I still remember the feeling of perplexity that I experienced when I opened a correspondence email from my soon-to-be host mom in France, Brigitte, and read the line “Nous serons en compagnie d'une dame japonais qui arrive le 2 janvier pour 2 semaines.” As I scrambled to recall from my limited French vocabulary and dust off some French lingo that hadn’t been used in over a year, I translated, “We will be accompanied by a Japanese woman who arrives January 2nd for two weeks.” Dot dot dot … I had a lot of questions with this sentence. The first one being, « why ?! »
To provide some context, it’s important to understand that before leaving for France, most of my anxiety surrounding study abroad was attributed, naturally, to the unknown, specifically in regard to my living accommodations. I knew I would be living with a host family and obviously I had a pre-conceived idea about life with a host family based on what I had seen in the US: big families welcoming foreign exchange students into their homes and embracing them as one of their own. I witnessed such families bring their exchange student along with them to various aspects of daily life, such as sporting events, family gatherings, and church services. I expected (to a slightly lesser degree since I’m a college rather than high school student) to be treated with similar inclusion.
When I found out that I would only be living with a single, older woman I was slightly disappointed. Furthermore, when I realized within the first week that I would be treated with a high level of independence and I wouldn’t experience that same level of familial immersion that I had witnessed in the US, I was disappointed again.
You’re probably wondering what happened to the Japanese lady. As I said before, when I first received the email from Brigitte, my initial reaction was confusion. Who was this Japanese lady? Do you know her? Why would she be with us? Shouldn’t I be the only one staying with my host family? I had all of these questions because the idea of hosting another woman didn’t fit my pre-conceived mold of what a study abroad living situation should be. When I arrived to Brigitte’s house on January 2nd, I found out that Brigitte actually hosts a multitude of students. She has two available bedrooms so she leases both of them out. During my four-month sojourn with her, she would be hosting numerous students who would be coming for shorter periods of time (intensive French language immersion schools often offer two, three, or four-week learning sessions).
Learning that Brigitte opens her home for multiple students illuminated valuable lessons for me. First, it provided me with a glimpse of the hospitality and openness that defines Brigitte’s character. I cannot imagine how stressful it is to have a revolving door for a home, in which strangers are constantly coming and going and sharing one’s most private spaces with you. Second, it opened my eyes to seeing a new opportunity: while I wouldn’t have the family environment that I imagined, I would get the opportunity to meet lots of new people from all over the world who came to Nice to learn French, just like me!
The unnamed Japanese Lady was Hitomi. And while I was dubious of her presence before meeting her, I am very thankful to have shared my first two weeks in France with her. When Brigitte was gone we would talk together in English and Hitomi would sauté vegetables for us as is custom in Japanese cuisine. These insignificant occurrences brought comfort and familiarity to me during a period of adjustment, when I choked on every French word that came out of my mouth and missed my mom’s cooking.
In addition, the independence I’ve been given that I so reluctantly accepted at the beginning, I now relish in. Compared to other students’ host family experiences, I know that I am lucky to have a host mom who doesn’t constantly meddle in my affairs. At the beginning of my stay, I was worried that I would struggle to immerse myself culturally without the construct of a family to guide me. Now, that I’ve gotten into the groove of my daily life in Nice, I appreciate that Brigitte gives me the freedom to explore Nice on my own accord and I realize you don’t have to have a large, inclusive French family to have an incredible cultural experience.
Since I’ve been here, Brigitte and I’s number of co-habitants is currently up to six and counting. Besides Hitomi, some of our additional roommates have included another Japanese girl who spoke zero French (never thought my French would be adequate enough to put me in the position of translator) and two incredibly friendly, teenage Italian boys (named Lorenzo and Leonardo how great is that?!) whose potent smell of Axe after the shower fondly reminds me of my own brothers.
I never expected my French home stay to be such a worldly experience, but it’s turned out to be one of the best parts of my time here. Having tried fresh Mortadella (popular type of Italian meat) and practiced basic Japanese (lots of “Arigatou”s thrown around the dinner table, I’m excited to see what the rest of my future roommates have in store for us.
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<p>My name is Rosemary Newsome, and I am studying abroad in Nice, France! I study finance and political science at TCU. For me, there is always something new out there to learn, make, do or play, and studying abroad in Nice offers a whole new arena in which I can do that. If you want to learn about the triumphs & trials of a bright-eyed, goofy, restless, and French cuisine-loving girl, follow me as I immerse myself in the culture of a Riviera lifestyle!</p>