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A Glimpse Into my Life as an Exchange Student in France

Traveling abroad, especially on an exchange program, changed my life more than I ever thought possible. Not only was I able to enrich myself in an unfamiliar culture, but I had so many unique experiences, met a number of people, and gave myself an opportunity to open my eyes to the world and how huge it really is. Going on this trip helped me tremendously in that I was able to learn about living in another country while also learning about who I am as a person.

When I first discovered the possibility of being an exchange student in France through ANDEO, I was thrilled. The previous summer, I had participated in a trip to a small city in France through my school, and that included staying with a host family. I had an incredible time, but I knew I wanted to continue, to broaden my perceptions, not only of France, its culture, and the world, but of myself. Though I was excited, I struggled with convincing myself that this was a journey I should embark on. I pondered this for several weeks, before deciding that this was truly something I wanted to experience. This way was the best option for me to learn as much French as possible, while traveling independently, and, ultimately, challenging myself and going out of my comfort zone. The next day, I booked my flights, and my voyage became real. I was going to France, alone, for five weeks, hoping to experience something like never before.

Leaving Portland was difficult for me, as expected. Tears slipped down my cheeks as I hugged my parents goodbye. I didn’t quite know what to expect, yet I felt ready to embark on this adventure. Over 24 hours later (including a six-hour layover in Amsterdam, one small smoothie, and a flight to Bordeaux), I arrived in the city that I would call home for the next month. Walking off the airplane and onto French soil felt like a dream come true. The moment was finally here, and even though I was extremely exhausted, I couldn’t have been more awake.

Meeting my host family was an unbelievable moment that I have no way of describing. They were so kind to me right from the start, which helped to make me comfortable. I didn’t have trouble asking them what I wanted to know about living in France, and Bordeaux, and one of the first nights I was there they took me on a tour of the city so I could know where everything was. They made sure I was happy, enjoying myself, and learning a lot, right up until the moment I left. I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have had this experience, made all the better by my welcoming host family.

There are plenty of things to do in France, no matter what city you are in. Just being in France put me in awe, and it was enough for me to be in the country let alone visiting landmarks and learning about the area I was in. That said, it was so much fun getting to know the city of Bordeaux and what it’s like to live there. My host mom took me to visit a few Châteaux in the area, which are castles, and my host sister competes in horseback riding, so I was able to go to her stables often and watch her ride. I love horses, so it was awesome to see them almost everyday, and I met all of my host sister’s friends who also ride horses. Biking around the city was a popular activity as well, as was going to the center of the city for food and ice cream.
My host sister, her friend, and I after biking to and having lunch at a nearby park.

My favorite part of my entire exchange was something unique that I was able to do with my host family. We went camping, an hour south of Paris, for the National  Championships of horseback riding that my host sister was competing in. This was during the third week of my stay in France, and although I had known before I left the U.S. that I would be doing this, I didn’t know exactly what it would entail, which made me nervous. It ended up being the best part of the entire trip. This is largely due to the fact that we were camping in a group of people from the stables, so for a week, we did everything together, and each person made me feel welcome. I got to know so many people really well, speak in French more because there were tons of people to talk to, and make life-long friends. A few days into the week, another family arrived, coincidentally with another exchange student, who was also from Oregon! The joke was that we were going to have an English night in which everyone was required to speak English. Before this camping trip, I knew my host sister, her friends, her coach, and the other families we were with, but definitely not as well as when we returned to their home in Bordeaux. I really surprised myself by being able to converse with so many people and to have us understand each other. I think it’s so important to being open to doing pretty much anything with your host family, or whatever they suggest, because you never know where it could take you, or what you will get to do.

The view one night while camping!

Another very enjoyable aspect of my trip was the people. Each person I met and interacted with was kind and happy to have me in their country and learning about their culture. When I got to know people better, they started to ask me about life in America and, specifically, how the school system works. Towards the end of our camping trip, I had gotten close with the mom of a friend of my host sister, and she started to tease me about how I was eating a certain dessert she had given me. Of course she was just kidding, and I knew that, but I loved it, because I was able to understand what she was saying, and I was able to really connect with her. I will never forget the words she said to me, or the great times we had. The connections I have with the people I met and the memories we made will stay with me forever.
The group I camped with!

Although I had the time of my life, I cannot truthfully say that I did not struggle. One of the hardest things at first for me was that I couldn’t seem to stop using English. I had been on an exchange before, so I knew it would take a while to switch over, and I wasn’t speaking English, but I kept thinking in English. After about two weeks, I found that it became easier for me to speak French without thinking too much, and I started to think in French! In fact, when I thought about returning home to Portland, I would automatically think about saying hi in French to my parents, which had never happened before. Another difficult thing for me was that while my host parents were doing everything they could to make me happy, it was hard for me to communicate with my host sister, because she didn’t seem to want to talk to me or interact with me much. This frustrated me a lot because I felt I had traveled all the way to France largely to be able to talk in French as much as possible, and through that, learn what it is like to be a teenager living in France. This problem was never really solved (the program coordinator came over one night to discuss this with the whole family but my host sister didn’t really agree with what he said), but even so, I tried so hard to make the best of it, and interact with those who wanted to talk to me and be around me. Though I got pretty fed up at some points, I actually think that this challenge made me stronger, because it made me reach out for help because I had no other choice, and it almost forced me to be more outgoing. I met and connected with so many more people than I would have if it never happened, and through camping, I was able to enjoy conversing with multiple families and friends. One family in particular has four girls who I became especially close to, and I never would have interacted much with them if it hadn’t been for this situation. I would not have had nearly the same experience without them and they are now some of my closest friends!

The city of Bordeaux from Le Pont de Pierre one night while biking around.

Overall, I could not be more thankful for my trip and those who made it so incredible. This is just a glimpse into my adventure, and there is so much more to tell. I cannot put into words all of the feelings and emotions that I had in the moments and still have. If you are thinking about participating in an exchange program through ANDEO, I highly encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and go for it. You never know what could happen, but who knows, it might end up being the best thing that has ever happened to you. I had such mixed feelings returning home after five weeks (I traveled to a different part of France after a month in Bordeaux to visit some friends for a week before returning home). I was excited to be home again, yet it was very difficult to leave behind my friends and my journey. Traveling abroad through an exchange program is one of the best things you can do for your language learning, but also for learning about yourself. I didn’t know how much I would miss my experiences until I was home, and back on west coast time. Embracing the idea of a new culture, a welcoming family, an open mind, and traveling the world can do wonders for you. I hope you have as spectacular of an experience as I did. 


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