For the spring of my Gap Year after graduating from Athenian, I worked as a student intern at Ermitage International School, a Round Square school in France. After countless emails, visa application rejections, and months of problem-solving, I arrived in Paris unsure of what to expect but ready for this three-month adventure.
Ermitage is situated north-west of Paris in the picturesque town of Maisons-Laffitte. When crossing into the town on the bridge over the Seine, the rooftops of ornate, historical homes appear between thousands of trees and endless park space. The main street is lit at night by decorative lampposts and by dawn the smell of fresh baguettes wafts from each boulangerie that lines the sidewalk. As I drove past the Châteaux de Maisons-Laffitte for the first time, the whole area looked like a fairytale.
I arrived at Ermitage and entered the most international, vibrant community I have ever been a part of. In my first week, I met students and teachers from six continents, heard dozens of languages, and was often given a list of countries when someone explained to me where they were from. In my boarding house alone, the girls came from more than ten different countries and most spoke three or four languages. The dining hall was always full of students chatting in French, English, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, and more. As an International School, Ermitage operates in both French and English; however I was grateful for every hour of French class I had taken at Athenian as a newcomer to the many francophone social and academic spaces.
My goals for my time at the school were to improve my French, immerse in French culture, and gain work experience in the international environment. In my first few weeks I discovered that each of these would not only be vital to my success in my internship, but also were goals I would inch closer to every day. As a student intern, my responsibilities included substitute teaching, supervising exams, performing administrative tasks, and walking with young students between school buildings. I also assisted on field trips, worked on school events, and helped wherever help was needed. My schedule was ever-changing and often intimidating, but always meaningful.
In my third week, I agreed to substitute for a French-speaking middle school math class even though I felt barely qualified to teach math in English, let alone French. Despite my grammatical blunders and limited abilities to help the students with their problem sets the hour I spent with the class–and the many more I taught throughout my stay–were some of my favorite and most rewarding times.
In working with students from ages 10-18, I learned how the French system impacts students in different ways than the American one I grew up in. I was able to see how problems, ideas, and even other countries might look from the students’ points of view. They told me what different issues they worried about, and what they were focused on. But more than all the differences, I saw how similar their experiences were to each others and to mine. The struggles, jokes, successes, and growing pains of middle and high school were universal for these students who described them with countless different cultures as their settings. Though I was often teased as the American in the room, it was fascinating to compare and contrast where my newfound friends and I came from. Even through monotonous tasks, I was able to learn about new places and perspectives every day and to share my own.
By the end of my time at Ermitage, I confidently spoke French at work and when out in Paris. I felt adjusted not just to French culture but also to the unique international culture I got to experience at the school. In getting to teach and work with the students, I grew to understand the impacts of education and what it can look like in an increasingly global world. My experience at Ermitage has impacted my path and perspective for the better, and I will carry what I have learned with me into college and beyond. I am infinitely grateful for my time as a Round Square Gap intern. I would highly recommend it to any student motivated to take on this immersive, challenging, and rewarding opportunity.