Une Expérience Enrichissante

I recently noticed, via the WordPress stats link, that a Google search with the keywords ‘bad exchange experience’ was used to access my site.

Interesting.  As I have never written about my past exchange experience, neither made past mention to it.  Although, now I feel I must.  To defend, in fact, the amazingly incredible experience I had as a host-student in France.

It was the year of 2004, I was a 16 year old high school student.  Still extremely naive about the world, but fascinated about the knowledge around me.  I had no idea what to expect, but the prospect of meeting people on the other side of the world seemed like a fine opportunity that I couldn’t miss.  I had been told that it would do wonders to my French skills, and considering I couldn’t string a sentence together, I thought it would be a great to advance with a small push!

All of the students in the program where sent to different families anywhere in France.  I was the only student to head to the Brittany region, where I stayed with a family with 1 son and 2 turtles in the city of Nantes.

The host family chose me on their end, because it was to be my 17th birthday whilst I was there.  We then exchanged letters to one another before I left.  My host-father, Thierry, said he would be wearing red at the airport so I would be able to spot him on my arrival.  It was then time to leave home for a 6 week journey to France...

All of the students excitedly boarded the plane to Paris together, but we said our sad goodbyes at Charles-de-Gaulle, to either take planes or trains to our final destination.  We were taken by a leader to our gate, otherwise the rest was an independent experience.  Once I arrived at Nantes airport, I collected by bags, and through the glass windows I could see a man dressed head to toe in red.

I knew from that moment that this trip was going to be a warm and incredible experience.

Their son spoke English near fluently which meant we could interact well and get along easily, and share jokes.  But from the second day of arrival, my host parents said that they would only interact with me in French from that night on.  I was worried and a little scared, but I knew that they had good intentions, and were only encouraging me to learn French well.

I went to school, made friends with other kids, went out with my host parents, met their relatives in other parts of France, and spoke with all their friends young and old.  The best experience was that I was able to interact with a broad range of French people and learn so much about, not only the French language, but also the French culture in such a small time.

To be honest, my French only slightly improved, which I think is the case for most kids on a short-term exchange.  But once I returned to Australia, my passion to learn French was accelerated to the max.

Really, it is thanks to my most incredible French host family that my passion for language grew to such an extent.  I still keep in regular contact with them to this day, and visit them every time that I travel to France.  I can still remember that day I boarded the plane to leave Nantes, and I cried because they had made me feel so welcome, just like my family back home.  They had become my French family, and made me a home away from home.

All of the photos are from the album that my host Mum, Até, made me before leaving.

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Trip to Saumur, driving through the amazing châteaux in the Loire Valley.

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Journey through the north, stopping off at the beautiful medieval village of Dinan.

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My 17th bithday celebrated with a delicious tarte aux pommes.

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Weekend visit to the markets for fresh vegetables, fruit and seafood

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Christmas day in the family home.

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The second Christmas with Thierry’s parents in Caen.  More presents…

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La soirée raclette!

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