by Jack Jacobs
What is a home-stay? Well it’s really just staying with a family of strangers in a foreign country. The idea isn’t that you spend the entire time doing the touristy stuff, but that you get a really authentic experience. Essentially you’d learn a whole lot more about the culture and way of life than you would if you were to stay in a hotel and join some guided tour.
Setting the goal.
Long story short, I randomly picked France as the place I wanted to study even though I totally had no idea what it’d be like or even how to speak French. I chose the University of Lille, and that was that. I started moving towards this objective. That meant learning French and getting information about the university and how all this would fit logistically. We went to England to visit family so it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up for me to just stay on another 2 weeks and stay in France.
So 2 weeks in France. All I knew were my goals, which were to check out the university, to get to know Lille a bit, and to experience a bit of the French life. For all this, a home-stay was SO perfect it’s insane. I googled homestay, clicked on a few links, looked at a bunch of families, and picked one. These few steps took me a few weeks. And that’s in spite of there being very, very few choices around Lille. Hate to imagine how it’d have been if I wanted to go to Paris or something with the dozens of families offering home-stays. So anyway, the reviews written by the previous guests were pretty much the deciding factor for me.
A pleasant surprise.
I expected to get nothing but food and board but I ended up getting so much more. I arrived at 6.30 p.m. in Caudry, a small town an hour and a half away from Lille by train. By this time I was completely frazzled by my 10 hour trip from England I took because I thought a scenic route would be great. I’d had my first few encounters with the french language and I was thinking “Oh gawd, I know no french.” After a short walk, I arrived at the doorstep of my hosts, Olivier and his parents. It was a really French house, with insanely high ceilings and big doors and wallpaper. Seemed quite old but well maintained. I dumped my bags in my bedroom and immediately was offered by Olivier to go to a bar for some beer. Friendliness.
So really that’s an idea of how welcoming everyone in general was there. His friends were all very kind and welcoming, and I even met up a few times with the previous guest, who had gone on to work in Lille.
Embracing French Culture.
The food was amazing. Home-cooked and mind blastingly awesome. None of the stereotyped éscargot or frog’s legs. Just a lot of interesting flavours which I can honestly say I had never had before. Something I was completely not used to was the culture of having wine with every meal. In Malaysia, I would normally refuse wine when my parents offered it to me on special occasions but there, it was the new water. Fortunately, being red-faced during every meal drastically improved my French and I’d actually be able to speak quickly during our nightly cultural exchanging conversations. I quite enjoyed meals especially since every dish or wine had a tendency to be the speciality of a specific region of France, and they’d take out a map and show me which part of France was the place of origin. From this, I saw the differences between the various regions of France and that gave me a decent understanding of France too.
Nearly everyday, Olivier took me out someplace. Whether it’s a museum or Lille or a neighbouring village or the cinema. One day, we even had a day trip to Paris, which was completely insane. I took a few walks into the town centre of Caudry on some days too to get to know the place. Throughout the 2 weeks, I took a whole load of pictures because really, everything in France was so picturesque.
Essentially, my homestay experience was perfect. I obtained all my objectives, improved my French, and made a whole bunch of friends. So really, I’d strongly recommend trying a homestay programme because it’s really different and you’d learn a lot.
Planning to organize a home-stay trip yourself?
Here is one of the links that Jack used to find himself a reasonable and good home-stay experience: