Can you help us think of anything we can do to prepare our grand-daughter for her trip to France as a foreign exchange student?
January 31, 2012 6:35 AM   Subscribe

My 11 year old grand-daughter will be traveling to France for a foreign exchange program. She will be gone for three weeks. She comes from a small rural community in the Midwest so I think she is in for quite a culture shock. As the time is approaching I'm becoming nervous because it's so far away and she can't just hop on a plane if she gets homesick. The girl she is staying with will be here in April for three weeks living with my grand-daughter. Can you think of anything that she will need to know or what we can do to prepare her for this trip?
posted by sybarite09 to Travel & Transportation around France (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When I went to Europe in High School, my girlfriend sent me off with a stack of letters, one for each day I would be gone, with the date I was allowed to open it on the front. I was pretty homesick, especially at first, and those little notes were very helpful. For an 11-year-old you could include some stickers or candy or jewelry every few days as a little bonus surprise.

Also, if she is tech-savvy enough (and responsible enough), she could bring along an iPad or iPod Touch to have FaceTime sessions with folks back home, but I wonder if that might not just make the homesickness worse for a girl that age -- being able to see people, but not be with them, you know?
posted by Rock Steady at 6:41 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Where will this be?

In what way do you expect a culture shock? Will she be living in a city? Do you expect something significant beyond your grand-daughter living 3 weeks in NYC?

Young people are surprisingly malleable and she will probably take everything in stride.

The one glaring issue, language, cannot be discussed easily as we do not know her level of French nor her host family's level of English.
posted by StoneSpace at 6:42 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I was her age, I was also sent abroad to a family I didn't know, and I had very few skills in the language I was there to practice. Feel free to MeMail me..

Today, I am bilingual and have repeated the experience many times during my teenage years and young adulthood. I have met lots of friends, gone to concerts, discovered a new culture, and spent time with people that I would never have met otherwise.

I didn't realize it back then, but even from a sociological point of view, it is also a very enriching experience, and it can really help someone getting new perspectives and insights on the world. As they say : "les voyages forment la jeunesse"

Some culture shock is to be expected, but what all these experiences getting out of my comfort zone have taught me, is beyond measure. I can tell you all about it ! :)
posted by Jireel at 6:52 AM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Make arrangements for her to get a phone card so that she can call home if/when she feels like it without running up crazy phone bills for her host family. You could even look into ordering a card or cards to be sent to the host family's address, so that when your granddaughter arrives they're already available to use. Alternatively, find out what type of Internet access she'll have and make plans with her to stay in touch by Skype or email.

I also think you should focus on the fact that it's 3 weeks, not a full semester or full year. It's almost as if she can just hop on a plane and come home if she's homesick. Three weeks is a short enough time that her host family and/or exchange program will probably be providing fairly structured activities for much of the time, right? So, she'll be keeping busy, which is good for warding off homesickness. Maybe, if she's feeling nervous about going, you and she could talk about the planned activities as well as looking into other fun things to do in the area. Between that and having access to either phone or email contact with you/the rest of the family, I think she'll be prepared.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:58 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

A someone who grew up with numerous foreign stints, I think culture shock is the point of the trip. However, it sounds like you would feel better with some reassurance about her well-being while away. To that end, I would make sure she knows how to use a local phone and/or pay phone, and has the funds to contact a confidante from home once or twice if she needs to or wants to. Foreign telephones can be alien things, but knowing she's familiar with one and has your (or her parents') ok to use it once or twice if she's terribly homesick would be helpful.

And if it's not clear, unless she is distressingly anxious about the trip, I don't recommend that she go over with her own full service cell phone, because that makes it too easy to check out of local culture and activities. I would not set her up with internet access. I would not make it easy to Skype/Facetime/etc. There is much more to be gained by letting her experience the distance and differences of another place. My two cents.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:08 AM on January 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

She has a laptop with webcam so she can communicate with us.

She will be in Lyon. They will spend a few days in Paris.

From what I've read they are not as modest as far as nudity or sexuality, especially with their T.V. programing.

I have taught her a little French, but only basic phrases. I think she will learn much more when her french student stays with her.
posted by sybarite09 at 7:08 AM on January 31, 2012

Does she have a decent camera? Sharing pictures with family and friends every day would be cool. Is she into writing?She could keep a diary. Get her an artist's book with blank pages she can write in, draw in, paste/tape stuff in.

