Though I’d been wanting to study abroad since high school, it didn’t mean much to me when, in my first meeting with the Center for Global Education, they described the opportunity as a “once-in-a-lifetime experience”. I’d become jaded to such a phrase, which when used wouldn’t usually hold up to its literal meaning (in my experience). It went right over my head.

It’s only in recent months that I’ve looked back on my time in Cannes and realized how admittedly true that saying is — I could have only experienced something as special as my time in France once in my entire life. Now, of course, I could take a flight back to France at any point within my lifetime, and maybe even stay there for four months again. But the circumstances, the people, the season, and the sentiments would never be exactly the same. Our little group of Chapman students in the Collège International de Cannes was, for lack of a better description, random… unlikely, even. Though most of us were Dodge students, I can’t confidently say that any of us would have become friends if we had stayed in Orange that spring semester.

It’s funny now to look back on, because I remember how scared I was that I didn’t really know anyone there; nothing could have prepared me for the crippling fear I felt at the start of my semester abroad. I remember reminding myself that it was normal — that my pre-departure sessions with the CGE had talked me through this, and that it would go away. But I couldn’t really shake the freshman orientation sort of nervousness that I was feeling. In all honesty, I was a mess at best. Turns out I had nothing to worry about, though: I was in the best hands I could ask for.

This dear group of people that I am lucky enough to call my friends stepped in at a time that I was too homesick to even notice, and it pains me a little to think that I was only able to realize it on the tail end of our time together in France. Cannes truly brought us together, and in its funny little way, left a piece of itself in each of us. This is why, now, when I see one of these friends in passing on campus, my day is especially lit up. I see a fond memory in each of them.

My favorite experience to recall is also by far the most unique: our excursion to the Gorges du Verdon. According to our lovely chaperone, Aude, it is the largest canyon in all of Europe, with beautiful white-water rapids lulling and weaving through tall cliffs crested with greenery. The long and winding drive to it was worth it. I remember stepping out of our little bus and gazing out on the calm lake for the first time. In the sunlight, it looked like a geode cut open on its side — a heavenly expanse of crystal teal.

Me and my friends Paige, Brooke, Melissa, and Tom rented a paddleboat to take through the canyon. I can’t remember a happier moment than that. Even in the moment I was able to process how special it was. Aude let us know that this experience was unique in the fact that this specific point in the canyon is quite difficult to access as a tourist, as the hidden side roads taken to arrive there are hard to navigate if you’re unfamiliar with the terrain. With this in mind, I took in my surroundings with every fiber of my being, looking in every direction that I could, wading through the waters, and documenting it through photo and video.

When we had to turn around and go back, it turned into a hastened race against the other boats and kayaks full of more friends — our boat was initially winning, but Siane, Elisa, and Ruby’s kayak ended up winning because they cheated (they grabbed onto the edge of our boat and used it as a pushing-off point)!! Afterwards, Tom and I quietly hiked up the grassy hills back to the parking lot, dozens of grasshoppers grazing our knees with each step.

As you could probably conclude by now, dwelling on the past is one of my most consuming pastimes. It has its pros and cons, evidently, but I’m glad that I have this attachment to memories, because it is oftentimes that I find myself forgetting how lucky I am. In academic life, it’s not unusual to get lost in the workload, career hustle, and generally competitive nature of such a high-ranking film school — it’s easy to feel sometimes like I’m lacking, or that I’ve been dealt a bad card. My experiences from my time abroad still manage to remind me of the contrary, though, through memories that one could only earn from a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Genevieve Zix
Production Design
Dodge College of Film and Media Arts