Host a foreign exchange student from France
As the heart (ooh la la) of Europe, France really needs no introduction. The motherland of baguettes, macarons and mimes is already world famous, but there is more to France than just mouthwatering pastries and striped shirts.
By understanding more about our French exchange students’ lives back home, it will help you gain insight into their culture and background and prepare you for a successful hosting experience. Let’s start by learning about what’s typical in French communication, home life, education and food, as described by our program participants.
In France, the high school day begins around 8:30 am, includes a two-hour lunch break and lasts until 5 pm. Students begin learning their first foreign language around age nine, though some students begin even earlier. In France, students cannot choose their subjects as there are few options. English is the most common foreign language and it is required that all students study it. French students may play sports in school, but only two to three hours per week. They are not allowed to choose the sport. Should they want to practice more or select a specific sport, they join a club outside of school. The final grading system in high schools is simply “pass” or “fail.”
Tip From EF: French students may not be aware of what options are available to them in their American school, such as electives, classes of varying levels of difficulty and extra-curricular activities. It will be helpful for them to sit down with a counselor or registrar when getting set up at school to know their options and the expectations of them in class.
The French tend to be reserved and private. Politeness is valued and using the French term for “please” is commonplace. Though when a person disagrees with what you are saying, they most likely will tell you right away. This is normal and not perceived as rude. When greeting, women generally touch cheeks and “kiss the air.” Men only kiss the cheeks of close friends or relatives. The French language is slow to evolve, as it is considered sacred and cherished. Hugging may be considered more intimate than kissing in France.
Tip From EF: French students may not express themselves as colorfully as we do in the US. Be aware of this to avoid disappointment or misunderstandings of their reactions. Ask your student about the French culture. They will be just as excited to share about their home country as your family is to share about your family culture and traditions!
How are you?
Lunch is generally eaten around 1 pm, and dinner is not before 8 pm. Families generally eat dinner together and enjoy sharing a meal. Gastronomy is an important part of French cultural heritage. Many families gather on Sundays to share a big lunch together. The French tend to resist foreign fast food because they see it as unhealthy. They also have concerns about France’s decreasing farming industry. French people enjoy eating bread with each meal. Desserts are also a staple in French food culture and it is unusual for people to finish lunch or dinner without a sweet treat.
Tip From EF: Your student may need time to get used to the difference in meal times. Be clear about what time you will be eating meals but give options for appropriate snacks as students get used to the new schedule. Encouraging them to help with grocery shopping and meal preparation will also help them adjust.
French families generally have two or three children. Grandparents play an important role in French families; they often care for grandchildren while the parents are working. Soccer and rugby are popular sports in France. The annual Tour de France cycling race and the French Open tennis tournament are popular national events. The country is known for having an excellent public transportation system. Most people use the underground subway and tramways. The French value their appearance and place a high degree of attention on their attire.
Tip From EF: Sit down with your student at the beginning of the year and go over all rules, schedules and expectations. Be sure to include simple things such as how to use the washer and dryer, getting around town, the importance of checking in with you and the student’s curfew. Lack of public transportation will be difficult for your student. Help them to understand the best way to get around and how to communicate with you about this.
Je suis très heureux de rencontrer mon étudiant d’échange français!
I am so excited to meet my French exchange student!
Comment puis-je me rendre à la tour Eiffel?
How do I get to the Eiffel Tower?
Hosting advice from our French exchange students
“I wish my host family knew that in France I don’t eat a lot of fast food or frozen meals; we eat more fruits and vegetables.”
Tip From EF: French families regularly shop for and prepare their meals in the same day and therefore many of the ingredients are fresh. Frozen meals, quick meals and fast food may be new and different. Communicate your family’s eating habits and provide the student the opportunity to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables if desired.
“I wish my host family knew that French people are shy.”
Tip From EF: Provide a safe space for your student to feel confident speaking up and try to read between the lines if they are being indirect. Understand that it may make your student uncomfortable to be firm. Also, be attentive to body language, as students will often show how they feel through behavior rather than discussing their feelings.
“I wish my host family knew that I struggled with using English all the time.”
Tip From EF: Be sure to write things down (like your house rules, expectations and schedules) at the beginning of the exchange so your student can read them and refer to them. Speak slowly, ask simple questions and allow your student time to process as they adjust to using English in everyday life. Invite your student to watch movies and TV with you – and turn the subtitles on to help them follow along. Also, encourage your student to start writing down their thoughts, questions or hopes for their exchange so your family can discuss them together.