By Alexandra Jonas
Not to be too sentimental but my previous years of high school back in Toronto were unsatisfying to say the least… I had few friends, save the handful who could stand my constant complaining and dissociative disposition. I was a moody cynic who dreaded going to school and facing my fellow classmates. I thought that that was how life was supposed to be. Dull, miserable, and filled with people you cannot stand.
After months of back and forth between Lycee Nelson Mandela and my tenacious mother who had taken note of my lack-luster nature, a year-long exchange was finally organized. My dream had come true, I was going to France.
Spending grade 11 in SIA at Nelson Mandela was one of, if not the best, things that has ever happened to me. Many people back home told me I would be bullied and make no friends in Nantes because my French skills were subpar and I was too “cold and heartless”. I took these warnings with a grain of salt because the people who were hurling them at me were the exact same people I so desperately wanted to get away from. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the whole exchange was a mistake, and the night before my flight was a sleepless one, marked by tears of regret and anxious pacing.
The first few days at my new school went as you could expect. Nothing too surprising except for the confusingly long row of unused canvasses in the middle of the hallway and the gourmet coffee machine. I tagged along with a variety of people whose names I can no longer remember and spoke very little. Then one day in English class Mrs.Barstow had assigned the first of many group projects and I was with Erin, Iagoda and Cynthia. That day everything changed. I started talking, yelling and even making jokes. Only a few weeks into the school year and I had already developed some amazing friends.
English and history class have always been a haven for me, back at my school in Toronto and especially in Nantes, because it meant that I was allowed to speak my maternal language. They have always been the only courses in which I thrived. I thoroughly enjoyed the topics we studied and understood almost everything, contrary to my experience in math and science related topics, where I struggled to comprehend even the simplest of formulas.
SIA made me grow a stronger appreciation for my nationality. I used to think Americans were loud and annoying and Canadians were meek and boring. I resented the fact that my maternal language was English because of its widespread popularity. It didn’t feel personal because so many people across the world spoke it. But in studying typically North American topics I realized that we actually do have fascinating history and that my heritage really is something to be proud of.
Overall, SIA was an unforgettable experience that allowed me to make some of my strongest friendships and finally accept, and even embrace, my identity as a Canadian, despite the school year being cut short by three months.