When I was a kid in France kids even younger than that drank coffee for breakfast and wine diluted with water at lunch and supper. She might find it shocking if her host family does this.
posted by mareli at 7:08 AM on January 31, 2012

I wasn't as young as your daughter when I traveled to France for a two-week homestay with the family of the student who stayed with us (15, and this was way back in 1989), but if it's any consolation, I remember being far less homesick than either I or my parents thought I would be. In fact it dawned on all of us American kids in Rouen that being a couple thousand miles away in a foreign country wasn't really a big deal. We had so many planned activities to keep us busy, whether it was sitting in on classes at the host school, or taking day trips all over the place. It's understandable that your daughter might be nervous about being far away from her family for the first (?) time, but she won't be alone and there should be a lot of built-in fun for three weeks.
posted by emelenjr at 7:09 AM on January 31, 2012

I think culture shock is a good thing. Maybe you could warn her about it (that things might be very different from home), but I would just let her experience it. Having those life moments that really blow your hair back are what makes us who we become as adults. I think it is great that she has this opportunity at age 11. She will likely come back a bit more mature and a bit more worldly than the rest of her peers.
posted by Nightman at 7:12 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

How is she feeling about the trip? Everyone is so different, especially at eleven. If you are nervous but age is excited please don't let you anxiety affect how she feels about the trip. You can prepare her but showing enthusiasm for her decision to go and confidence she will handle herself with grace and joie de vivre during an exciting and challenging time. At eleven, how YOU handle this will be her cue on how to face new situations.
posted by saucysault at 7:12 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're worried about her being homesick, but -- does it seem like she is uneasy? Has she been prone to this kind of homesickness before in new situations?

I actually think the fact that the girl she's staying with will be coming for a visit first will take care of a lot of the culture shock -- she'll have someone she "already knows" there in France waiting, and it's also only 3 weeks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:13 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

She has her own cell phone so she can call. I agree she should not be skyping or calling that much as it will take away the enrichment of her experience there. Her school does requires that she does Skype to stay in contact with her family.
posted by sybarite09 at 7:14 AM on January 31, 2012

I haven't been involved in a youth exchange program, but as a camp counselor, even in the US when parents were just an hour away, I heard lots of similar concerns on the part of parents. It was more isolating in those days because there was zero electronic communication allowed, or even possible. And of course, the kids were living and sharing sleeping space with kids from many different walks of life, whom they didn't know, as well as adults who were basically strangers too, aside from being vetted by the camp staff.

Kids are generally much more adaptable than you think, though. Homesickness happens, but what works best is to communicate that though homesickness is totally normal and natural, it's not a dealbreaker. It's OK to be a little sniffly or sad in lonely moments and to miss your home. You don't have to cover it up. But you can start helping her now get the tools to self-soothe if those moments happen. Distracting yourself, keeping busy, having plenty to read/look at, keeping a daily journal, making friends, allowing yourself to have fun, are all things you can tell her now will help her enjoy herself and not be homesick. Just building up her confidence that she'll be able to handle herself and come out fine, because she's prepared to do that, will help beyond measure.

One nice thing you can do is invent a little ritual that she can do to make her feel you're in touch emotionally. For some reason a lot of people do this with the moon - if you see the moon, I'm seeing it too and we think of each other. Or "every night before you fall asleep, list off everything beautiful in your day and 'send' it to me telepathically." Or something like that. It helps more than you'd think.

From what I've read they are not as modest as far as nudity or sexuality, especially with their T.V. programing.

Again, kids are adaptable. If you're worried about how the media might be different, what about getting some French TV shows or movies on Netflix now and watching them together? You can pre-view them of course to make sure they're not SUPER adult. This might help with language and cultural acclimatization, too.

And how about looking online or in the library for maps of the town she'll be staying, sending away for tourist brochures, etc? Making it real and predictable would help her feel more at home.

