School au Collège de Taiohae

October 16, 2015

Trent starts French public secondary school in Taiohae, Marquesas
Trent starts French public secondary school in Taiohae, Marquesas

Moving from one school to the next is hard. Every school is different. You have new kids to deal with; new teachers and you have to start the friend making business all over again. All that is a pain in the butt, yet eventually it all turns out fine. Starting up at the school in Taiohae was a little different for my brother and me. It’s all French and we don’t speak French.

School entrance with guardian monitoring comings and goings
School entrance with guardian monitoring comings and goings

Our parents brought us to this island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and threw us in school. We had no clue about the Marquesan culture, what the kids would be like, and the hardest part was we had no idea how to communicate. In a nutshell our parents enrolled us in a school, on a remote island, without us knowing the culture, the language or other kids, then told us how long we were going to attend – one year! That’s what I call a little bit of a challenge.

Eastside of campus reveals open-air cafeteria
Eastside of campus reveals open-air cafeteria

On our first day of school we woke up at 6 in the morning since school starts at 7 a.m. We quickly got dressed and ate breakfast, drove our 8’ inflatable dinghy to shore then started our 20-minute walk to school. We walked up to meet the principal and to check out the school: where the restrooms were, lunch would be, basketball courts were, etc. The bell rang so it was time to find my first class. The vice principal told this random girl to lead me to my class. We arrived in a classroom. The teacher looked at my schedule book and pointed to the class I had to go to. It was math class with Monsieur Evain. He spoke to me in English, telling me to sit next to a boy across the room whose English was okay. His name, I learned, was Phillip. He was really nice.

Bryce's class, Bryce center. Phillip is on the end, to Bryce's right
Bryce’s class, Bryce center. Phillip is on the end, to Bryce’s right, Mr. Evian, to his left.

We were the first Americans to ever attend this school. Everything you did or said they thought was what all American kids did or said. In a way, we represented all American kids. It was like we were celebrities and everything we did they thought was cool. The reaction I would normally get arriving at a new school in America would have been much different: no one would have noticed me or cared to know my name or try to make me feel comfortable. But in the Marquesas, it seemed to be the opposite. It was, “Oh, you need help? Let me help you.” Practically on our first day of school everyone knew our names. After math was Physics and then History/Geography and following that was Physical Ed. We played basketball. The kids here are terrible at basketball. I am probably the best player in 7-9th grade! At home, I was just passable.

Bryce's English class. His teacher by chance visited Ventura this past summer, during the 4th of July.
Bryce’s English teacher, standing in the back of the class, by chance visited Ventura this past summer, during the 4th of July.

After P.E. we had lunch. Phillip led me over to the lunch line. For lunch there is a different protocol than the schools attended in Southern California. You grab a metal tray; slide it on the rails in front of the kitchen while servers place fresh food on your tray. That first day we had rice, lentils, grapefruit and a piece of French baguette. When I saw the spread I thought, “Geeze, this is so good, and it didn’t come out of a bag!” When I was done there was not a crumb left on my plate. It was so delicious – like rich kids’ food. After lunch, surprisingly, I was finished with school. That’s when I started thinking, “Man, this is the best school ever. Fantastic lunch, school finishes at twelve most days, and I’m treated like a celebrity.” This school was really turning out to be a great experience for the both of us.

The cafeteria serving station before lunch
The cafeteria serving station before lunch

By the time this week was finished, my brother, Trent, and I were top news for most of the island. Everyone was giving us greetings when we biked down the street. Random people saying, “Bonjour,” “Salut,” “Hi!” In sum it was looking really good for us. People we had never seen before knew us.

Students before the first bell
Students before the first bell

The next week was even better. During our morning breaks, we had pretty girls asking if they could be our girlfriends. But after awhile it got a little annoying having people pulling you over into their group and examining you, asking the same silly questions. At the same time, I liked the attention. For the first month, this was the normal day. Then the attention started cooling off. People were getting used to us, which was a bad thing.

Students in the courtyard before the first bell
Students in the courtyard before the first bell

Now during school I have to watch my back because everyone wants to fight us, putting up their arm saying, “I’m gonna fight you!” I never know if someone is going to pounce on me, and every time I turn around there’s at least one person giving me the finger or shouting, “F-you, Bryce!” On top of that, everything got harder. Now I’m expected to understand everything being said in class and I have to do homework in French. Fortunately, after school I go to a tutor for help with my French.

