Student shares French Academy Governor’s School experience


Senior Ruth Mekonnen with other Virginia students at The French Academy Governor’s School.

As we packed our bags and said goodbye to our families, we all travelled to Washington and Lee University to embark on an experience of a lifetime at The French Academy Governors School.

The school is a select program where 60 students from all over Virginia spend three weeks speaking, thinking, and writing in French. Although it was a seemingly daunting experience, as we were living without technology, we all did not expect it to be as life changing as it was.

As soon as we arrived, we were split off into “families” which were just different francophone countries. The first week was by far the most awkward since we were all new to each other, and missed our families greatly. The cafeteria was so silent at times, that you could hear the sound of everyone chewing. The monitors and the professors tried very hard to get us to speak to each other. We would go to conversation classes, play games together, but everyone was just silent.

The first time that we all began to let loose and actually speak French to each other was our trip to Washington DC. After spending 3-4 hours on the bus without any technology and music forced us to communicate and be friends with each other. While at DC, we stopped by the French Embassy where we talked to the diplomat of France and learned about just how much of an asset the language would be. We also later on in the program spoke with the leader of the Department of Education in the French Embassy and learned about the different types of programs we can do to further our education with the language.

Learning all this at the time was very important to me because it opened up my eyes. I never had looked at French as a choice, it was always a requirement so learning just how much of a benefit it would be for my future furthered my love for the language.

After the trip to DC, we all began to be very close. No longer was there the silence in the cafeteria. Everyone fell in love with each other. We danced together to French music, we sang French music together and hummed English music together, we learned another language together, we even ate cheeses like Roquefort together. We all adapted the language so well that we were able to create jokes and laugh together. It even got to a point where I spoke out loud while dreaming in French. After a while, the academy did not feel like an obligation but something that we desperately held onto in fear that it would end. It’s crazy to think of just how much separation anxiety we all felt during the last week of the academy. We spent the last night on the fourth floor of our academy, in a tight little space, singing and dancing together. We cried more about the fact that we would be separated than the fact that we would be seeing our families for the first time in three weeks.

As we yelled out our first words in English, I looked around and just reflected at just how happy I was. I not only gained the love for a language but a family.