My name is Kiylin Gaff, I’m 16, and I’m a junior at Linden High School in Michigan. I enjoy writing poetry in my free time or learning new instruments like ukulele or flute. I’m in marching band, and I normally play clarinet; it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. I love both the book and play Les Misérables by Victor Hugo; that’s what really got me into enjoying French and the culture since I first discovered the book in third grade. Now, I love France and everything French after going on my ACIS trip in March.
I signed up for the trip my freshman year during my first year of French class. I don’t really know why I did; honestly, I probably just thought it’d be a cool trip to go on. I didn’t really think it would be everything that it was. Without a doubt, the trip ended up being the best ten days of my life. Looking back, the best parts of my trip were interacting with French people and just experiencing French culture. Other than visiting the big monuments, I just loved the nights where our group could go walk around and shop and talk to people. Oddly enough, I really enjoyed the metro because it made me feel like I could actually get around the city and make it on my own. Our tour guide, Bernard, was the best I could ask for, too. He created a really comfortable atmosphere and treated the students like real people instead of just throwing facts at us; he incorporated facts into stories and kept us interested in what he had to say.
Also, he helped answer our questions and talk to us about the future; some discussions I had with my French teacher, Mrs. Quinlan, and Bernard really impacted my thoughts on the future. In fifth grade, I had my heart set on being an Oncologist and going to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Throughout middle school and high school, my interests changed but my mind didn’t. People would always tell me that I should at least explore other careers, but I would brush it off. Because of this dream, I kind of held myself back; I would be extremely hard on myself in school, and it made me miserable. After France, though, I realized that there are bigger things out there; and I don’t have to live my life to please people or be the best because what matters is that I’m enjoying myself. After thinking on it for a long time, I would love to explore careers in research now or even jobs in France. Without this trip, I would still be stuck in my fifth grade mindset; I might’ve ended up unhappy in life in a career I didn’t even enjoy. Even if I do end up staying with Oncology, though, I’m still so grateful that I had the experience to realize grades aren’t everything. I stressed myself so hard day after day to be the best so I could get into the best college, but that’s not necessarily how it should be. After having the best ten days of my life without stress in France, I realized how much happier I could be if I let up on myself a little. I’m not saying school doesn’t matter, but mental health also matters; and as long as you do your best, you don’t have to be on top as long as you’re happy.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about life after college; I would love to live in France. The atmosphere and the people are so different there. I love how people in France actually care for each other and how polite they are to everyone. They care a lot about everything, and it’s honestly such a refreshing change from American culture, which can feel rude and overbearing in comparison. Also because of this, I have a renewed desire to improve my French skills. In France, my French improved immensely in such a short period of time from just interacting with French people. I realized that if I put in the work, I can learn the language and be able to fluently speak it one day.
My message to people considering traveling outside of the United States is to just do it. It changes your perspective on the world. It literally changed my life and saved me from myself, as cheesy as that sounds. I’m so grateful that ACIS provided me with the opportunity to be part of something like this. I will carry what I learned from the France trip with me for the rest of my life, and I hope everyone gets a chance to travel because it’s the best experience I have ever had in my entire life.