Life in a Homestay Family

Friday, December 30, 2016


Home Sweet Home

Choosing to do a homestay and live with a French family my first semester abroad was an extraordinary experience. It was an excellent way to learn about the French culture first hand and to understand the daily French lifestyle. I'm so glad I had this opportunity and would recommend it to anyone studying abroad. 

Most host families have been hosting students for a long time and are hospitable people. I got paired with a sweet older couple and I was at least their fifteenth student they've hosted before. My host mom spoke only French and was very kind, helpful, and tidy. She was a good cook and gave me the chance to practice speaking French "beaucoup!" My host dad was fluent in English and we got along very well. We'd have long conversations in English that I'll always cherish. He was always smiling and happy and loved to talk about history and politics. They both cared about me and it was reassuring to have people looking out for me in a foreign country far away from my real parents. (and my parents felt much more at ease too!)

My first weekend with my host family I was invited to stay at their country house about an hours drive away. It turned out to be one of my favorite weekends in Grenoble. I got to spend quality time getting to know them and I improved my French significantly. It was a bit nerveracking at first since I'd just arrived, but I learned so much and got a lot out of it. You never know what kind of cool things like this that a homestay experience may offer! I made a blog post about my time there here: La Maison de la Campagne

Additionally, a month into my stay I surprisingly got a housemate named Jordan who was related to my host parents and needed a place to live. He was 23, spoke no English, and was pretty funny. He loved making fun of my accent and I tried having multiple conversations with him using a translator. He ended up staying a few months until he moved into an apartment but he helped me with my French and was nice.

I was lucky enough to have my own room and bathroom too! It was a fairly good size space with a gorgeous antique armoir, two nightables, and a desk table. I loved having my own private space to work and relax.




~A Typical Day~

Here's what my typical day looked like with my French host family. My class schedule changed every week so I'd write out a weekly schedule for them and put in on the refrigerator.

8AM - My host dad left for work around this time every weekday morning. If I had an 8AM class I would see him and wish him a "Bon Journee!" or otherwise I'd see him later for dinner.

9:15AM - Normally I'd have a 9:45AM class and would get ready and leave the house at this time.

My host pup Leon!

9:20AM - Every morning I would take the tram to school. It was a quick 5 min. walk from my house and the commute was about 15 min. I loved the ride and would pass the time looking out the window as we passed by many shops along the way. It was a great time for people watching too and listening to French conversation around me.

9:45AM - Class time! Each class was 3 hours long. My classroom consisted of students from around the world.

11:15AM - We got a 15 min. break from our long class. I would usually get up, walk around, and hang out with friends by the espresso machine on the ground level. It was the best because an instant hot drink would only cost between 50-80 cents! The sugar and caffeine was a much needed energy boost to get me through the next hour and a half.

1PM/13hrs. - Class would end and I would grab lunch with friends. Our school had a small cafeteria where I loved the salad bar and muffins.

~ Some days I'd have a 3-6pm class or other days I had a lot of free time to walk around town and spend time with friends. ~

4PM/16hrs. - During fall it was warm enough to go on a run along the river that was right by my house. There were always many joggers out on the path so I felt safe and I loved the views while getting my heart rate up.

7pm/19hrs. - Time for host family dinner! I always looked forward to meals with my host parents. I would set the table every night and it was interesting learning the way a table is supposed to be set. There are a lot of etiquette rules that the French adhere to. Meals or "repas" are prepared and then eaten course by course. For example we'd start with a salad or soup, then the main course would be brought out, and lastly followed by a yogurt, bread and cheese, or a dessert. It would be like that every night and I got used to the way things were done. Dinnertime was also a great time to practice speaking French and ask about my host parents days.

Sometimes my host dads friend he's known since childhood would come over for dinner and spend the night as he lived farther away. Along with him he'd bring us dinners that his wife would make. They were always the best meals with so much flavor and warmth to them. He was a very sweet and kind man and I wrote his wife a thank you letter before I left thanking her for the delicious meals. 

