Our students come to France with us because they want the experience of Village immersion that’s our specialty. For most of them, that means they’ll request a host family in Pontlevoy. Over the many years we’ve had students living in The Abbey and participating in programs there, we’ve had almost countless examples of the student/host family relationship feeling like one of the biggest and best long-term outcomes to result from studying with us. We’ve also had some disappointment on this score. Why? Poorly managed expectations on both sides, meaning what students hope for from their French family and what their French families hope for from our students, are usually the problem.
So what do our students hope for? Many things. But usually some combination of a family whose members they can really get to know, whose language they can learn to speak well, whose culture and history they can master and whose dining room table they can settle into for multiple, terrific dinners.
Meanwhile what do our French families want? They want a connection to the USA through an American student. They want to hear English spoken in their home and learn some new expressions. They want to show France and French culture off to their student. They want to learn about a new region of our country and a new state. And they want to feel a sentimental bond forming that can live on through letters and cards and emails long after the three months of The Village have come and gone.
Often these expectations can and do match up well with reality. When they don’t, the blame is usually a function of how busy our students become in Europe and how much travel they end up doing. The Village usually has three long travel weekends, one prior to ParisWEEK and two following our last VisionQUEST. If a student plans to travel all three of those weekends, plus be away from Pontlevoy for the entirely of both VisionQUEST sessions, it can prove very hard (though by no means impossible) to establish and maintain a deep connection with a host family. Students with this kind of ambitious travel plan are usually ones we will pair up or even make a troika of, so that we improve the chances that a French family will have at least one of their students around to meet and get to know as the busy semester progresses.
The best experiences can often happen for the student who comes on The Village with the tightest possible budget, whose travel plans are correspondingly modest, and whose desire to deeply connect on a cultural and even emotional level with a French family is especially high.
Other programs pay their host families. The Village never has and never will. Instead, we seek to foster relationships that have a more natural and even organic feel to how they form and how they grow. Our alumni have had stupendous success with their families over many years. Will you have a host family? And if you choose to have one, will you manage your expectations and your personal travel plans so that the connection your forge in France is one you will revisit many times with your family as the years go on from your brief time on The Village?