I met my host-mom Solène (mère d’accueil) over macarons and champagne a few days after I arrived in Paris. Solène’s a nurse, and she has a habit of wearing two pairs of glasses at the same time. I met her husband, Thierry, about an hour later over dinner. Thierry owns a bookstore, and the small kitchen in the corner of the apartment is his favorite place to be. They were high-school sweethearts and have three children – thanks to them, I know the word for affectionately crazy (dingue) and how to describe ragging on someone (taquiner).
The day after I arrived, Thierry walked me through his neighbourhood, noting the changes that he’s witnessed in the 30 years that he’s lived there. He’s watched bookstores and publishers transition into niche, expensive boutiques. Regardless, he kindly pointed out his favorite bars and cafés, and introduced me to his cheese-monger. For the past three months, he’s taken to calling me a gourmand, probably because I never refuse cheese or olives… or food in general.
With APA, you don’t meet your host family until a few days after you arrive in Paris. I’ll admit, it’s crazy to pack your bags without knowing where exactly you’ll be living, but APA uses that time to ensure that each student is well-matched with her host family. Over meals, plenty of conversation, and a questionnaire sent out before the semester begins, the APA directors make their selections; it’s a delicate science, but they do it well.
I can confidently say that my host family has been one of my favorite – and most important – parts of my study abroad experience. Eating with them every night is my favorite part of the day, and it’s not just because the food is wonderful. Thierry and Solène recommend expositions and concerts; Clementine, my host sister, will ask me about politics and daily life. Benoît and I discuss the twists and turns of his favorite TV show (Friends). I’ve fallen in love with raclette and fondue, what Thierry affectionately calls his “kitchen-sink pasta” and the secret to Solène’s béchamel sauce. I’ve learned the French words for inane vegetables, and how to kindly turn away more food (‘j’ai bien dîné’ is a bit more genteel than ‘j’ai bien mangé’).
Thierry and Solène were even kind enough to host both sets of my parents when they visited last month, breaking out their English along with the good china. Ultimately, with a great host-family match, you get more than room and board for a few months: you get a lifetime relationship with a family. I can’t wait to keep in touch with my family when I return to the States, and I’d love to offer the same hospitality that they’ve shown me.