This is me, the health freak who won’t even put dressing on her salad, indulging in ice cream and crepes daily. The same girl who won’t touch beef chomps down on blood sausage and organ meat. When my host mother offers me more cheese with her gregarious smile, I stifle my instinct to politely refuse and instead try some. The stench is overpowering, but pourquoi pas? Why not?
â–º honorable mention 2012 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
A week ago, they were strangers but I now embrace them through tearful goodbyes. I thank them for graciously opening their hearts and inspiring me. I left on my train to Paris like a kindergartener leaves a toy store. Even the magnificent city of Paris could not compare with my stay in the home of this loveable French family. With every moment I felt my understanding of their culture and language expand, and with it my self-belief in my own abilities.
“Okay, just survive the family stay,” I comforted myself on the plane. “Then, lovely Paris…” I’ve always imagined the romantic city lit up amongst the bustle of exotic Parisian faces and revered it as the ultimate travel experience. Compared to my idealized dreams of the city, life with a native family seemed about as comfortable as the extraction of wisdom teeth.
Upon my arrival, the Louisleur family drove me home from the airport while questioning me in hyper speed French with wide, excited eyes and affable smiles. I desperately tried to piece together the translations in my head, which was spinning. They stared at me patiently waiting as I formulated my sentences. I spoke in broken French, using gestures and working with my preliminary knowledge the best I could to answer. Mathilde, my host sister, slowed her speech and said, “Nous sommes ravi tu es ici!” I smiled and let out a sigh of relief. I understood that: They are happy I am here.
Each morning I was enthralled to rise and experience what I feared days ago—to be and speak with an authentic French family. At night, exhausted, I recorded the events, not wanting to bid au revoir to another day. We learned new vocabulary from each other. What’s flamingo in French? Flammerole. What is it in English? I grew stronger and more confident in my language skills because the Louisleurs encouraged me to constantly use French. They gave corrections, and we would repeat it together. YAH- OURT for my breakfast yogurt. Completely immersed in the culture, it became a part of me.
School with Mathilde was the best part of my spring vacation in France. When friendly students wanted to converse in English, Mathilde would tell them, “En Francais. Elle comprend.” In French, she understands. Of all the considerate deeds of the Louisleur family, I appreciate this act especially. They knew basic English and could have made it so easy for me to communicate. Instead they helped me through the struggle of learning a new language, offering me a challenge and bridging our two cultures. The below video shows you some of my experiences in France:
The beauty I discovered within this family trumped my view on top of the over-rated Eiffel Tower. Sorry Leonardo, but their magnificence outdid the Mona Lisa and even sunrise over the Notre Dame. With their help and the ISE Student Travel Program, I discovered that the powerful ability of language combined with an open attitude creates a world of endless possibilities with no restrictions of whom I can connect with. More languages. More diversity. More traveling. Hong Kong? Cape Town? Stuttgart? Pourquoi pas? Why not? The Louisleurs showed me I can do it if I try.
Special thanks to Benh Lieu Song for the photo.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.