Zarah Sheikh is on exchange at Ermitage School outside Paris
I arrived in Maisons Laffitte, France about four weeks ago. It was pouring the first day I got here. The exchange coordinator met my family at the metro station and walked us to the girl’s boarding house. It is a 15 minute walk from the metro station to the boarding house and in between there are a few cafes and small shops. Maisons Laffitte is a small town, so everything I need is between the boarding house and the metro station. There is a park where I go during lunch to eat and spend time with my friends. There is also a chateau in Maison Laffitte, about 10 minutes away from the school.
The first week was very challenging. I didn’t think that adjusting to the school life would be hard for me but it was difficult at first. I was placed in Foundation 5, which is for students 15-16 years of age. There are 5 foundations; Foundation 1 is equivalent to sixth grade, Foundation 2 is seventh grade, and so on till Foundation 5, which is the same as tenth grade in American school systems. After Foundation 5 is IB 1 (junior year) and IB 2 (senior year). Each grade/foundation has about 18 people and all your classes are held with the rest of your grade.
The classes I am taking at this school are Global Issues, French Intermediate, Maths Extended, English, Biology, Chemistry, MADD (Music Art Dance Drama), History, and STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math). School starts at 8:30 and classes end at 3:20, however students are required to participate in activities from 3:20 to 5:00. The activities that I chose to take part in are Model UN, Human Rights, Drama, and cooking, but other activities include fitness, football, swimming, and many more options. We also have to wear a uniform: black pants, white shirt, black shoes and school jumper.
Everyone was very welcoming at Ermitage. Many offered to help me out and take me to my classes if I was lost. My first weekend, I took the metro to Paris with my friends. They took me to an amusement park called “Foire du Trone” and we spent most of the day on roller coasters and other park rides. After that we went to La Defense, a financial district with a HUGE shopping mall. My second weekend here, I begged my friends to take my sightseeing since I really wanted to see the tourist attractions. They took me to see the Arc de Triomphe, as well as the Champs Elysees, the Louvre, Notre Dame, and many more.
As part of the curriculum, Foundations 4 and 5 went on a mandatory sailing trip to the Saint Tropez, a city in the south of France, to learn to sail and get closer with those in the grade. This was the perfect opportunity for me since I got to get to know everyone better and made new friends. The trip was five days and it was an amazing experience. Not only did I learn to sail but I witnessed the beauty that the south of France had to offer. We were about 30 students all together and we were split into smaller groups to be placed on the boat. We sailed about 7-8 hours per day and prepared all of our food on the boat. Preparing the meals and washing dishes required a lot of teamwork and communication, which sometimes got frustrating. One of the days, the five boats anchored in the ocean and we were given the chance to swim with our friends; however, the water was very cold and there were jellyfish everywhere. This did not stop us from having fun before going back on the boat to continue sailing. Most nights we docked at a port, but there were times when we anchored far from shore. Taking a shower was also a luxury and most of us waited in long lines in order to take one. Overall it was a once in a lifetime experience and, though we were cranky for most the trip, I had a great time.
My exchange is drawing to an end very soon and I know its going to be hard to say goodbye to all the new friends I have made. These friendships and experiences are going to stay with me forever. I am grateful to my parents and Athenian for supporting my exchange.