PROGRAM: Language Immersion
WRITTEN BY: Chloe Osborn
Parents hugged their children too tight for comfort, people checked the weight of our too-heavy suitcases (I blame the jumpers), the last few camera flashes were being set off and a few tears were rolling down cheeks when the time finally came for us travellers to check in.
As we sat at the gate waiting for boarding we chatted and played card games (for one game called ‘spoons’ we had to find 8 spoons – the café that gave us them was slightly confused by our request but obliged).
On the plane ride to Singapore, we watched countless movies, read books, desperately tried to learn French from our dictionaries and phrase books, and chatted amongst ourselves. We eventually reached Singapore Airport where we re-grouped for a little bit before we were allowed to go explore for an hour. We promptly found the fast food again. Cards were thrown down triumphantly whilst we waited for boarding on our flight to Paris! We were all exhausted by that point so most us slept for the majority of the 14-hour flight. As we started our descent, we tried to make out some of the landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe, as we would sadly be unable to view them ourselves, as we could no longer go to Paris for the first part of our trip.
However it was great as we were able to go see our families earlier! We said goodbye to the Lille/Rouen travellers as they were getting a bus from Paris airport to their cities, and the 7-week Bordeaux and 5-week Lyon travellers found our way to our domestic flights. We then had our first taste of French food as we bought croissants, ‘chocolat chaud’ and even macarons from Laudre! We said goodbye again to the others who were going to Lyon as we separated to board our different domestic flights.
Everyone was feeling a mixture of nervousness, excitement, tiredness and eagerness as we went to collect our bags. People were frantically asking others what they should be saying to their host family once they met them and of course most importantly, “Do I kiss them on each cheek?”
As we all met our own host families and the others’ as well, we said our final good byes to each other and parted to leave to our new homes for the next several weeks.
Once at the house, I gave my family a few small thankyou gifts of typical Australian things, and they were delighted about their jar of vegemite and a new Christmas tree decoration: a small koala bear with a Santa hat on. After that, I told them about my life in Australia and what we do ‘down under.’ We established that I didn’t ride kangaroos to school and that not every living thing would kill you. However, my host sister’s younger sister could not fathom how I would want to leave 35-degree warmth for 5-degree coldness.
The next week we all tried to settle into our new family’s life and daily routine, which of course meant tackling the big thing. School. In French. Help.
Luckily, we all survived and started to relax a bit when we met all our host sibling’s friends and teachers, and tried to understand as best we could what everyone was saying. We soon all started to have fun going to school and enjoyed learning new subjects that we may not have done back in Australia, such as Spanish, physics and French as our English class to name a few. Soon enough, it was time for the Christmas holidays with our families!
We had our first group excursion to the city, Bordeaux. We were taken around and shown the monuments of the city by a student. We were shown the Saint-André cathedral, Le Grosse Cloche, Grand Theatre, Rostral columns of the Esplanade des Quinconces and the Place de la Bourse, which has the world’s largest water mirror. As we filled in our booklets, we walked around the stunning architecture of Bordeaux. We even lit a candle for Antipodeans in the church of Église Notre-Dame. We shopped down Rue Sainte-Catherine and ate crepes in the amazing ‘Marche de Noel’ that was set up in the centre of Bordeaux. We all had a great time and were sad to say goodbye, however we would be seeing each other soon.
The Christmas holidays were full of laughter, eating, watching Christmas movies, and more eating. For the first few days of the holidays, my family and I relaxed before preparing ourselves for Christmas with all the family. I tried eating Fois Gras, oysters, the amazing bread and of course the ‘bûche de nöel!’ After Christmas, we did a few touristy things such as visiting the Bassin d'Arcachon, Chateau Féodal de Beynac and St Emillion. Soon the holidays came to an end and we had to return back to school, but it wasn’t so bad as we got to go see our French friends again. ☺
School resumed as normal, and I started to settle into the normal 6:30am wake up routine. We went to classes, ate baguette sandwiches for lunch and went home at 5pm each night. Living in a different daily routine was so interesting and new, as we really experienced a whole different way of life.
On our last weekend in France, we had our second outing with all the Australians and their host siblings. We all got together and (tried to) create amazing canalés, madeleines and of course, galette des roi. We had an great time catching up, showing off our French skills whilst relishing in being able to speak English and meeting everyone’s host siblings. We all realised that in a week, we would have to sadly leave France so we said our goodbyes to some of the host siblings we had met over the time spent in France. My host sister couldn’t come to the cooking class, however I soon found out why not when I came home to a surprise leaving party for me! It was so nice of my host sister to organise that with all the French friends I had grown close with, and I really had no idea it was happening!
The final week of school was sad, as we had to start say goodbye to everyone we had met. I had my final day of school one day earlier, because on my last full day in Bordeaux my host sister and I were going into the centre of Bordeaux with her friends to go to the University open day there. After we had seen a couple of lectures we went and had some lunch and ate it on the steps of the Grand Theatre, before we exhausted ourselves on the Rue Sainte-Catherine (my poor savings account – and suitcase). It was the perfect way to say goodbye to the beautiful city and all my French friends.
The time had come for us to sadly leave Bordeaux on Friday morning at 4am. It hadn’t hit me until I was packing my suitcase on the night before that I was actually leaving. It had been such a surreal experience and I didn’t want it to end! As I checked in my too-heavy suitcase, the time had finally come for me to say goodbye. Cue the tears. I had managed to keep my sobs under restraint whilst saying goodbye to the family until I had to say goodbye to my host sister – we both couldn’t handle it at such an early time. The bond we had created would truly last a lifetime.
The flight to Paris was very quiet, as we were all tired and upset about leaving, however we were starting to get excited about seeing all our friends and families in Sydney again. As we finally touched down and went through to the arrivals, we were all definitely excited to see everyone we knew.
I have definitely had the most amazing experience on this immersion, and it has benefitted my French speaking so much more than I thought. Not only that, but I’ve had the chance to live in a different country and lifestyle that is so different to Sydney. I’ve made some truly great friendships with people and especially with my host family and sister. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and I am truly grateful for everyone who I met and can’t wait to go back!