But in general, have faith in kids' resilience. It's usually a lot stronger than adults think. And often, the hardest part of being away from home for a kid is actually seeing the parent struggle with it, and picking up on their intense worry, and worrying about whether they're causing their parents sadness or loneliness by being away. So do what you can to project confidence and enthusiasm as well as openness to the possibility that there might be a few sad moments. Just make sure she knows all of us, even adults, have sad homesick moments when we travel, but we still love to travel because the experiences we have are so very worth it!
posted by Miko at 7:16 AM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Usually with exchanges, there's a set pattern: a time where you love love love everything about the place, a time where you hate hate hate everything about the place, and then the final, lasting happy medium between the two.

For three weeks, your granddaughter likely won't even make it out of the honeymoon phase, I'm guessing.

How to prepare her? Aside from basic communication stuff like the laptop you've mentioned, there's not much. Let her know that there will be changes, that a different way of doing things isn't necessarily better or worse but just different, and to try and roll with the punches as best she can.

It's only three weeks. It'll be done in no time, for better or worse.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:17 AM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

As others have said, culture shock is the point of an exchange like this. As far as homesickness, I think you have to gauge it based on her previous experiences of being away from home. Has she been to summer camps, gone away with the girl scouts for a weekend, slept over at friends' homes? How was she in those situations? FWIW I don't think three weeks is really long enough for true homesickness. She might be nervous about being away from family, but she should be too busy and excited to start pining for home. (I did a year long exchange at 17 and felt nothing like homesickness until Christmas, four months after I arrived.)

I think the most important thing here is to follow her lead. If she is feeling anxious about the trip, probe her a little to find out what is upsetting her and try to soothe those anxieties. Trying to prevent culture shock or homesickness by over-preparing her might just increase her anxiety, especially if all you know about France are things you've read. Little treats from home that she can share with her host family, small objects that hold sentimental value and lots of photos of family and friends should be more than enough to tide her over for three weeks.
posted by looli at 7:19 AM on January 31, 2012

I suspect a lot of homesickness is due to boredom. Maybe work with her to ensure that there is sufficient "up-time" that she is going to be doing something, and give her a set of things to do in case she finds herself feeling a little bit homesick.

It's hard to suggest things she could do without knowing more about where she will be and what resources she will have while she is there.

I recently found a "draw your own greeting card" package at a shop, and I picked it up for my next vacation to France. Suggest to her that if she's feeling lonely, she should just draw you her surroundings, and mail you a card so that you can see where she is and what she is doing.

You might also prepare her concerning the time change. If she calls at 8 am from Lyon, she may not be able to reach anyone. That could cause her to panic if she doesn't understand that it is just sleepy-time in the US. So give her some pointers on what time she's allowed to call. (It's also a good time to talk about the fact that the French use a 24 hour clock! It's a teachable moment about different cultural time-telling. Then you can learn to count to 24 in French together! And also she can learn how to ask "Quelle heure est-il?")
posted by jph at 7:20 AM on January 31, 2012

Also, I don't think I said it as clearly as I meant to in my last paragraph, but you need to separate your anxieties ("From what I've read they are not as modest as far as nudity or sexuality, especially with their T.V. programing. ") from hers. What she is worried or nervous about is going to be very different from what you are, and adding your worries to hers isn't a good idea.
posted by looli at 7:22 AM on January 31, 2012 [7 favorites]

She's not going spend that much time watching TV, and she's probably not nearly as sheltered as you might think. Nudity in advertising might be a tiny bit shocking, but she'll handle it. Why ot check out the various websites for Lyon and Paris and museums, stores, etc.?
posted by Ideefixe at 7:25 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

To improve her French skills have her watch film she has already seen with the French audio and subtitle track. That way she hears and sees the french but is 't also struggling to follow the plot. Shows aimed at younger children (do you have Caillou in the US?) usually have simpler language.
posted by saucysault at 7:28 AM on January 31, 2012

I also grew up in the rural US and I did this before the advent of international cellphones and free wifi, so there was no calling home or Facetime. I handled it just fine! Two things I would have appreciated while abroad, however:

I felt incredibly unstylish and insecure looks-wise in an urban setting, even at as a young teen. If she is the kind of kid who would be bothered by this, set her up with some durable but cute shoes and a stylish cross-body purse appropriate for travel, figure out which stores sell affordable clothing items (H&M?) and give her a small amount of money with which to purchase a new item or two.