My host dad preparing the "repas" or meal

A starter of potatoes, carrots, peas, cheese, and a homemade vinegarette

Traditional Ravioles with local herbs and cheese inside

A traditional French dessert called "Poire de St. Helene" (Pears and chocolate)

8:30pm/20:30hrs. - After dinner my host parents would watch TV in the living room and I would wish them "Bonne nuit!" and go upstairs to my room to wind down and usually work on homework. Occasionally I'd Facetime family or friends from back home, listen to music, or watch a movie.

10PM/22hrs. - My host parents would go to sleep.

11PM/23hrs. - I'm a night owl and would usually go to sleep around this time. 

Overall, my host stay this past semester was a remarkable learning and growing experience for me. I was lucky enough to have kind host parents that treated me as their own daughter and were lenient about me being out late at night. They had a few household rules like not showering after they went to bed and doing your own laundry but were easy going. In a homestay you are typically only given breakfast and dinner during the weekdays, but I would frequently be invited to week day lunches or weekend meals at home. I was treated as part of the family which was much appreciated. 

In retrospect, I was introduced to the French way of life which is very different than the American way. When I think of an American family hosting a foreign student, I think of the exchange student being taken out to eat often, shown around the local town, and to the cities touristy spots. However in France, the lifestyle is completely different. People don't go out to eat often and instead make homemade meals every night. They tend to stick around their hometown and are very traditional. I noticed this difference in cultures and remembered to appreciate and be open to a new culture. The French take a long time for meals, aren't fervent spenders, and lead a simpler, less chaotic life. I loved having the chance to live like the French do.

The lovely view from outside my window. I loved opening up the wooden shutters every morning to let in the natural light. It immediately woke me up and put me in a good mood to start my day off right.

Why A Year Abroad

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


Ever since I decided to study abroad for an entire year, I've been asked the same question of why?  

If you know me, you probably know that I can be a pretty indecisive person. Little or big decisions alike can be difficult for me. For example the simplest of decisions like "should I buy this?" can stall my day, or big decisions like "do I drop this class?" will consume my thoughts and mind for weeks or months at a time. I'm not proud of it but sometimes I just can't help it. When I was younger I was a very quick decision maker. I was confident in knowing exaclty what I wanted, however somewhere down the road I formed the habit of hesitation and indecisiveness. It's because I can easily overthink situations which leads to anxiety and stress. I bring it upon myself and overcomplicate the matter. From deciding on a high school, to a college, to sorority life, and even where to study abroad, for a long time indeciveness has overpowered me creating a barrier over solving anything rationally. That is until just recently, where even I surprised myself.

I'm proud to say I've never made a big decision easier than deciding to study abroad another semester. I was 100% confident in my reasoning and stood behind my choice strongly. I knew it was what I wanted and I followed my heart. 

To me the stars had aligned just right, and even though I felt there was no wrong decision, this was the right one. When God is guiding me down a certain path, there's no turning back around even if I feel afraid and want to. I've experienced this before and have learned that God knows what's best for me in the long term. If it wasn't in God's plan for me, then barriers would have arose showing me differently. Precisely the exact opposite occured because what I had deemed unfeasible all semester, transformed into being a possibility and then a reality. I never let the idea of staying another semester cross my mind because I knew I didn't have the money or would graduate on time. Turns out I was wrong and with diligence and fervent emailing I made it all work out in just a few days. Everything fell in place so smoothly that the answer presented itself quite clearly.

One of the biggest gifts study abroad has given me so far is to simply enjoy life. It sounds cliche and straightforward but it means so much more to me than that. I have changed from being a stressed, worrisome, and frugal person to being carefree, content, and fulfilled in mind, body, and soul. I began the semester with the attitude that I had to accomplish tasks meticulously on a list, to workout every day to remain in shape, and to carefully conserve my money. It was after a month of traveling the world that my ideals gradually switched to just calm down, relax, and appreciate every moment. I began to go with the flow and let things happen the way that they happened. I stopped my consistent workouts and learned to love taking my time, walking, and resting. I finally got over the guilt I would feel after every purchase I made and learned to give myself the things I wanted while feeling good and satisfied about it. Study abroad has taught me to live in the present, helped me to understand "joie de vivre" or the joy of living, and overall has changed me as a person. I owe it all to God, my experiences, friends, and other contributing factors.

