Chantilly, Picardie, France
Words by Karys McEwen
We should all have the chance to be 16 again. But only for one day.
That was what I took from my experience shadowing teenagers at the Amyot d'Inville school in Senlis, France.
I rediscovered the high school cosmos; the canteen, the corridors, the bell ringing (do you remember the sound?), the joy you feel when a teacher is absent, graph paper, timetables, hands covered with scribbled test answers, and the students.
Especially the students.
They still sleep on the tables before lessons, still have the same bad excuses for skipping gym (“Julie, you’ve had cramps three times this month!”). There are the guys who don’t really care, those who care too much, the students that are always first to every class, and the girl that nobody talks to, sitting alone in the corner.
It amazed me how sometimes they seemed liked adults, and a second later they were back to children in my eyes. It’s a fine, strange line they balance. And they're all playing their roles, trying to fit in and failing miserably, because what are we if not completely different to one another, especially at that delicate, transformative age.
People say that your school years are the best of your life, but now I know that isn’t necessarily true. You have so much time when you are a teenager; you feel bored constantly, you have to get up early, and the parking lot paradise where everyone escapes to smoke is, in actual fact, filthy, littered with trash and cigarette butts. And when you arrive in the morning, all those eyes watch and judge you. I don't know how they handle the pressure, the monotony, and most of all, the palpable lack of freedom. I suppose that is what makes the parking lot so appealing after all.
I was exactly the same at their age, and that shocks me. I’ve often wondered if I followed the right path back then. But now I know that I did. I made decisions based on what I knew, which - let's face it - is limited when you're only 16. For the first time I have truly realised how much we underestimate life experience.
If I was teleported back with what I know now, I would rule the school.