Studying Abroad: Soccer, Croissants, and French

Global citizenship is at the heart of Alto International School’s curriculum. We encourage students to explore other cultures, languages, and traditions. High school sophomore Freya, class of 2022, writes in this blog post about her three-month stay in France, where she is currently attending a boarding school and participates in the youth training program of Paris-Saint-Germain (PSG), one of France’s leading soccer teams.

Bonjour, my name is Freya. I am currently on a three-month exchange in France, attending a boarding school in Bougival near Paris and playing soccer, lots of soccer. I have been taking French for five years at Alto International School, which was great preparation for my trip. Of course, speaking French during lessons is a lot different than being in the actual country surrounded by native speakers and only speaking and hearing French. I knew it would challenge me while it would also provide me with an opportunity to improve my French. At the same time, I also wanted to combine this trip with soccer as I didn’t want to spend three months without being able to play. So for me, it was important to find a location where I could do both. Learn French and play soccer at a high level. And what better place to do that than the youth team of Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), one of the leading soccer teams in France? 

I live in a sports boarding school with the girls from the U19 team and also some members of the boys’ teams. We practice every morning from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon and go to school from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. It is such a different lifestyle than back in California. At first the adjustment was a little difficult, but now I am really enjoying it. The training is also very different than what I am used to as it doesn’t only focus on the technical and tactical aspect of the game, but rather all the components needed to become the best player possible.

Having the chance to play for PSG is incredible. We live and train very close to the PSG’s women’s professional team and sometimes even get to train with them. I already met many players, including Alana Cook and Sara Däbritz. The former used to play soccer for Stanford and the latter plays on the German national soccer team. A few of the players came out to our practice, and it was awesome. The training was very intense and challenging, but it was also super fun and just an unforgettable experience! Aside from training with the pros, I have also been able to watch some games, which were very impressive. At the games, there were fans, so-called “ultras”, who were always singing and playing drums, which created a very exciting atmosphere. I am so grateful to be able to benefit from the specialized training and to meet so many new and inspiring people. However, this isn’t all. I have also had some very memorable experiences off the field.

One of the main attractions, of course, is Paris. I was lucky enough to have been able to visit with a family friend who happens to live close by. We wandered through alleys, checked out small shops, sat down in a café, and tried crêpes with sugar and lemon juice from a little street store. And, of course, we also saw some of the main attractions of Paris. Le Louvre, la Pyramide du Louvre, l’Arc de Triomphe, la Notre Dame, and la Tour Eiffel. Like that trip, most of my highlights off the field occur on the weekends, as those are my days off. Usually, I go on walks along the Seine or visit a climbing gym I discovered.

What I especially like about my stay in Bougival is how welcoming and inclusive everyone is. Anytime you see someone in the morning or walk by them in the halls, you do a handshake and say “Ça va?” which translates to “how are you?”. It’s just a small encounter, but it really made an impact on me. When it comes to culture, there are many differences between living in the U.S. and France. One major aspect is the food, especially breakfast. To give you a bit of an idea, a typical French breakfast consists of chocolate cereal in a bowl of hot chocolate, brioche with butter and jam, and fruit juice, which isn’t a typical athlete’s breakfast, though. However, I did try a croissant from a local bakery, and it tasted phenomenal. It was still warm, and the texture was perfect, a little crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I felt like I could taste the butter, and the croissant just seemed to fall apart and melt in my mouth—definitely, a must-try when visiting France.

As you can guess by now, I am enjoying this trip and would definitely recommend this opportunity to other students. Of course, everyone’s experience is different. Especially when it comes to living at a boarding school rather than with a family. I think that living together as a team creates a special type of bond. I have gotten to know everyone a lot better by spending time with them around the clock. And yes, there can be times that are difficult such as not having a parent figure to talk to if you have problems, but the coaches and players make up for that by being there for you, like a family. Throughout my time here, I have improved both my soccer playing skills and my French. I have learned many commonly used phrases and can have conversations with my teammates, coaches, and can participate in class. This trip has exceeded my expectations. The months seem to have flown by, and I am not looking forward to saying goodbye. But that just shows how great of an experience it was. One that I will never forget.

Freya Spiekerkoetter, Class of 2022

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