In addition to the easy decision and how study abroad has changed me for life, I have many other reasons why I am staying another semester. 

First, I couldn't bear the idea of leaving a place and lifetsyle I loved so much. The last few weeks before the end of the semester I was in denial and was depressed about leaving. This is definitely typical among study abroad students but I realized Grenoble had become my home.

Second, Staying in France for a whole year is a wonderful opportunity. It would give me another semester to practice my French and become more comfortable with the language. This fall I had improved, but I traveled so much that I couldn't focus on my language learning. I want to devote more of my time to this prospect.

Third, staying abroad a full year makes sense in regards to my major of International Business. I'm at a top business school in Europe where I interact with students and professors from around the world. I am learning and applying life skills in an international context among faculty with an enormous amount of global experience. Classes that teach me about real world issues and how to conduct business despite cultural barriers is unique to my school.

Fourth, one year abroad looks even better on a resume in my field. If I want to show I have an international background with experience, then this will certainly help me. Plus I could network and form connections toward future internships or jobs. I will obtain a DIB or Diploma in International Business from my school by the end of the year.

Fifth, my scholarships at my home university entirely translate into my school and program tuition fees abroad. I will never have the chance again to be abroad through study or leisure without racking up enormous loans and I want to take advantage of this. I am so lucky to be able to financially afford this experience and don't mind having to take out a small loan for the spring semester.

Sixth, I have more time to accomplish more things that I ran out of time for. I would love the chance to start a job working as a nanny or a tutor for a French family who want their children to learn English. There are other places I want to travel to. I also want to go on more adventures and hikes around Grenoble plus take advantage of skiing and other outdoor sports in their prime winter season. Furthermore I want to continue my relationships with friends, make new ones, and overall continue living life in the best way I've known yet.

Once I realized I would graduate on time, more of my classes would transfer over, I'd have a place to live, I had the necessary funds, and I got all the approvals from the necessary people and institutions, I knew the possibility was looking bright. I had always considered and thought about how studying abroad for a whole year would be such an amazing experience. To some it's portayed as being way too long, too much of a commitment, and too long away from your home university. But to me it always seemed like a dream come true, an incredible opportunity, and a chance of a lifetime. I'd already adapted to being away from home a long time and knew it would be right up my alley. I can't believe I am really doing it. But at the same time it seems natural and what I was supposed to do all along. Big decisions like this used to scare me, take over my mind, and throw me into a whirlwind of confusion. I finally feel like I have overcome this barrier or at least taken one huge step in the right direction. Of course the decision still involved a pro and con list, a lot of thinking and analyzing, and time consumption, but all in a rational, structured, and non-stressful way. There was a lot to factor in and consider but all the benefits outweighed the negatives. My biggest worry despite logistics was how badly I'd miss my friends at my home university. There are so many people I care about and I thought about each one of them during my decision process. However, in the end I had to form a decision that was best for me and that fitted my needs and wants as priority. It's so important to make a decision yourself because it's you who has to deal with it and any consequences that might come with it. I have great satisfaction in knowing that I hold the key to my future and happiness and for me, and me only, that is studying abroad in Grenoble, France for a year.














Geneva, Switzerland Day Trip

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


7 years prior I visited this flower clock in Geneva on my 1st trip to Europe. I was only 14 years old then and felt a strong sense of being in a foreign place. Returning to this exact spot was exciting for me and I was proud I'd come back once again.

