La vie en famille: Guest blogger Heidi E.

Authored by:
Jeff Pageau

Jeff Pageau

On Sunday, we asked our students to share a picture that captured family life in France.  The photo challenged inspired our student, Heidi, to write this blog about her experiences with a French host family.  

Before arriving in France, I was the most nervous about staying with a homestay family – if I would be able to communicate effectively, if they would like me, and if I could become comfortable in a stranger’s home. But now I can confidently say the homestay connection is one of the best parts of the study abroad experience with CIEE. From the moment I met them at the train station, my host parents were welcoming and warm. Living in a new place took some getting used to, but Valerie and Christophe immediately put me at ease and helped me get settled in. (They insisted on being called by their first names – “nous ne sommes pas grandparents!”) Along with my two roommates, we ate dinner together that first night and started to get to know each other. The only slight mishap was forgetting to turn the lights off after we washed our hands before dinner – the French are much more conscious of energy and water waste than we are in the U.S.  

Incredibly, my host family has had over a hundred exchange students over the past fifteen years. Most of the other host families have had students before, but not nearly as many. Fortunately, this means that they’re used to foreigners. My host mom only speaks French, but my host dad knows a fair amount of English, which has been helpful when neither I nor either of my roommates knows a word or phrase. I also have a host sister and brother, both of whom are friendly and speak good English, though they’re college-aged and therefore not at the house as often. My host dad has been especially helpful with pronunciation; as a native french speaker, he knows exactly how the words should sound.

By now, we’ve settled into a comfortable daily routine: my roommates and I see the family briefly in the morning before class, and when we get back home, we talk about our days, language success stories and mishaps, and other subjects such as politics and life in France. Each night we eat a home-cooked dinner together, and the food is always wonderful. Although CIEE provides questions and prompts for talking with your host family, I’ve found that being immersed in another culture inspires many questions to keep the conversation going. For instance, the other day, I asked where my host family has gone on vacation and whether it’s common for the French to travel outside their country. While they don’t go on road trips here, it turns out that traveling between countries in Europe is similar to traveling between states in the US. Valerie and Christophe have been to the Czech Republic four times! And tonight, I asked about French slang, or “l’argot,” which is informal but can help your language sound more natural.

Overall, I’ve found living with a homestay family to be both an enjoyable experience and beneficial for my language learning. Just remember: take short showers and remember to turn the lights off! Thanks to my homestay family, I feel that I am experiencing true French life, including my favorite French cliche: the baguette with dinner every night. :)

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