After completing my first month at Purpan University in Toulouse, France and moving in with a host family in rural southwestern France, it is amazing how different my experience is. Living in Toulouse surrounded by 60 other American students was easy. I always had people to talk to and connect with despite the fact that I was in a completely different country. I didn’t have to think about how I acted, or if I was doing something offensive all the time around my American friends because we all came from similar cultures. When I moved in with my host family, everything changed. All of a sudden I was surrounded by 5 unfamiliar (but very friendly) faces who spoke little to no English, and had a completely different lifestyle than me.
I am now currently living with a wine-producing family in the Madiran region of France. I spend my weekdays working in the vineyards and selling wine to any English speaking customers who happen to come to buy and/or taste wine. Although it is not what I want to do for the rest of my life, it is a great experience, and I’m learning more and more about the wine-making process as I continue my internship.
My host family nearly always has other family members over at their house, and it’s appropriate for anyone to come over unannounced. At my house in the US, we rarely have family over, and when we do it is planned well in advance. Additionally, every meal in my host family’s house is eaten together. Family time and eating are of the utmost importance. Although family time is also very important to my family, we don’t do nearly as many things together as my host family does. I really like and appreciate how much the French value spending their time with others.
Despite that our families are thousands of miles apart, it is almost comical how many different similarities there are between my family and my host family. My host family has three children like my own family. The oldest child takes on the role of the responsible (sometimes cranky) boss, much like my oldest sister. The middle child gets blamed for everything but in reality is the nicest one, much like my older brother. Last (but never the least) the third child is clearly the ornery favorite, much like myself. The last sentence was a joke…kind of. Overall, even though the language barrier is something that is inescapable, and it’s bound to be uncomfortable when you sometimes feel like you are imposing on your host family’s private life, I’m learning more about myself, how to communicate effectively both verbally in English and French and nonverbally through body language… and lots of smiling. I am looking forward to my next few weeks here!