There was a lot that I was worried about coming into studying abroad. Some of you may want to ask, “Why? What’s so scary about moving to a foreign country for the first time in your life for four months where they don’t speak your language and where you know no one?” Actually, I hope you’re not wanting to ask that. If so, you scare me a little, but kudos.
Anyway, one of the fears that topped my list was most certainly having to speak French all of the time. I was afraid of the language barrier: ordering in restaurants, grocery shopping, asking important questions, etc. I mean, speaking French is kind of imperative in France (shocking, I know, but they do in fact speak French here). However, you may be surprised to know that it wasn’t at the top of my “reasons I must drop out of the program and go into hiding so that I don’t have to go to a scary new country” list.
At the top of that list was actually living with a host family. When I signed up for the program, living in a host home was not an option due to COVID. I was, of course, disappointed, but I had kind of adjusted to that disappointment since I never thought that I’d be living with one in the first place. So, come June, when I received the email with the “great news” that host families would be available for the students in the IES Abroad Nantes program, I felt…stressed out.
When I told my family and friends that I was being given the option to live in a host family, they were elated for me. “It will be such a great experience!” and “You will learn so much from them!” were the most common exclamations of joy when they heard the news, and I never doubted their verity. But I didn’t feel their excitement, either. Truthfully, all I could envision when I thought about living with a real, French family was that I didn’t want to. I even went as far to check if I could live in an apartment in Nantes instead like I originally planned. I had a lot of fears, almost too many to name, so here’s a list of the most common anxious thoughts that flitted through my brain:
- The language barrier – Obviously, this was the biggest fear. All of the other fears pretty much fall under the large umbrella of “language barrier," so I won’t go into too much detail on this one. I’d be having to speak French all the time, even when I came home at the end of the day? That stressed me out, I will not lie.
- Meeting the family – How did I communicate effectively who I was, what I stood for, my needs/wants, and more, when I could barely even remember how to say my own name in French? I was so afraid of that first encounter, because I just knew their first impression of me would not be a good one. I wanted them to know I had a personality, but I had no idea how I would convey it.
- FAMILY DINNERS – Oh my goodness, I was so nervous about family dinners. My dad (who studied abroad) sometimes mentioned what family dinners were like for him. Even from just passing comments he’d make about them, I was anxiety-ridden. Having to have a full-on, normal person conversation about French for upwards of an hour? Not being able to practice what I would say twenty-thousand times before actually speaking like I do with all my French presentations? No thank you.
- Expectations – What if my host family wanted me to send them an outline of my itinerary each week? I’m a fairly independent person, and I typically enjoy disappearing periodically just to have some alone time. My little adventures are not always (or ever) planned, and I like it that way. I was so nervous that my host family would get in the way of me having time to myself, which I’ve found is essential to my mental health. I was also nervous that they’d want me to spend either all of my free time with them, or the opposite, and not want to spend any time with me at all. I was afraid I’d either feel suffocated or extremely lonely.
- The actual family – What if I was paired with a family that didn’t fit me at all? What if they had no sense of humor, didn’t laugh, kept to themselves, were messy or strict or mean or snobby? What if they expected me to cook for them? I mean, I can barely make toast. What if my host siblings resented me for taking attention away from their parents, or for making them have to share their bathroom? What if the family had little kids? I don’t really like little kids. They’re sticky and I never know what to say. Would that ruin my experience? Would I have no safe place to escape to?
Anyway, there were more, but I’m sure you get the point (or have at least had enough of my pre-departure anxiety-ridden brain). The nervousness that living with a host family brought me was extreme, and it was no joke. So, if you find yourself feeling nervous too, I hope that my long list of fears lets you know that you’re not alone and you’re not feeling the wrong things. But don’t let that get in your way during this time of thought/preparation.
Feel free to check back in on my next blog if you want to read what living in a host family is really like for me!
More Blogs From This Author
<p>Hey! My name is Clare Hogan and I'm a senior at Wofford College. I'm majoring in Psychology and French, with a minor in English. I hope to become a counseling psychologist one day, which is why I majored in Psychology. At school, I'm in a sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, and I love to participate in various events with that, such as dances, philanthropy events, and more! I adore reading and writing (hence the minor), hiking, playing tennis, and all things relating to dogs. Also, a fun fact about me is that I sneeze every time I eat chocolate (which is quite often)!</p>