (She was in desperate need of pants!).
  • Wednesday: We took the bus to the beaches of Anglet, the seaside town next to Biarritz. We walked about two miles along a boardwalk, from one end of the beach to the other. We were set loose at the end, and Belen, Alexa, and I stayed in Anglet. The beach was entirely French teenagers, and it was cool to see how they spent their summer days.
  • Thursday: I stayed at home today with my host family. I helped my host mom with the laundry. After, my host mom, my little host sister Uma, and I made un gateau yaourt, or a yogurt cake. I copied the recipe from Uma after, and we drew doodles until dinner. That night, we watched a movie.
  • Friday: We went to the French cinema to see “Le Monde de Dory,” or “Finding Dory” in English. I was surprised that I understood the entirety of the plot and most of the words, jokes and all. That night, I went out for dessert to celebrate a 5 on one of my AP tests and winning a poetry contest. The sunset was especially pretty that night.

Saturday, we went to San Sebastian again. The students who had already been went to a different part of the city, to a small amusement park on top of a small mountain. The view was amazing, the rides were slightly unsafe, and the ice cream was refreshing in the hot sun. We also got free time to shop, and I bought a ton more clothes.

The two little Spanish boys left on Saturday morning, and I was sad to see them go. There’s something especially sad about saying bye to kids you’re close with and will never see again.

On Sunday, a new boy came to live with us. His name is Felix, he is 16, and he is from Switzerland. In the morning, we went to the market again before Belen and I spent the day at the beach in Anglet. That night was the EuroCup final, France v. Portugal. We stood outside of a bar with HUNDREDS of other people, all routing for France. My voice was hoarse after screaming “Allez les bleus!” and the national anthem, and cheering every time the ball was kicked even close to the net. When France lost, I was devastated, along with every other person in that bar.

Bordeaux and Brunch

As the two-week students left on the train for Paris, the month and six-week students left on a bus for Bordeaux. After a three hour ride, we finally arrived to our destination, Bordeaux, a large city known for its wine, refined culture, and classic French architecture.

We started our visit with a short walking tour, where we saw the famous Grand Theatre de Bordeaux. We then broke off for lunch and shopping. The sales were in full-force, and Alexa, Belen, and I took full advantage of the low prices and went make-up shopping. We then met up with the group again and resumed our tour.

We walked around the streets of Bordeaux, admiring the wide, tree-lined avenues and the large doors that were once the only entrance to the center of the city. We visited the famous Miroir d’eau, the world’s largest water mirror. We spent nearly 45 minutes here, watching the water cycle in and out, taking pictures, and removing our socks and shoes to prance around in the water. We wrapped up our tour at, of course, a cathedral, before meeting back up with the bus and going home.

Sunday was a relaxed day. Belen, Alexa, and I went out for brunch at an amazing little cafe, went to the market again, and spent the day on the beach with some other girls. We went home for dinner before venturing out again to watch the beautiful sunset and find boys to flirt with.

Another Spanish boy came today to live with us. He’s 16, obsessed with his hair, and is very good at French.

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Week 2

Our Irish housemates left and two Spanish boys came. They are 10 and 13, are brothers, and are from the Basque Country. They speak Basque and Spanish fluently, and are learning French and English. They’re adorable, and make me miss my own brother. We watch movies with them and our host sister Uma, though I’m pretty sure she’s the only one that understands what’s going on.

It’s a school week, and I’m learning a lot. My teacher tells me that she will move me up a level starting next week. We have activities after school again.

  • Monday: We go to a mountain in the Pyrenees called La Rhone. It’s a tourist attraction, and there is a train up the mountain and to its summit. However, we didn’t take the train back down, and instead completed a grueling two-hour hike that left me with sore legs, aching knees, and thorns in my arm. Despite this, I felt amazing.
  • Tuesday: Beach and shopping day! Alexa and I went for a walk and explored the graveyard by our apartment. Movie night with the host family as well, but Uma and I spent more time playing with Snapchat filters than watching the movie.
  • Wednesday: We went to St-Jean-de-Luz, a traditional Basque town a short train ride away from Biarritz. The town was known for its macaroons and pastries, and we enjoyed touring the city eating both. I bought a painting from a charming old artist who appreciated my attempts at speaking French. He rewarded my coherence by telling me every detail about the painting.
  • Thursday: Beach and shopping day!
  • Friday: No after school activity, as this was the two-week students’ last day. That night, we had a going away party at a host family’s house. Many pictures were taken, tears were shed, and goodbyes were said.


