The biggest aid in the intercultural immersion throughout the program is through the homestay experience. Each homestay is unique, having different interests, different socio-economic backgrounds and different people; however each homestay is eager/willing to help the student learn about language and culture throughout their stay. CIEE did a great job with matching people with similar interests, allowing for easy, engaging conversation.
My host family consists of a mother and her two children, her 24-year-old son and her 17-year-old daughter. The girl is about the same age as me, and have a lot in common. We are both dancers, we both enjoy architecture and are both entering our last year of high school. However, as we come from different backgrounds, we have different experiences and perspectives on life and our interests, leading to interesting conversation at the dinner table. Dinner is very important in France as it is the time that everyone in the household reconvenes and talks. Despite there being a language barrier, dinner takes at least an hour and a half and is always filled with immense conversation about how our day went, a comparison of our lifestyles and norms and things that I should do in Paris, from a local’s viewpoint. Also through the host family experience, I get to learn about daily french cuisine and ediquite. For example, everyone eats dinner late, something my body needed to adapt to and in my homestay, dinner is always followed with bread and cheese; I have grown to love that aspect of dinner however found it weird at first. In addition, after dinnertime we played a matching game called Dobble, which allowed me to learn a lot of new vocabulary in a fun way. Although I struggled at first and the game was slower paced, after a couple rounds I was able to get better and faster and even win a round. In general, my host family helped me improve my vocabulary and helped me gain confidence with the French language because they do not make me feel stressed when I stumble across a word and allow me to take my time. When speaking to me, they only speak French but don't mind repeating things more than once, and talking slower and enunciating when need be. They allow me to feel more comfortable when trying to understand everything, and have gone the extra mile to make me fel confident in my French speaking ability.
Sundays are reserved for family time, and they have been some of my favorite times spent in Paris. Since the girl and I are both classical dancers, my host family took me to go see the inside of the Palais Garnier, a famous opera house in Paris that is home to ballets and operas by Paris Opera Ballet company. The Palais Garnier is deeply historic and an architectural masterpiece. It contains statues and paintings of people I have learned about throughout my dance career and let me learn more about them. Being with my host sister, I was able to talk about the ballets we have seen and the dancers we know, allowing me to have a wider perspective of what dance is, and what dance looks like abroad.
The other weekend I spent with them, they took me to Musee d'Orsay. The museum is very large, and it is easy to get lost inside. However, being with people that have visited that museum several times, they were able to guide me and cater the visit to my interests. When inside, I was able to talk to them about the art and the history behind it. I think that going with my host family to the museum enriched my experience as they knew more about the history of the place and insider secrets. While taking me on a walk along the Seine afterwards, they pointed out buildings and cafes that although I have passed many times, I have never noticed or knew what they were.
Having a host family has really been one of the highlights of the trip since it made me feel like a local: connecting me to France through food, language and inside secretes. These connections and memories will stay with me for a lifetime, and have made me a more cultured person.