Studying abroad was just an amazing experience in itself, and I hope to do it again in my next two years of my undergraduate studies at Purdue. But what was even better than just studying abroad was being an exchange student in a French home. Working. Living. Being surrounded by only French. No, it wasn’t easy, whatsoever, but that’s why it was so spectacular. That’s why it was the best experience of my life. Being an exchange student meant that I wasn’t a tourist. Which was nice, because I hate the term “tourist”. Everything I was doing, I was experiencing, not just seeing or touring a foreign country. I was immersed in a different culture. And I fell in love with this culture. I don’t just like it, or enjoy it. I absolutely, inevitably love this culture, all thanks to what my host family has presented to me. Nothing was sugar-coated. 100% true, genuine French culture. (The only thing I consider sugar coated is that the family all shared one bathroom so I would have my own)
The work wasn’t made easy because I was unfamiliar of the vines. I wasn’t “babied” along. I wasn’t favored. I did the same work everyone else did. I kept up to pace with the people that have worked in the vines for consecutive summers. I kept up to pace when filling bottles and boxing them up. I held my own; the last thing I wanted to be was a slacker or struggler. I wanted to give my host family and coworkers a good impression of Americans, since I am the only one they have to judge off of.
My host sisters were such angels. Dealing with me not understanding what they were saying, not understanding what I was saying. So patient with me when it came to communicating. The girls made me feel like a sister, they involved me in all the little things they did: going swimming, the water fight, swinging on the swing, going outside to do cartwheels, roller skating in the garage. And they didn’t have to do any of that. They weren’t angels all the time either. Sometimes I wanted to strangle them, and that’s when I definitely reassure myself that they really are like my little sister. I love them, but they drove me crazy sometimes. Amelie screaming bloody murder for Papa and Maman in the middle of the night one night, or every single morning screaming for Chantal as soon as she wakes up. Or Manon whining about something that I can’t understand. Sometimes not giving me my space or reading over my shoulder when I would be Facebook messaging someone (not like they could read what we were saying anyway!) But all of this, these girls have become my sisters, the younger sisters I have never had. I want to learn French and become fluent just so I can communicate with them and keep in contact with them as they grow up. They were such role models to me and they don’t even know it. They don’t have a clue how much they have changed my life in such a short amount of time. I hope I made a lasting impression with them and they feel the same about staying in contact from now on.
My host mother was heaven sent dealing with me speaking no French. The only ways of communicating was either by pointing at things and speaking in broken French or having Philippe or Andreas translate the entire conversation. It was a struggle, to say the least. But I can’t thank her enough for all that she did for me. Taking me to the doctor when I had an ear infection. Teaching me to cook. Washing my laundry and folding it too (she did not have to do that, I motioned that I could do it, but she insisted!) Taking me along to Bordeaux for the wine festival . Buying me the cute pair of shoes that I liked of Manon’s. She was a mother figure to me this month. An amazing mother that is for not even being able to talk to me.
My main struggle of the month was obviously communicating. When I spoke English to Philippe I spoke too fast. And he also said the American accent was much more difficult for him to understand than a British accent. My American accent on my French made it impossible for him to understand. It was frustrating, but somehow for a month, we made it work. Even with the language barrier he taught me so much about wine, more than what I ever thought I would learn. He wasn’t afraid of putting me to work on things that I could possibly mess up, he had faith in me when I didn’t have faith in myself. Like driving the tractor when I could of ran him over or the girls! He translated for me every day, all day long between me and the girls. Explained why someone was laughing, what the joke was, or explained what I was eating… Like pig’s blood. (It would probably be better if I didn’t know it was that, I’d probably eat it again then). I’m sure I was exhausting. I just hope that I wasn’t too much of a pain or burden, especially when I went along to family gatherings where nearly no one spoke English.
But wow, what a month it’s been. I’ve met an amazing family, with hearts of gold. I’ve gotten to do more things and see more places than I ever expected during my month interning. I’ve met so many people that have made a lasting mark in my life. I cannot express in words (figuratively and literally because of the language barrier) how thankful I am for what my family has done for me this month. Yet again, they will never know or understand how much they changed my life, no one will understand besides myself, and the other students on internships with awesome families like mine. Waking up this morning and realizing this is my last full day was one of the most bittersweet feelings of my life. I’ve felt a lot of bittersweet before, going to college, ending my livestock showing careers, so on and so forth. But this has been the absolute, most bittersweet of them all. I do not want to leave my host family, for they have so much to learn from, but two months away from home has been far too long, as well as a month away from Americans is making me lose my mind and forget simple aspects of the American cultures.
As one door closes, another door opens. I sure hope that next door opening is a door leading me back to Europe, France, my host family in the near future.
I’m not sure what my internet access is going to look like for my remaining time in Europe after I leave my host family tomorrow. Even if I do have internet, I’ll be too busy being reunited with my American friends. As well as I have learned not to make promises to contact loved ones when I make it to airports as there is not always free WiFi. So next time majority of anyone reading this will hear from me is once I am back in the States.
Our four flights begin at 7:15am from Toulouse to Paris. We have a like five hour layover in Paris and from Paris we head to Montreal with a two hour layover there. From Montreal we fly to Chicago, with another two hour or so layover there. And lastly from Chicago we fly in to Indy. With all flights being on time, not gate changes, no delays, and nothing going wrong. We will get into Indy around midnight and I will be back to good ‘ole LaPorte County around 3am. HOPEFULLY. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers with all of our flights and travelling these next few days!