December 2nd my exchange program made a day trip to Geneva to explore the city. We took a train from France early in the morning and were welcomed by a crisp, sunny December day. We explored all around the city by foot with our program director who gave us lots of key insights about monuments and certain areas. We covered a lot in one day and were all pretty exhausted on the way home! Here's some key places we hit that is my personal guide to Geneva:

THE UNITED NATIONS


Our first stop was to the prestigious United Nations building where we took a guided tour though several major conference rooms, hallways, and offices. It was interesting to learn about the structure of the UN organization and how they help the world. It was all very formal and official inside. I couldn't help imagining being a diplomat going to work there, walking the marble halls, and participating in meetings in the large conference room among other businessmen and women from across the globe. I was in awe of the vastness of the space and how refined everything looked. You know you've made it in life if you get to conduct business here.

LAKE GENEVA






It's easy to spend a good portion of the afternoon walking along Lake Geneva, admiring the water, port, and scenery. Even in December you'll catch locals sunbathing by the water and perhaps even some nude swimmers. Catch a boat ride for a relaxing and scenic experience. 

CATHEDRALE DE ST. PIERRE


A beautiful church indeed, but what was most intriguing about this cathedral was the lookout on top. You could spend 5 Euros to take a long winding staircase to get amazing views of Geneva. 

Picture by Maddie Tiffin

REFORMATION WALL


This is a famous monument in Geneva that is worth a stop by. It honors the many individuals, events, and documents of the Protestant/Christian Reformation. It was built in 1909 for John Calvin's birthday (statue featured above in the picture).


MANOR STORE


Looking to buy Swiss chocolate? This is your spot. Inside is a massive display of hundreds of Swiss chocolatiers for a variety of prices. Time to load up on more than your typical Toblerone bars! This store also is a quality grocer with fresh cuisine from around the world. A great place to pick up dinner to go.

I'm sure there is much much more to discover and see in Geneva but for a day trip I feel like we accomplished a lot of ground and sights. Switzerland is a beautiful country in general and I hope to return and explore more someday.












Christmas in Europe

Monday, December 26, 2016


Chrismas is the best time of the year and no matter how much I love an American Christmas revolved around family and eggnog, Europe has a magical take on this merry season. In hundreds of major cities across Europe, Christmas markets arise in public squares with their wooden stands, trinkets, and goodies. They truly embode a magical atmosphere. Whether you're just walking around and sipping hot chocolate or you're purchasing gifts for friends and stopping for a bite to eat, any experience at one is better than none. I guarantee your Christmas spirit will reach new heights if you ever get the chance to visit. 


GRENOBLE CHRISTMAS MARKET



All fall semester I eagerly awaited Grenoble's Christmas market to finally commence. It finally opened at the end of November and was around right up until I left on December 22nd. It was more than I could have ever imagined, and I had high expectations! It was pretty big and was centered in a public square in town but also spread in other areas too. For a smaller town like Grenoble, they really put on an impressive spectacle. The wooden stands featured delicious food, French delacacies, toy stands, numerous gift stands, and an ambiance worth stopping by for.

I probably went approximately 15 times but you can hardly blame me since I always passed it and was hooked to the **Jager** hot chocolate. It was unbeatable and a surprisingly good combination. I would go back solely for that. My favorite goodies I tried during the month long duration was a French raclette sandwich featuring their famous ooey gooey melted cheese on a baguette with meat and also traditonal French onion soup on a cold afternoon.

Isabel and I enjoying our Delirium Red beer (the best in the world) **1st tried in Belgium and was so surprised to find it again!


COPENHAGEN CHRISTMAS MARKET


For my 1st time visiting Copenhagen, Denmark I got to witness their beautiful and inviting Christmas market. The city was packed with people on December 18th but I wouldn't have had it any other way. I was entranced by the twinkling lights, Christmas decorations, mouthwatering cookie stands, and shimmering ornaments and trinkets alike. I walked by every stand wanting to buy everything I laid my eyes on. I was so happy to have been there!



The streets of Copenhagen during Christmas time

MALMO, SWEDEN CHRISTMAS MARKET

First off, Sweden was an incredible country to visit and I loved learning about their culture and way of life. One of my favorite traditions was Fika which is essentially a midday coffee break. It gets dark early in winter which calls for a warm hot chocolate, Swedish pastry, and warmth inside surrounded by good friends and deep conversation.