Tapas and Shopping

On Saturday, we had to get up bright and early to go to San Sebastian, Spain. Since Biarritz is so close to Spain, the drive only took 40 minutes. However, we stopped at a beautiful lookout point on top of a mountain. We took many pictures up here, chased sheep, and petted horses. One girl even got kicked in the butt by a horse! She’s absolutely fine, but it makes for a good story.

We then moved on to San Sebastian, where we had a group tour. We saw the cathedral, the bridges that span the river, the famous streets, a smaller but more intricate church, and a plaza that was once the location of bull fights. We were then given free time for the remainder of the afternoon, to take advantage of the city’s shopping and restaurant scene. Take advantage I did. I first went to one of the tapas bars, where there was food laid out on a bar. The restaurant was all locals and the food was amazing. We then went shopping in the city’s sprawling downtown. I bought the most adorable tops and a really, REALLY cute skirt. We wrapped up the day by stopping in a bakery, a.k.a. “The Most Beautiful Place on Earth.”

I almost cried of happiness when I found out that we would be returning to San Sebastian in a couple weeks.

Sunday brought more fun experiences. We stopped at a smoothie bowl store for breakfast, called Bali Bowls. Amazing! It’s a new favorite. There’s a market every day in Biarritz, but we always miss it because we are in school. However, we went on Sunday. There were dozens of stalls, selling the freshest fruits, the best meats, the creamiest cheeses. Outside, there were stands selling unique clothes and jewelry. I loved the market more than words can describe. We spent the rest of the day at the beach, tanning and flirting with boys. That night, we went out to the beach again and had a photo session.

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Biarritz, Bayonne, and Basque…Oh My

I am finally in Biarritz, my home for the next month! My host mother, Hermine, picked up me and Alexa at the train station and drove us to their apartment. On the way, she pointed out our school, a charming building directly across the street from our quaint apartment building.

We got settled in and met Hermine’s partner, Alex, and their two daughters, Zoe and Uma. Zoe is 21 and a photographer, and she is seriously pretty. Uma is 10 and loves art, dancing, and playing the cello. There were also three other foreign students staying with them, Irish boys from the Dublin area.

Our room is cozy, cute, and manages to fit both my and Alexa’s huge amount of clothes. The view from the window is beautiful, even though it is just of residences. Our host mom took us on a tour of the city, showing us the best ways to walk to the beach and telling us about the architecture and people in the area, before sitting us at the kitchen table and asking us about our lives, interests, etc. I was a bit overwhelmed, I’m not going to lie-they only spoke in French, I couldn’t understand the fast questions posed at me from the daughters, couldn’t joke around with them or put in a quick response other than “Oui.”

The next day brought a fresh perspective and a new challenge:school. Fortunately, Alexa and I tested into the same level, along with many others from SPI. There are also other students from Sweden in the class. Before the break, we mainly focus on speaking and practical conversations. After the break, we work on grammar, but it still has a heavy emphasis on speaking. It’s been a week, and I can already understand almost all (moderately-paced) conversations and now know to use the more casual “Ouais” instead of “Oui.”

After school, we eat a packed lunch before embarking on our afternoon activities. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday there are mandatory activities that the whole of SPI does as a group. On Tuesday and Thursday, you can sign up for a variety of activities, from surfing to cooking to rafting. Here’s what we did this week:

  • Monday: Group walking tour of Biarritz, where the history and area was explained to us. Through unknown vocabulary words and complex and unfamiliar sentence structures, I gathered that Biarritz was built from the whaling industry, and has been growing as a resort town and coastal city since.
  • Tuesday: Surfing! I was awful, truly awful. I got beat up by the waves too, but it was still fun.
  • Wednesday: Group trip to Bayonne, a neighboring city that is known for its annual festival and ham. We walked around, toured the cathedral, and then got free time to eat ice cream and shop. I had the best ice cream here.
  • Thursday: Cooking class! We went to an apartment and watched as a French woman showed us her grandmother’s recipes and showed us how to properly set a French table. We then all joined in to make the traditional tapas of the region, including croquettes, empanadas, and tortillas.
  • Friday: Group visit to a traditional Basque villa. We learned about the region we are staying in, Le Pays Basque, and were exposed to the architecture and culture of the Basque people.

After activities and at night, after dinner, we would go to one of Biarritz’s three beaches or shop in the medium-sized downtown area. We made countless new friends at the beach, whether it be boys on holiday with their parents or students in Biarritz to study as well. We tan, swim, flirt, and eat. On Friday night, a large group of us went out to one of the best restaurants in Biarritz, La Table Basque, for a traditional Basque meal. I had foie gras, a traditional steak, and an amazing chocolate mousse dessert.