After spending the past two years choosing a study abroad program in Aix-en-Provence that fit with my schedule, it was time to choose housing. I considered an apartment with other students, as I knew it would come with more social interactions and chances to make friends, but my ultimate desire to become fluent in French drove my decision to a homestay. I had all the normal nerves: what if I don’t like my host family’s cooking, or what if it’s just not the right fit, or what if they don’t like me? These nerves increased upon arriving when I learned that I was only one of two students in the program who elected to do a homestay. Yet these nerves were stifled within minutes of my host-mom picking me up from the bus station; she welcomed me into her home with open arms and has continued to do so.
I live with a woman and her 13-year-old daughter (and their two cats: Toulouse and Berlioz— "Aristocats," anyone??). My host-mom and her daughter are both super easy to talk to and often help me with my French skills. My apartment is ideally situated at about a 10-15-minute walk from le centre-ville, and about a 20-minute walk from school. It is also close to the bus station and to parks, which makes traveling and exercising a lot easier. I have enjoyed being outside the city, as it gives me a new area to explore that others may otherwise never visit. Plus, having to learn to walk through the winding streets of Aix allowed me to get a better understanding of the city! I have a private room and share a bathroom with both my host-mom and host-sister. My room is perfect for what I need: there’s a bed with sheets that are changed every week (far more than what I do at home…), a desk for doing homework, and plenty of shelves and drawers for storage. An added bonus are the big doors and balcony that I love to open on nice days.
From her delicious cooking to her advice on cultural and social norms to her taking me to local events as well as to her parents' village for lunch, my host-mom has been just incredible. My French skills have also improved drastically: I asked to only be spoken to in French, and while there have been some bumps in the road, I am grateful for the struggle. I have, after just a month, begun to think and dream in French, which is something that my past nine years of study of the language could never do! More importantly, I am simply more confident in my abilities to speak French to locals and it has paid off — I am more frequently getting thought of as French rather than the American that I am, which is a major confidence-booster!
There’s nothing that I would change about my experience thus far, and I cannot recommend a homestay enough! It is the best way to fully learn a language and a culture for the short time that we are here. Now, the situation is reversed: some of my CEA peers in apartments are envious of my daily meals and trips with my host family!
Alison Chilcott is a CEA Content Contributor studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, during the Fall 2019 semester. She is currently a student at the University of Pittsburgh.