While our orientation in Paris was wonderful, I think everyone in my program would agree that by the last day, we were ready to go home and meet our host families, or familles d’accueils. The rooms at the hostel in Paris were small and un-airconditioned, and some people were sharing rooms with up to eight or nine other people. One of the rooms even had bed bugs. And while we didn’t know what to expect from our host families, we did know that we would each have our own room waiting, and with it, a comfortable night’s sleep. But as our bus neared Rennes, anxiety crept in. What if I didn’t get along with my host family? What if I couldn’t communicate with them?
When we arrived, we walked to a building on the campus of Université Rennes II, where we would be taking our classes for the semester. All of the host families waited inside, eyeing us up as we walked in, wondering, just like we were, who would be paired up with who. When I got matched up with my family (a retired couple who were frequent hosters of CIEE students), the first thing I did was faire la bise, which is the French way of greeting someone with a kiss on each cheek (in Rennes it’s just two kisses, but in some parts of France it’s as many as four). My host parents were warm and friendly, but my French was a little shaky on the first night, because I was nervous. In order to fill silences, I would speak flawed French, forgetting simple grammar rules and conjugations.
However, over the next few days, my host parents made it easy for me to feel comfortable living with them. My host dad is a former professor and so is very patient and good at explaining things, and my host mom loves to cook and makes delicious food all the time, including regional specialties like galette (a dish with ham, eggs, onions, and grated cheese) and far (a traditional dessert). Moreover, they live in a very nice, well-decorated apartment and have adopted a what’s-mine-is-yours type attitude.
It’s a little strange living with a host family, because in college we become so independent. We have to fend for ourselves rather than having someone cooking for us and cleaning for us and offering to do our laundry. But as strange as it is, it’s nice to sit down to a home cooked family meal and recount my day, and listen as my host family does the same.
After dinner, I’ll often watch television with my host parents. My host dad likes to watch sports and Westerns, and my host mom enjoys crime shows. Most recently, my host mom and I bonded over a French reality show called L’Amour est dans le Pré (love is in the meadow). It’s essentially a dating show for farmers, and we enjoyed making fun of the melodrama.
For the CIEE Rennes program, host family pairings are mostly the luck of the draw. And while I can’t speak to everyone’s experiences, I was extremely lucky to be placed with my host family.