Suki Tallent Levavasseur '06
I was an FRA “lifer,” which means I started in Pre-K4 and attended all 14 years. I have a lot of fond memories from my time there, but I think what stands out to me the most are the friendshipsI made. Most of my best friends to this day are friends from school.In fact, my best friend—who I met in second grade at FRA—recently got married, and I returned to Nashville to be a part of the wedding.
After graduating, I went to the College of Charleston and majored in psychology with a minor in Spanish. My plan was to go into clinical psychology. However, after a couple of internships, I decided to take a break and follow my other passion—travel.
In 2011, I picked up and moved to Argentina. I completed a TEFL certificate to teach English and then decided to just travel as much as I could. For a total of eight months, I backpacked around Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, andPanama. One of the things I loved most about traveling was the people I met while staying in backpacker hostels.
I was surprised at how easy it was to make instant connections. My experiences with both locals and other travelers from around the world, the landscapes I saw, and becoming fluent in Spanish were all once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. The world is beautiful, and the more you see, the more you want to see!
My love for traveling started young. I was 13 months old when my mom took me on my first long-haul flight to the Philippines to see her family. While I don’t remember that first trip, we continued visiting about every four years. I I think that’s probably what sparked my wanderlust and curiosity about the world.
Obviously, you learn a lot in a classroom, but I think you almost learn more from traveling. Experiencing the world firsthand gives you a deeper appreciation of foreign cultures and puts history classes into context. You learn about yourself, too, especially when traveling independently. Being on your own and going outside of your comfort zone teaches you things that are hard to express in words.
You learn how to communicate effectively in a foreign language and get from point A to point B, trusting that you won’t get ripped off by someone. You develop confidence and resourcefulness, especially when you have no one to rely on but yourself. I also think your cultural and social assumptions are challenged on a daily basis, forcing you to examine the how and why of your personal worldview.
As a 22-year-old solo female traveler at the time, I learned a lot that way. It could be frustrating at times, but nothing beats that overwhelming feeling of complete freedom.When I returned home from South America, I moved back in with my parents and saved money, and then, instead of applying to graduate school, I had to continue traveling.
I found a program in Spain, sponsored by the Spanish government, that recruited assistant English teachers. All they required was a college degree and an intermediate level of Spanish. So I moved to Spain to teach, and one school year turned into four. I moved to a different city each year and just loved it. While working there, I met my husband who was teaching French on the same assistant stipend program.
After four years in Spain, we got married, and I finally decided to go back to school. I completed a master's degree in clinical neuropsychology at the University ofBristol in England. I thought it would be an interesting career to pursue, but I guess life had other plans.
While finishing my master’s, we came upon an opportunity to buy a kayak rental business in Normandy, France where my husband is from. He had spent his college summers working there and was already familiar with how it operated. We bought half, while his best friend bought the other half, and we’ve been running it for four years now.
Owning a business in France is not at all what I had imagined for myself. I saw myself working in clinical psychology or clinical neuropsychology, not to mention I didn’t speak a word of French at the time! However, I love working for myself and the fact that I’m outdoors and on my feet every day. We definitely do not have a sedentary lifestyle. We live in a small village where people come for kayaking, biking, and rock climbing.
Our business is seasonal; we operate April through September. When we're on season, we work six months straight with no days off; and in our peak months of July and August, we generally work around 80 hours a week.It’s tiring, but having the winters off to travel and visit family makes it worth it!
Although I had no idea I would own my own business while I was in school, I definitely value the education n I got at FRA. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was surrounded by people I respected on a daily basis. I had role models in my teachers and thrived in the positive environment that FRA fuels.
My favorite thing about being a student at FRA was the atmosphere. Maybe that goes back to having great friendships, but we enjoyed ourselves. I was with a few of my girlfriends recently, and we reminisced on all the fun we had. Maybe you forget what it’s like to be in a school setting once you're 'adulting' and away from that, but my experience at FRA is something I will always cherish.
Suki is the co-owner of Beau Rivage Clécy, a kayak rental business in France. She attended FRA from 1992-2006. After graduating from FRA, Suki earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from the College of Charleston and a master's degree in neuropsychology from the University of Bristol.