I also missed my bath products at home and couldn't read any of the labels to know what I needed to get. My host family would have helped, except often times I was on my own with other Americans in the same boat. I would have loved to have small amounts in travel containers of my favorite products, let alone know what to buy in a pinch.
posted by theraflu at 7:30 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think it matters a lot if your grand-daughter wants to go on this trip herself, or if it's something her parents have decided would be a good idea. If this was her idea, then I don't think you have to worry that much about her. Yes, there will be a bit of culture shock, but tell her to bring her teddy bear and one box of fig newtons (or her favorite snack food). In fact, I think you could do more harm than good if she isn't all that worried right now, and you spend the entire time between here and her trip warning her how miserable she could be and how different the French are from Americans, and therefore how hard it is going to be for her to relate to them, etc.

On the other hand, if she is already nervous about the trip, I think the advice about the teddy bear and the one box of snack food still holds. And then teach her how to skype and set up two skype dates: one for the second night she's there, when she'll be feeling the most jet-lagged and disoriented, and one for a week and a half in. As someone who has worked as a camp counselor and with other kids far away from home, the best cure for homesickness is not constant contact with their parents but instead having fun with the kids they're with. So when you talk to her the first time, be positive and encourage her to do lots of stuff with her host family, and don't let her call you every day, etc.

And sort of related to what I said earlier, I think how you frame this trip is going to matter a lot regardless of whether she is excited about it or not. As the adult, you're giving her the rules and the framework for what she should be scared of or worried about, because she doesn't have enough perspective to figure that out yet on her own. So if you keep telling an already-nervous kid, "Oh, it's going to be such a big shock for you to be in France. I'm really worried that you're going to be overwhelmed, because you haven't travelled much and you don't know the language and aren't good at meeting new people, etc" the chances of that kid having a meltdown in France are pretty high.

However, if you keep telling her things like "I've heard [or, if you've been there, I've found] that France is a pretty interesting place. Did you know I've heard that no matter what, they stop what they are doing at noon to have lunch? Do you think that's really true? I bet your host family is going to be excited to meet you." Or, "I know it can be a bit hard sometimes talking to new people in a new language, but you should know everyone feels a bit awkward at first, and it's worth it to keep trying. When I'm not really fluent in a language, I just smile a lot and end up gesturing alot, and I end up having a lot of fun. It's like playing pictionary, but in real life [erm, is that game dated? oh well]."
posted by colfax at 7:35 AM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

I did this as a high school student, and as a college student, so i was considerably older than 11.

From what I've read they are not as modest as far as nudity or sexuality, especially with their T.V. programing.

I really did not spend much time watching tv; i'm sure she won't either. However, I'm sure this won't be as shocking as you think. The most shocking thing to me, about the family I stayed with in regards to nudity was their two year old son regularly walked around naked.

Kids in France seemed to have way more autonomy than kids in the States did, I found that kind of shocking. One of the families I stayed with had a daughter in middle school, she was about 13. She was allowed to go to the cafe with her friends by herself, and she had a party while her parents were not home (with their permission) with the liquor cabinet left unlocked. Not a single one of the kids touched it.

Printed photos of family and friends from home would be good--it will be an easy way for her to talk about her life in the US with a basic vocabulary. One of those little phrase books is helpful too--I had years of french under my belt when I went but sometimes it would be hard to remember simple phrases like "Can i have a glass of water please?" or "The bathroom needs toilet paper" or something.
posted by inertia at 7:43 AM on January 31, 2012

The two biggest issues will be:

a) Language. It is easy to underestimate just how isolated one may feel when lacking fluency in a foreign language. Trust me, I've been there. However, even if you shouldn't expect a majority of people in France to be conversant in English, most people go out of their way to accomodate an 11-year old girl. Don't be too anxious about it.

b) FOOD! Europeans in general, and the French in particular, take kids' nutrition a lot more seriously than Americans. She'll be left a lot less leeway about what, how and when to eat than back home, which is definitely not a bad thing in itself, but may be a problem if she's a picky eater. Also, the locals may be rather intrigued about some of her requests: if she likes PB&J sandwiches, I recommend you pack some peanut butter for her...
posted by Skeptic at 7:52 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ahh, okay. Lyon!

Will they be taking the TGV from/to Paris? That would be exciting to learn about in advance of her trip. High speed trains! See the chateaux zip across the countryside! Woosh!

If she'll be flying into Lyon, perhaps she is old enough to appreciate reading The Little Prince? (The airport is Saint-Exupéry.) Perhaps you could read it together! Perhaps she could draw you a hat. Or a snake eating an elephant. Whichever she prefers.

Will she be in Lyon or NEAR Lyon? Will she have the opportunity to experience small-town French life? Talk to her about market days, and fresh local food. Make sure that her host family will show her

Does she have a sense of history? 11 may be a little young to begin grasping the concept of history, but that's no reason to skip over the subject. Maybe show her some timelines of what was happening in the Midwest in the US throughout history, and what was happening in Lyon at the same time. She may be shocked by how much farther back the history goes there - and she might even have an opportunity to visit the Roman theater at Fourvière!

When will she be traveling? Will she be there for any sort of national festival? If she'll be gone during the summer, she might be there for Fête de la Musique (June 21), where the whole country turns into one big music venue. Or, possibly even more exciting for an 11 year old girl (or in my case a twentysomething gay man): Les Soldes Été! (June 27-July 31, 2012) It is one of the two times a year (well, sort of) when merchants can place things on drastic sales. If her stay will coincide with this event, maybe set aside a little pocket money for her with her host family to allow her to pick out a fun outfit that she might not otherwise get. It can be her very own French Fashion Extravaganza. I love picking up an article of clothing when I'm on vacation, because then whenever I wear it, I am reminded of my trip.

How is she about food? If she's at all like my cousins - very picky eaters as children, on the order of "I can't eat this hotdog unless you remove the skin" - she may find the French uninterested in accommodating her food demands. That will be something to prepare her for. It would also be a good time to talk to her about some of the French "delicacies" that they love, but which wouldn't traditionally be served to a foreign child. Escargots! Stinky cheese! And, as always, this is a good time to go over table manners when you're a guest in someone's home!
posted by jph at 8:08 AM on January 31, 2012

From what I've read they are not as modest as far as nudity or sexuality, especially with their T.V. programing.

While French TV can be quite raucous, I don't think it's any more so than cable TV in the US. Also, French TV has a curfew: no "adult" material before 10 pm, and tags identifying programs unfit for those less than 10, 12, 16 and 18 year olds.

Contrary to the American stereotype, the French can be surprisingly prudish, and they are extremely protective of young children.
posted by Skeptic at 8:11 AM on January 31, 2012

She will be in Lyon. They will spend a few days in Paris.

Ohhhhh I lived in central Lyon (near the quais on the Rhône) for a year as a university exchange student! It is my favorite city in France. Yes, even more favorite than Paris – not because Paris lacks anything, mind, but because Lyon hits the sweet spot of cultural density, awesome history, great modern-day entertainment possibilities (from books to cinema to classical music to jazz to food to etc. etc.), in a liveable size. Paris' cultural density is overwhelming... Lyon's is impressive. It's a city whose nooks and crannies and little mysteris you can really come to know, whereas Paris always has something new to discover. (All a matter of taste!)

By the way, I'm from the middle of nowhere, Oregon (outside of Springfield), and had never lived anywhere else before coming to France. I found Lyon to be great precisely because it's not a massive cultural shock like Paris can be – Lyonnais are more polite (sorry, Parisiens, it's true), shopkeepers are more approachable, and it's easier to reach the countryside.

From what I've read they are not as modest as far as nudity or sexuality, especially with their T.V. programing.

The "worst" a kid will see are naked boobs on shower gel commercials. Otherwise it's pretty much the same as the US. (Really. Stories you hear about "what the French are like" are mostly smoke and mirrors designed to sell books and page views, not reality.)

I have taught her a little French, but only basic phrases. I think she will learn much more when her french student stays with her.

She's at the age where she'll still pick up languages like a sponge, so I imagine she'll be fine there too. Depending on the family's generation – if they have a child her age, I imagine they're in their 30s or 40s, so this should be true – most French people speak English well enough to get by nowadays.

On preview, from jph: If she's at all like my cousins - very picky eaters as children, on the order of "I can't eat this hotdog unless you remove the skin" - she may find the French uninterested in accommodating her food demands.

This really depends. All the French parents I know, who have kids aged 0 to 16, accomodate their kids' food demands. All of them! It may be another generational difference. The idea to look into Lyon's history is great. Hopefully her program will do that too; Lyon is incredibly rich in history. There's something for every interest.

