Updated: Jul 21
Hey, you! 🇫🇷🇩🇪
It's been a couple months now since our daughter joined a foreign exchange program and I'm now ready to talk about our experience. I'll try to be as clear and concise as possible especially because I received several messages asking about this.
First of all, we didn't do this on our own. This was organised by our daughter's German school professor. Every year, they try do this. Unfortunately, there was a little pause due to Covid, but this year they had the green light to go ahead with it.
The organization was not perfect, but I'm not going to go into that. I completely understand how tough it must have been to pull this off and they did their best. To top it all, there were ongoing national strikes so aka cancelled trains in France. Plan B had to be activated at the last minute.
There are many foreign exchange programs, but for us, it was a simple exchange for a week. So the German student stayed with us for a week in February and our daughter stayed with her in Germany for a week in March.
It turned out that a lot of French students wanted to go to Germany, whereas just a few German students wanted to come to France. The numbers weren't equal. My daughter is in the 9th grade, so the organisers had to ask the 10th graders in Germany if they wanted to participate as well. We ended up having a 10th grader. S and our German student got along well, but one year at this age makes quite the difference. A 14 year old does not have the same interests as a 16 year old. With that said, she was very nice with us.
In preparation for her arrival, I meticulously cleaned up the bedroom she was going to stay in. That's the least I could do honestly. Believe it or not, there were rumours that some families might not have done that. But, those are just rumours.
My main objective was to make her feel as comfortable as possible. This was, after all "her home" for a week. I prepared for her clean guest towels (a bath towel, a face towel, and a hand towel) which I folded on the bed for her to see right away, as soon as she entered the bedroom. I also added a little basket with body care for her (a shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lotion, face mask and a hair brush). Whether she used it or not, it was her choice - I did not impose anything on her. I told her it was a gift and she could bring it back to Germany with her. I also made sure to get her French products only and she was very happy about that.
The organisers had a program for the week, which included daily activities (in and out of school). Included were visits at the city center, the museum, art activities, sports activities, just to name a few.
S and I agreed on our own activities. S organised an afternoon at the skating rink, lunch at a friend's parent's restaurant, a shopping session, and a sleepover. I added a fun afternoon at the carnival fair, lunch at a French restaurant, movie and game night.
Some families prepared a visit at nearby cities, which was cool. Unfortunately, we couldn't find time to do that and the girls were ill mid-trip.
I also adapted my weekly meal plan. Prior to her arrival, I had S ask her if she had allergies or any food preferences. Turns out, she wasn't a fan of Asian food. I would have loved to prepare some Filipino dishes, but opted for typical French regional dishes instead. Quiche Lorraine, for example. We also celebrated La Chandeleur - on this day we typically eat savoury and sweet crepes. Hotdogs on Movie Night. Sunday Brunch with the classic Tartines and French Toast. S prepared Flammekueche on their sleepover and on her last night, we had McDonald's!
On the day she arrived, we immediately did a home tour for her so she knew where to get things like water and snacks if needed. The bathroom with the blow dryer, for example. Where to hang the wet towels. Stuff like that.
Our home isn't big, but she mentioned that it was cosy and I loved that. This is exactly how I feel about it too.
Everything was going well. We were very lucky to get along quite nicely until ... the sleepover happened!
That Saturday afternoon, on our way home from the restaurant, our German student mentioned that she had a minor headache. I asked if she wanted to stay home, but she said she was gonna take some meds and go to the sleepover. As they left, I remember jokingly telling the girls "not to drink alcohol" as they had taken some meds.
Little did I know what would happen next.
Before I get into details of what happened, let me explain something. My daughter, S, often goes to a sleepover at her best friend's house. It's always all innocent fun. They cook dinner together, sometimes they try her friend's dad's alcohol (I don't think he knows this hahaha), they dance, watch horror movies, and sleep all together on the floor. It's all innocent and honestly, I trust her wholeheartedly.
That sleepover, however, as S was making Flammekueche, some of her friends barged in the kitchen and told her that four German students, including ours, had left the house on foot to buy alcohol.
They had no idea where the store was and so they got lost.
One friend panicked and shouted that they should call the police. Others surprisingly didn't really care. But S? She was furious.
So they went looking in the streets of the city for the 4 German students. It was cold, it was getting dark, and they had no idea where to look. Finally, they saw two of those German students, who in fact had abandoned the other two and were making their way back to the house. Our student was still missing.
Long minutes after, S and her friends finally found them waiting and sitting on a bench at the bus stop. They were told to follow them and go back home immediately.
S had them lined up against the wall and told them off for being stupid and careless and disrespectful. As a guest, who leaves a house without telling anyone? Especially when you are 16 and are completely new to the city. And to look for alcohol!
"What were you thinking???"
I was told that at 16, it is possible to buy alcohol in Germany, but in France that is a big no-no.
S eventually isolated herself and called me. On the phone, I felt so much sympathy for her, but also a lot of pride. My daughter is the responsible one.
She said that she had felt so scared. That she had been afraid of losing the German student. She didn't even want to think of the worst. I tried to calm her down as well as I could.
Before hanging up the phone, she told me, "Mom, you're gonna scold her tomorrow when we come home, right?"
That question kept me up all night. Of course, I wanted to get mad. I was furious at the students for making my daughter feel that way. Furious that they didn't think of the consequences of their actions. But I was also thinking of the fact that my daughter was going to Germany to stay with them a few weeks later and I was afraid that if I got very angry that there would be repercussions on my daughter. So I wasn't sure what to do.
When they came home the next day, both girls were ill and showing signs of the flu.
I decided to ask the German student, "What happened last night? S called me, but I would like to hear from you."
She explained that she had just wanted some fresh air and didn't know the other students were looking for alcohol. She just went along.
Silently, I laughed inside. Twenty years later and the excuses are still the same.
A couple of days later, I accompanied our German student to the train station so she could go back home. S was sick as a dog back home, but there were no ill feelings between us.
A month later, it was our daughter's turn to go to Germany.
Would you like to hear her experience?