Living with a French Family

Programs for this blog post

Liberal Arts

Authored By:

CIEE Rennes

I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking the same thing. As if being in a new country surrounded by an unfamiliar language and culture isn’t enough, how about I place myself in an even more nerve-wracking situation. A host family. It will be uncomfortable at times, you will be forced to use the language in a way that you can skirt around in public and class, but it will also be so much more than that. There will be laughter, unforgettable conversations, learning experiences, and a sense of comfort and home that you could only hope to get while in such unfamiliar territory.

When it came time to pick a study abroad program for my current degree, I knew right away that I wanted to be with a host family. Four months was a long time, and although the thought of that unnerved me, it also excited me. I would have four months to spend with my family and get to know them and learn from them. How cool was that?

Of course, when it came down to the day I was to meet my family, I was nothing but nerves and anxiety. My ability to speak the language was sub-par and my comprehension skills needed work as well. I hadn’t been practicing much. I was so worried they wouldn’t like me and that things would be awkward all semester! So, here comes my first piece of advice. Don’t go into this with any expectations other than being treated like another human being. Every host family is different, and every host student is different. Your host family might be a family that has done this a dozen times, or this may even be their first time. Go into it with an open mind and be patient. Most likely they are going to be as nervous about meeting you as you are about meeting them.

When my host family welcomed me, I immediately knew there was going to be no problems. My host mom and sister were two of the kindest people I have ever met. They were very patient with my tired   barely distinguishable French and did everything they could to make me feel comfortable and at home.

Here comes my second piece of advice, be as kind and considerate as possible. Once you get settled in, ask what time your host family eats dinner. Ask if they prefer you to come home at certain times. Ask if there is a time that is best for you to take a shower and do laundry. Remember, this is their home that they are being kind enough to allow you to stay in. There will be plenty of ways for you to make it feel like your own space, but always be respectful of the people around you. If they see that you care, it will mean a lot to them. For instance, the first few times I ate dinner with my family, I wasn’t sure what the kitchen habits were, so I didn’t help clean up. Now, after a month of living with them, I help set up and clean the table every night that we have dinner. It’s the little things that count and show them that you are thankful and want to be part of the family.

And the third piece of advice, even if you feel as though your French skills suck, do your best to talk with your family. The French love to discuss anything from politics to cinema at the dinner table. If you have questions, ask. My host dad is constantly willing to talk to me about any topic, he loves to teach me about new things. It could be something as simple as explaining why a food has the name that it does, and suddenly he is giving me a history lesson. It’s so refreshing to learn from people who have a different perspective than you! Don’t be afraid to correct, assert your opinion, or demand questions. The French also love to have debates, so they will be more than willing to talk with you for hours.

I feel especially lucky to have been placed with my host family. As I’ve stated previously, every family is different, so you might not have all the same experiences I have had. However, I truly believe that living with a host family is the best possible way to immerse yourself into other cultures. From nightly dinner conversations, to long Sunday lunches, to early morning chats at the table, I have never felt more at home. Each day, I learn something new from my host family about France and its’ vibrant culture. I get to come home from class every day knowing there are people waiting to hear about my day and answer any questions I might have. I get to build relationships with people who might be from a completely different country and culture, but at the end of the day really aren’t so different than me.

So, my final piece of advice is…put yourself in a new and foreign situation that makes you uncomfortable. Don’t go with the simple or easy route. You’ll come out of the experience with a whole new mindset and, perhaps, maybe even a whole new family.

Courtney Pope

Indiana University Bloomington