When my older sister studied abroad in Madrid, she got to live with a host family. While she said it was sometimes challenging to fit in with them and abide by their rules, it pushed her language skills and showed her how the Spanish really live. I had been hoping to have a similar experience and live with a French family, but, unfortunately, the University of Limoges only offers dorms to its students.
To make up for this, there is a program called Familles d’Accueil de Limoges, wherein French families volunteer to adopt international students during their stays. The group was poorly advertised, and I showed up to the first meeting, a matching event for students to pair with families, with very little information. It was unorganized and chaotic. We were supposed to mingle and find French people that we hit it off with, pairing ourselves off with little help. It felt like speed dating, and I was very conscious of how boring and unintelligent I probably sounded in my mediocre French.
Fortunately, I met an older couple who were specifically hoping to pair with an American student. Monique and Lucien are in their late sixties and have friends who live in Wisconsin, only about 40 minutes down the road from where I grew up! They have visited Wisconsin several times, and we instantly bonded, chatting about the Milwaukee Art Museum and the University of Wisconsin. While most French people couldn’t find Wisconsin on a map, I’d found people who personally knew the place I call home.
We spent several days together over the course of the semester. On my favorite adventure, we drove to the countryside outside Limoges to an old stone cottage that had belonged to Lucien’s parents. We picked apples and walnuts from their orchard, filling old milk crates to the brim, and walked along a path lined with golden-orange trees that lead down to a chateau on the river. We spoke exclusively in French, which was quite a struggle while driving out to the property, the radio on and the windows rolled down. By the end of the day I felt like I’d been pushed to my limit linguistically, and I went home exhausted but smiling.