Malmo was a lovely town to explore during Christmas time. Lights and garlands lined the streets and rows and rows of stands were selling various items. It was such a festive place to be with friends! Sweden is very cold but walking around in the afternoon seeing everything warmed up my spirits.


I loved the tree with the lit up presents!

The streets in Lund, Sweden
A breathtaking Christmas tree in Lund, Sweden



Cinque Terre

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

This past long weekend I traveled to Genoa and Cinque Terre Italy! It was my first time in Italy and I loved the country very much. I'm so fortunate to have been able to visit during my time studying abroad.

Camera in hand // Mediterranean Sea // Sunny day //Happy me

My perspective on Cinque Terre: The 5 villages
In order of my favorites (5 least - 1 most favorite)

Overview:
Like most people, until you start researching, you don't know that Cinque Terre is actually just the name of a collection of 5 cities. Researching about each place on Pinterest and bloggers sites was so fun, gave me great advice and tips, and overall got me very excited to visit. I felt ready to tackle the place in my own way but with the wise words of travelers before me. 

To get between the villages you can either take the train or hike. For both you need to have a Cinque Terre pass. For 2 days it was 29€ which gave you unlimited rides on the train, access to the hiking paths, and free wifi at the train stations. It was absolutely worth it and gave us no hassle. When we were visiting, 2 of the coastal hiking paths were closed off due to recent floods. Therefore when visiting Riomaggiore and Manarola we utilized the train system and we hiked Corniglia-Vernazza and Vernazza-Monterosso. I preferred hiking between them because you got more views and I love being outside. The trains however are very quick, efficient, and easy. 

5) Monterosso: 
This village was the least exciting because it's merely a flat village with a long, sandy beach. Had it been summertime and not the end of October I probably would have enjoyed the beach more. I arrived to this town via hiking path and as we got closer, the views were pretty nice featuring the typical painted houses.



4) Manarola:
Manarola is the typical picturesque view of colorful houses on the cliff side. It was absolutely beautiful to see and the weather the day we visited was hot and sunny. There was one main street with shops and nice places to sit by the sea. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant with perfect views and it was quite enjoyable despite the fact the heat was beating down on us. The gelato place we ate at had amazing amareno cherry gelato, the best I've ever had. It was a gelateria called "5 Terre" featuring homemade products. I also bought soft lemon candies since I'm a huge lemon fanatic and also since this region is known for their lemon products. I didn't find that there was much to do in Manarola besides the one viewing spot. Also I found it much too touristy which made it less enjoyable and authentic.




3) Corniglia:
This village was one of a kind. I thought it was very unique and quaint in its own special way. When you get off at the train station you have the option to walk stairs, a paved path, or take a bus up to the town. We took the long set of stairs (I read it was 277) and the views were very pleasant. Corniglia does not feature a port so no boats come in and the town is high up on a cliff. I loved visiting an old church in the town and wandering through the narrow alley ways. There were countless shops, cafes, gelaterias, and near the end of the cliff restaurants featuring panoramic views of the sparkling water. It was a gorgeous lookout and you could see parts of all the other cities! We originally were going to visit here at sunset which I think would definitely have been beautiful. I bought a wonderful sweet bread at a cafe that I snacked on during our hike. We took the coastal path from here to Vernazza, which happens to be my next favorite town.




2) Vernazza:
This town was so amazing and the biggest reason why I loved it so much was because there were countless different viewpoints. From the hiking path as we entered, to being in the town, from the Doria Castle tower, and as we left to go to Monterosso, there were so many great spots to feast your eyes on. It was stunning and there was also lots to do. For only 1,50€ we got to go up the castle tower and it was also a relaxing place to sit and view the enchanting Mediterranean Sea. In town there's one main street and it was packed with people. There were numerous Foccacerias featuring Foccacia bread that is a very popular food in Italy. Also plenty of fun shops to stop in, restaurants, and alley ways where the locals lived. I couldn't imagine living in a place so touristy. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant where I got a reasonably priced and delicious seafood pasta. Of course after we got gelato and the "Gelateria Vernazza" had the most outstanding flavor ever. It was yellow in color with white chocolate flakes and fruit. I had high expectations for this village and it definitely lived up to the hype.