Nthing everyone who's said not to worry about the cultural shock :) France is a great country – if she's interested in the country, its language and history, she'll have a ball.

The only thing I'd really worry about would be the family culture, in fact. Do they enjoy the same pasttimes as your kid? We hosted a French teen for a month when I was 14, and she came from a big-city family who enjoyed visiting big cities and shopping sprees. Well, there she was in the middle of nowhere, Oregon, with the closest store in a 20-mile-radius being the Mohawk General Store. That photo basically says it all. We'd planned to take her camping... she threw a fit (an actual fit) when she finally realized she would be sleeping in a tent. We ended up having to speak with the exchange program to switch kids, in fact – there was a family in town who had a boy who'd grown up loving the outdoors, so he came with us, excited to get to go camping, and our girl went with them, where she happily got to shop around in Eugene to her heart's content.
posted by fraula at 8:17 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just make sure to emphasize that differences are a good thing.

If things were all the same as back home, then there would be no point in sending her out there. Different = cool, exciting, wonderful, yay! And sometimes they're funny too. If she goes with that attitude then it will be a fun, exciting, and valuable (but quite safe) adventure.

Different is not scary or weird or inferior - if she goes with that kind of attitude, she'll be miserable and learn close to nothing.
posted by Neekee at 8:40 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and the other big thing is manners--the French are considerably more concerned about public manners--when she enters a shop, she says "Bonjour, Madame" or whatever's appropriate. Her host family might be quite a bit more formal, especially at meal-times, than she's used to. And, yes, she's expected to eat what's on the plate.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:21 AM on January 31, 2012

Make sure she knows how to ask for help, how to ask where she can find a telephone, and perhaps most vitally, where the bathroom is. And then give her a set of laminated index or other small cards, with those (and possibly other) phrases inscribed, so that if she ends up in a stressful situation, she doesn't have to rely on memory. A little set of laminated index cards with a hole punched in one corner and tied with a ribbon, maybe... instant communication/confidence kit.
posted by mie at 9:33 AM on January 31, 2012

Thanks so much everyone. This helps a lot!!
posted by sybarite09 at 11:29 AM on January 31, 2012

If you can give her lessons on how to eat a piece of fruit with a knife and a fork. I remember being extremely embarrassed about not being able to do that. Has she ever eaten an artichoke?
posted by mareli at 12:43 PM on January 31, 2012

I would encourage her to take along some pictures, favourite music, sweets etc from back home to share with her host family as an icebreaker.

Are there any of last year's trip-goers who could talk to your granddaughter about their experiences? Will there be other exchange students going to France at the same time? They could all meet up before hand (even online) and agree to call eachother after the first week to trade stories...It always helps to know there are others going through the same thing as you.
posted by EatMyHat at 1:06 PM on January 31, 2012

Adopting an attitude yourself that adventure is good and not scary will go a long way to helping your grand daughter feel the same way. My parents gave me that gift and it helped to make me a confident person. It also taught me that when you travel (and even when don't), sometimes things go wrong, things go missing, and things get wrecked, but that one is unlikely to live an interesting life without a little cosmic give and take.

That being said, treats from home were always appreciated.
posted by analog at 6:19 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was 13, I participated in a similar exchange. My host-sister stayed with my family for 4 months, and then I lived with them in northern France for 4 months. Looking back, I was quite young, and it was quite a long time, but I was already comfortable being away from my family for shorter stints, like camp. I don't remember being particularly homesick, but I do remember my birthday was very tough.

I would consider my 4 months in France to be one of my influential life experiences - I would absolutely recommend it. Back in 1999, we didn't really have skype, and I think I talked to my parents maybe twice, we mainly wrote letters. I was perfectly fine, it helped that I already knew my host-sister, and I was in a french immersion program, so I could communicate ok.

I went to school there, which was a bit of a shock, French 13 year olds seemed much more mature than Canadian 13 year olds (for example, they all smoked), and school was much more like high school. I felt very young.

I would advise minimizing the communication as much as possible, maybe talk once a week? I think she'll have a better time if she can fully immerse herself. Also, the better her French is, the easier time she'll have with everyone.

Feel free to memail me, I hope she has a great trip!
posted by piper4 at 8:31 PM on January 31, 2012

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