Getting flipped off is a regularly occurrence.
Getting flipped off (face blurred) is a regularly occurrence.

A few times now I have had trouble with a couple kids. One day before my English class, this kid named London all of a sudden came at me and said, “Shut up, be quiet!” then put his chest against mine and peered down at me like he was going to hit me. Then I said, “Go, go, come on. Allez, allez, viens!” In my head I was thinking if this guy hits me, he would have more pain than me once it’s all over. Since the village of Taiohae has a small population of 2,000, everyone would know he’s the one who struck the American who doesn’t even speak French, for no good reason. Plus his parents and the school would be very mad. As this was going on, a teacher came out and the kid cooled down. It was over and he apologized after class. Anyway, it’s happened a few times after that before it totally ended. It is now resolved without any physical confrontation.

Bryce goes toe-to-toe with a stone tiki
Bryce goes toe-to-toe with a stone tiki

After that first month, the college turned into a bit of a wild school and hard to handle. You can’t even leave your backpack alone without fear of some kid rummaging through your stuff and picking out what he wants. The way I look at, it’s just a few more months before it will all be over. So, in the meantime, just toughen up and deal with the problems straight up. Attending this school has been a crazy new experience. At the moment it seems worth my while. Although I do have to say, I can’t wait until it’s all over and things go back to normal: homeschooling with mom and dad.

Kandu in Anaho Bay, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas
Kandu in Anaho Bay, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas

by Bryce Rigney

9 thoughts on “School au Collège de Taiohae”

  1. Gréât blog, Bryce. Seems like the schoolboys are envious of all the attention you and Trent are getting, especially from all the girls. When we meet next summer in Tahiti, you will probably know a lot of French words. Will love speaking to you in French.

  2. Very well written, and fascinating reading, Bryce. The way I see it is when you return to the USA you will be so far ahead of your classmates then that will become a small problem- like when a 40-year-old enrolls in college with 20-yeR-olds. My mother grew up in Kansas of Swedish parents and learned English when she started school. My friend moved from Holland to California and got thrown into middle school with no English. Both took it in stride and spoke English like a native. You will too with French.

    And please write more of your adventures. Maybe a book or movie is around the corner!

  3. Wow, what a challenge. For a young man your age, I am sure there is fear and anxiety. You know what, just be you, don’t show fear, just put your hand out, and let them know you want to be friends. They won’t know what to do if you extend hospitality. Oh well, what do I know except what as happened universality. Good going, you will prevail.

  4. Bryce, your story reminds me of when we took Greg (then age 10,) and Chris (then age 6) and moved them to Grenoble, France for a year. We plopped them into a French school with zero French. After that year, they now speak French. They did have some rough patches, like what you describe, with kids stealing their lunch money and teasing them because they would not eat horse meat, etc.,
    But looking back, they are so glad they had that experience. In fact, they both went back to France for another six months, in middle school, to firm up the French, and that time, without us. Andnow, they are
    devoted Francophiles.
    I know you will look back some day at the incredible experiences you are having, and see them in a
    different way. Glad you are going for it!!! How is the French going?

  5. Bryce, if things were different and you were a girl, the same story would happen, although, girls can be even more vindictive. Bullying is in the news as a big issue here in the USA right now. It is interesting to hear of it in another country.

    Use that bright brain of yours, it seems to be making great progress in all areas you describe, but still watch your back. Man survives by awareness.

  6. Being an outsider will give you compassion when you are in a situation where the situation is opposite.
    I love your honesty and sincerity when you write….makes for a moving story. More, more….Love, Nani

  7. dear Rigney family,

    I loved reading about the adventures your children had at school in the marquesas islands.

    please put me on your e-mail list to receive future e-mails.

    gary shepard, boating friend of bob gibbs.

  8. Hi Bryce, What a great accounting of your experience with school and mixing it up with the “locals”. The pictures complimented the text and I could imagine being there as I read. I know this is a challenge on a daily basis, but it will change and quite possibly by the end of the school year you won’t be excited about leaving. Sounds like you are learning a lot about people and life and not just “school work”. Wait, that sounds like what you are on this adventure for…to experience and learn about the world and the people in it. You are doing a good job! You will be telling these stories for the rest of your life. Thanks for sharing!!

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