When presented with the opportunity to take a transition year, Dublin-born Kate chose to take a leap of faith and sought out an experience away from the comforts of her home city. At the same time, she wanted to stay on track with her academics and ensure that she would be ready to begin her examination years once she returned home.
Saint-Denis International School proved the perfect choice. Situated in the heart of the French Loire Valley, Saint-Denis is a traditional boarding school for students across middle and high school levels. Importantly, it has over 25 years of experience teaching French as a foreign language at every level.
Mind made up, Kate packed her bags and set off for the school. She was settled into an all-girls boarding house where she met her fellow classmates. “I remember my first dinner at the dorms like it was yesterday,” she recalls fondly. “I sat down with six other girls, and we all talked about ourselves and where we were from. The coolest part is all the girls I had dinner with that night are some of my best friends here at Saint-Denis.”
Boarding houses at Saint-Denis are made up of a diverse mix of more than 350 French and foreign students hailing from over 30 countries. Head of American International Section Toby Webb credits the school’s international community to its bilingual curriculum, which has attracted students and staff from a wide range of countries.
“We all get to encounter the world through multiple perspectives and cultures,” he shares. “It is quite normal to walk through the playground and hear children speaking in French, English, Spanish, German, Korean, and so on. I think all this has an impact on everyone at the school, giving it a truly international flavour.”
Once she was settled, Kate was swept away by a schedule that’s as busy as it is exciting. She begins every morning having breakfast in her boarding house before taking the bus to campus. There, she meets with her fellow students and attends six to nine classes across the American section of the International Option of the French Baccalaureate (OIB), which incorporates additional English-taught subjects into the traditional French Baccalaureate offered by the school.
“The first month flew by for me,” she shares. “I was put into Seconde A from the start. This meant I was taking classes that were only in French. This scared me at first, as I had come to France with little to no French. I worked hard to keep up with the class, which was very tiring for me, but I was lucky to have my friends at the dorm to relax with at night.”
Webb tells students to “expect a mass of activity.” “Saint-Denis is incredibly busy and it is impossible to keep track of everything that is happening throughout each day and each week,” he says. “In the classroom, there are regular lessons going on, of course, but beyond that are a multitude of different clubs and other activities during lunch breaks and after school, along with visits to other places in the area and far beyond!”
All the while, students are surrounded by the enchanting Loire Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s home to medieval castles, classical clock towers, and a picturesque landscape. “The beautiful architecture of the castles are unlike any other French village I have been to before,” Kate enthuses. “I am given the opportunity to visit these castles and explore the gorgeous region of the Loire Valley through the school’s amazing French as a Foreign Language (FLE) programme.”
Over weekends, international students are placed with host families, all of whom remain connected to the school in some way. This allows students to gain a truly immersive French experience, often in ways that are unique and eye-opening.
For Kate, this took the form of a small church concert in her host family’s village. “That day I was feeling very tired,” she remembers. “I did not have a lot of energy, but I was invited to this concert and I knew it was only polite to go. I am so happy I went now. I had never heard such beautiful pieces of music before. If I was in Dublin I probably would have chosen not to go as I was so tired, and would have missed out on this amazing experience.”
Altogether, her experience at Saint-Denis is one that Kate will never forget. “I don’t know what my life would be like if I did not go to France,” she says. “I have only been here for three months but I have learnt that there is more to life than my life in Dublin. I have had so many new experiences that have helped me learn who I want to be.”
For the second year in a row, Saint Denis won StudyTravel magazine’s European School Award. This year, they also renewed their French as a Second Language certification, ensuring quality instruction for students coming from abroad with 25 years of experience!