Hi my name is Rosie, I’m now 23 years old and I spent 10 months in France when I was 14 to 15 during my schooling. I was failing French and my brother had previously spent 6 months with a French family and had enjoyed it, so we got in contact with them. Even though they didn’t have any children at home anymore they were more than happy to take care of me.
I lived in a small village called Maillezais. It’s near Fontenay Le Comte which is where the school was. Maillezais has the ruins of an old abbey and is in the green Venice, fields divided by water ways overgrown with plants and it’s a magnificent display of nature and man’s work. Even though Fontenay isn’t that big it has an event Hall, where I could go to various concerts, one of which was a Hang concert, with lots of people playing bowl like instruments, I was fascinated by them because I could hardly believe it wasn’t a recording because I had never before heard sounds like it. I also travelled to Nantes a few times to visit my host brothers and sisters and wandered round the town.
I left hardly speaking French. One of the first evenings my host mother asked what I had done that day and I answered « I read. I swim. I walk. » she smiled and told me to put all that into the right time – passé composé. The beginning was hard, especially as some children at school equated not being able to speak their language with being stupid or slow. A few others took me and the other ‘etrangers’ under their wings and helped us find our way round. Over time however the others became friendlier and I made plenty of friends. Being able to speak a bit was helpful but when in the country you learn very quickly, especially swear words – leading me to unknowingly swear at a teacher on one occasion.
The education system was very different to the one I was used to. In Vienna I was used to the teachers trusting us to be sensible, but independent. We were told not to leave the school before 12:00 and the school janitor was there to keep an eye on things, but if he felt you looked old enough(over 14/15) he didn’t mind you popping out to the supermarket. If a class didn’t take place due to the teacher not being there, teenagers still considered children (under 14/15) got substitute teachers, that either continued the class as planned or watched a film with the students or let them play, as long as they didn’t disrupt other classes next door. At the age considered responsible in Austria, I was expecting the same treatment, especially as the school (lycée) is for teenagers aged 15-18. I was surprised that my host parents had to sign a slip allowing me to leave school during my lunch break (after 12, which was never even questioned with the 10 years olds in Austria, because of course they could go out and get lunch even though we had a school cafeteria) and when we decided to sit in the recreation Hall when a teacher didn’t turn up to class, our families were contacted and we were told to write 4 pages on the topic of « why obedience is necessary. » You can imagine how angry I was at that, I felt like I was being treat like a child for no reason. If we were sick and didn’t appear in the first lesson again, our families were called and were asked where we were. I constantly felt I was being watched and that they always had to have control over me, I really disliked that aspect of the school. I later heard that you also needed to ask the mayor of the town for a permission slip to leave the country, so the system in the whole country seems to be more controlled than in Austria, where all I had to do was book a flight and I could fly off at 14 even without adult supervision.
I definitely benefited from my time abroad. I returned speaking French fluently and have since got two jobs easier because I’ve been able to add that to my CV. Also it just changed my view on the world, which has helped me adapt to understanding others views. After the initial wave of not understanding anything I soon got on well with most people I met. People were always open and very happy to welcome an etrangers if they were willing to speak French. By the end of my time I had good friends in the village I lived in as well as the town the school was in. Often their way of thinking didn’t differ much to mine, or was it that I had just come to understand them very well? One of my favourite instances of learning French was when I was sitting in the back of the bus with a group I had become good friends with, we had started a tickling battle girls against boys and us girls ended up wedged under the seat in front of us being tickled. Something was pushing into my arm a bit painfully so I said « ow » like I was used to from England and Austria (in German written ‘Au’ but the same sound) but they didn’t stop, I then heard the other girl say « Ai! » and the boys stopped, understanding that that must be their sound for expressing pain or discomfort, I tried it. The boys stopped immediately. I couldn’t believe that after so long (by that time 8/9 months) I still had not learned that kind of detail in the language.
If ever you have the chance to go away for a fee months, take it. It is worth leaving everything behind for that time, you will experience so much and really grow as a person!! You just have to get over the initial fright and then you’ll love it !!
Thank you very much Rosie for sharing your story =).