One of the key characteristics that makes the CIEE Language and Culture programs stand out is the homestay. Students live with host families and are thus completely immersed in the French language here in Toulouse. The host family connection is so vital, as it is a springboard for life-long relationships and exchanges.
Since the moment students step out of the plane, Program Leaders remind students of the importance of spending time with their host families and building that bond. In an increasingly technologically-connected world, students may at times feel tempted to retreat to their rooms or play games on their cell phones, but our Toulouse students understand that one of the most vital components of their experience, and for most, the highlight of it, is the time spent with their host family.
Host families provide lots of material comforts for students, including their own room with a bed, dresser, closet, desk, bedwear, towels, and delicious breakfasts and dinners every day. Beyond these basic needs, the family is a source of support as students improve their French. Typically, the entire family gets together to eat dinner every night, and host parents ask students about their day over dinner. In these relaxed moments, students can use their French to bond with their host families and a happy byproduct is increased language proficiency. Students acquire household vocabulary in a natural way as they attempt to express their needs, such as needing to go to the bathroom, asking for help using the laundry machine, inquiring about Internet access, asking for certain food items, and much more! Moreover, students experience different family dynamics than their own and gain emotional maturity as they observe how their host families negotiate any conflicts that may arise.
I asked students in Toulouse to tell me what they loved and appreciated most about their host families, and they cited feeling at home and being included as another member of the family and the support they receive as they strengthen their French communication skills. Below are some of the comments our students said about their families:
Isabella: "The thing I love most about my host family is that they are always very understanding and are here to support me and make me feel as comfortable as I can. They have also taken me on fun adventures such as being a scout and sleeping in the wilderness."
Nikki: "What I appreciate the most is that after connecting with my host brother, I learned that even though we have cultural differences, we are similar in many ways. We both play sports and have a similar sense of humor. The only small differences I have seen so far are our taste in movies and music."
Monica: I love how my family treats me as if I’m their actual daughter. They are so welcoming and very kind. They remind me a lot of my family, which makes me feel at home. They really challenge me to use my French and it is really helping me learn a lot.
Adia: "What I like the most about my host family is that they really make an effort to try to understand me."
Bella: "My host family is incredibly generous and even though they've hosted many students in the past, they truly care about getting to know me and me getting to know them. In that way it has been a true exchange. They are very warm and I cannot thank them enough for the ways in which they have gone out of their way to enrich my experience here in France while making sure there is plenty of time during the day to rest and relax. I appreciate not only the ways in which their presence has improved my speaking and listening skills and cultural nuances but also the support they've given me in stepping out of my comfort zone."
Sabrina: “I love that my family has made me feel like one of them and that they treat me as one of their own kids. Also, I love that they are very active and we have lots of family activities.”
Teagan: "My host family is super funny!"
Alessandro: "The thing I love the most about my family is that they're willing to try new things and they understand me."
Mini: "I most appreciate my host family's hospitality in that they welcome me to live with them in their home and lives.
Anna Isabel: "I speak French with my host family almost at all times. Whenever we can't understand each other we play charades, draw pictures and make strange gestures to describe what is trying to be said. In the moments where we don't manage to understand each other at all my host mom explains a word or two in Spanish or English. It is a great experience to have to work together to understand each other and it is a lot of fun."
Lydia: "I love how welcoming my family is. They treat me as if I am their real daughter. I feel super comfortable around them. We joke around as well as have serious conversations. Their hospitality has definitely made my experience here so far so amazing."
Sophia: “I love that my host family has welcomed me into their home and made me feel like a part of their family.”
Busira: "My favorite thing to do with my host family is to play games because it helps ease the atmosphere and makes it easier to communicate"
Aden: My host family is so kind and inviting. I’ve never felt more safe and welcomed in a home that’s not mine.
Ethan:“The more we value things, the less we value ourselves” - Bruce Lee
To conclude, here in Toulouse, our host families are caring, nurturing and supportive. They offer students the same love they would offer any other member of the family. Furthermore, the immersive experience of living with a French family truly does wonders for students' language acquisition process. Most importantly, the strong bonds created over this month can last a lifetime.