1) Riomaggiore:
Vernazza and Riomaggiore were almost tied as my favorites but Riomaggiore was in my opinion the best place to explore. I'm an adventurer and to me that factor is important! Riomaggiore also had a main street like the others but there was so much more than that. As we walked uphill there was a beautiful church we visited and even farther up was a nice viewing point of the town and the ocean. I got lots of great pictures. We ventured through the narrow streets and closer to the coast we went out on a rocky outlet up high. It was lovely and so picturesque. Back on the mainland, as you walked further out by the water you got the best view of Riomaggiore. To me, it was perfect and I loved this town!






Journey Details:

We had 2 full days in Cinque Terre and it was a perfect amount of time to see everything. We stayed in a town called Levanto which is next to Monterosso. I read that staying in Levanto was a nice idea since it was easy access to the 5 cities without the tourists. Levanto turned out to be a favorite for us. It was a very cute town, with friendly locals, and featuring its own beach. The hostel we stayed at was super cheap and clean. We stayed in a big room with 9 other travelers, one being an older gentleman who was so personable, sweet, and from Verona, Italy. His name was Joseph and we called him "Grandpa Joe." Right after we checked in at our hostel we went swimming at the beach less than 5 minutes away. We loved the weather as it was the end of October and we hadn't expected it to be so nice! Levanto had many sights to see including a striped church, a castle, a bell tower, and a yellow dome. I loved walking through the streets and seeing the locals doing their daily activities. There were a few shops that sold local products where I purchased Genovese pesto and orange flavored biscuits. We had dinner three times in Levanto and were pretty impressed. At nighttime it got chilly and we never wanted to venture too far out so I'm glad this town provided us good eats in a very close proximity to our hostel. My favorite was the last night we were there where we ate at about 9:30pm in this genuine Italian restaurant. It was small and you could tell who the owner was who walked around all night chatting with the guests. I loved the Italian hospitality that I witnessed here. The food was spectacular, like it's seriously the best ever. 



I've managed to eat lots of pasta on this trip allowing me to try different types of dishes. From creamy pesto, to nutty almond, to meat and ragu, I've certainly treated myself through the quality flavors this country offers. The morning we left, we stopped in an Italian pastry and cafe shop. It reminded me a little of the scene in "Eat, Pray, Love" when she enters the Italian cafe. There are lots of people trying to order their hot coffee and sweet pastry. It's a big, Italian fiasco but it's also so cool and full of energy. I loved the vibes I got here and the atmosphere. Also, I'm surprised to love the Italian pastries so much after being in France which is known for pastries. In Italy, there are powdered croissants with jam inside, sugared donuts with a light cream inside, biscuits and cookies, sweet cake, and brioches. It's so delectable and just the right amount of sweet. I am certainly getting in touch with my heritage if I like Italian pastries better than the French ones! Italians are wonderful, heart warming, great people. They have a beautiful language, hospitality, kindness, fantastic food, adorable kids, and a love for life. I love that I have Italian in me, even if it's only 50%. I knew I always had to come to Italy. It's been waiting for me and as I am leaving now, I know I'll be back many more times if life allows me to. I could easily live the Italian lifestyle which feels close to home and my heart. Italian is in my blood, it's how I operate. I relate to their ways and norms. The French are very serious people, who don't have the same passion and enthusiasm for life. They may have the best bread (they win there hands down) but I find Italy more appealing in other ways. I so wish I could study abroad a second semester in Italy. I would travel to all the main cities and smaller towns that I've heard so much about. I could live the lifestyle that is quite possibly the key to my happiness.