by Chris James | EDUCO Paris, Spring 2020
I arrived in France feeling extremely jet-lagged but also excited for my semester abroad. I had lived in Brooklyn and Atlanta my whole life and wasn’t sure what to expect living in a country that seemed so far from home. I met the other students in my program at a hotel on the first night and we were given a sheet of paper with information about our respective host families. I read the paper frantically, wanting to know whether I would have any host siblings, what part of the city I’d be living in, and most importantly how far my apartment would be from school. I had torn my Achilles six months earlier and was just beginning to walk without a boot, so being in close proximity to school was essential. I lucked out. I was walking distance from my school and had a host brother who was my age. Our building also had an elevator, meaning that I didn’t have to walk up 13 flights of stairs with an injured foot. But best of all, there was another American student living with my host family. This student’s name was Patrick, and despite our differences, we would eventually become good friends.
Living with my host family and Patrick had a strong impact on me. First of all, we spoke to each other in French, which was difficult to get used to at first. I was by far the weakest French speaker of the bunch and often needed Patrick to translate things for me. Nonetheless, my host family always encouraged me to do my best and gave me confidence in my speaking ability. By the time I left Paris, my speaking had improved a ton.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the hospitality of my host family. They genuinely cared about me and looked after me. They cooked me food, asked to help me with my schoolwork, and even cleaned up after me. Within just a couple months, this unfamiliar place started to feel like home. Of course, there were small conflicts every now and then (e.g., I was notorious for leaving the apartment lights on), but we’d talk these issues out immediately and resolve them. Overall, my stay went extremely smoothly, and there was a mutual emotional attachment among all of us when I left.
I took away an important lesson from all of this: people who are very different from one another can get along and can even become close friends or family as long as they have an open mind and are willing to communicate directly.