Alumni Student Applies Relationality in France

Bonjour! I cannot believe it has been a month since I graduated from GBA! The weeks have flown, and it seems that so much has happened. I have learned more in the last few weeks than I could have imagined. When things seemed so idealistic at school, it was easy to imagine life at home to be a similar utopia. The truth is things are not always easy. I have been put in tough positions where I had to really contemplate my choices. Communication has proven to be a positive road to a virtuous answer every time. Rather than going back into my old patterns, I stop, think, communicate, and question. I ask, “What is it that I envision for my future?” I snap back into reality and feel energized when I realize I can do this. I am strong enough to keep going and face uncomfortable and difficult things. I try to face everyday with my new found perspective and realize that life is about so much more than little annoyances or frustrating moments.

I am currently studying abroad in Villesèque-des-Corbières, a small village in the South of France. I am attending a traveling boarding school called the Southern France Youth Institute (or SFYI). Living in a house with 18 other teenagers (ages 15-18), I am taking classes focused on French and Catalonian art and history, as well as studying the French language. At SFYI, many of my peers have previously been in therapeutic environments. It is nice to hear their perspective on experiences they have had. It is difficult though, because I unfairly assumed that they would have a similar view on life as I do. Many of them are still angry with their parents for sending them away and frustrated with their situations. I have empathy for them, and I wish they were able to have the experience I did at Greenbrier. GBA is home to me. I miss the girls and the staff more than I can articulate. I spent the first few weeks simply wishing I was back at school, but as time has passed, I have only become more grateful for the experience I did have. My work will not ever be done, and I realize that. For the first two weeks after my graduation, I felt as if I were on top of the world. Yet, I have learned that the same people and situations that used to get me in trouble of course still exist. I now choose to take a different road.

Emotionally, I am not artificially happy, but rather in a content state. It’s steady, and it works for me. There are days where I am self-conscious about how I look or am not as bubbly as usual. However, after being with other kids my age who have not been in a treatment setting, I have come to understand that this is not a therapeutic issue. This is about being a teenager and learning how to maneuver my own feelings as well as the feelings of those around me.

I’ve always been a thinker, and my thoughts have focused on the values at Greenbrier Academy often. Applying respect, courtesy and compassion, empathy and forgiveness, as well as aspiring for the trust of those around me has helped me live my life in such an authentic way. I am living in a sustainable manner, and it’s such a good feeling to know that I do not have to act anymore. This is who I am, and I’m finally facing the world in my truest form.

I have enjoyed my time at SFYI. I have made many friends who have been a great support to me. I believe that there is a direct correlation between a quality of a relationship and the well-being of a person. One of my favorite things I learned from Greenbrier is how wonderful it is to have close girl friends. My roommate has been my closest friend. She has been there to listen, give advice, to share laughs, and to enjoy late night chocolate cake with! She also recently graduated from a therapeutic program, and it has been wonderful to share our memories with one another. Although we have traveled similar paths, we have had very different experiences. She has taught me about what works for her and has given me advice about situations I have been confused by. Helping others is a gentle reminder of all those who were there for me during the difficult times and all the work they put towards my growth. There was a younger boy here who was struggling with many of his own issues. I talked to him frequently about my journey and how getting help was a sign of strength, not weakness. This has helped me stay on track, acting as a constant reminder of how hard I have worked to be in the place I am today. He faces of the same attention-seeking tendencies I once displayed. This was frustrating to me at many points, because I wanted so badly for him to recognize that this was a pattern, but I knew that he had to discover it for himself. I am excited for his future as he leaves for a wilderness therapy program tomorrow morning, and I wish him all the best.

This afternoon, when I sat outside and I began to talk to a local girl (in very broken French!), she shared with me the expression “c’est la vie” (or “that is life”). It is a simple yet brilliant way to look at most situations. It reminds me to question myself, “Is this something I really need to get upset about? Or, rather, is this just another bump in the road?” As I look forward to the future, it is moments like these that I hope to remember. As I spoke to my French friend, I was reminded that everyone, regardless of age, native language, or background, has a story. Everyone struggles, and everyone makes mistakes. It is how you handle those mistakes and how you choose to live your life that is important.

Although my adventure in France is coming to a close, I am looking forward to the next few weeks. I get to go back and visit my “WV home”—Greenbrier Academy—in early August, and I cannot wait to see all my old friends and meet all the newer girls!

Lizzie, 18, Alumni Student