by June Jeong, opinions editor

The Roar interviewed senior Mattie Lightfoot who spent a school year in France, gaining both a better knowledge for the French language and a newfound outlook on culture. 

Where did you go for your foreign exchange experience? Through what program? 

I was in the southwest part of France. [Through] Rotary Youth Exchange. I found out about it because two years ago we had Charlotte [Henrio] here, who was here with the same program from France. She told me about it, and I ended up applying for it the next year. 

What was it first like in France? How did you adjust? 

At first, everything was different. I had to get used to different customs, different ways to say hello, different foods. It was an adjustment period. I think I adjusted pretty well; it’s a lot of observing what people do and trying to do the same thing. 

How were the people there? 

At the beginning, there was this novelty of being “the American” in the school, and so everyone would want to talk to me because I was American. After the newness wore off, that’s when I started to see who my friends really were. I made a lot of great friends, and most of them I’m still in contact with all the time when I’m here. 

What was your host family like? 

I lived with three different families. The Rotary Program does that so you can get a more median view of what living in the country is like. Each family did things a little differently: they each had their specific things. In my third host family, my host family was a vegetarian so most of our meals were vegetarian and I didn’t eat much meat there. In my second host family, my host parents worked a lot and I didn’t have any siblings so I was alone at the house a lot. For the most part, they were all really great. 

What is the most difficult aspect of being a foreign exchange student? 

I would say it’s difficult knowing that everyone around you has, for the most part, lived in the same place and known the same people, whereas everyone you see you’ve only known for a couple months. And [so is] being so far from everything you’ve known all your life, (your family, your friends). 

What was your favorite part about living in France? 

Probably the food, to be honest. A lot of different foods, a lot of red. In my first host family, the father was a baker, so every day he would bring home fresh bread. Just in general, even very small towns will have a bakery or two. Our town had four thousand people and we had three bakeries. You could just go in and get a baguette, and it was cheap and really good. 

What was your average day like? 

In my first host family, I’d wake up and go to school in a car on the way to work with my host mom, and then after school, my host mom would pick me up. I’d go home, do my homework, and watch TV with my host siblings. In my second host family, I got to wake up later because we lived right next to the school. I’d wake up, walk two minutes to school, and then during any breaks (like an hour that I didn’t have class or during lunch), I was able to go home and eat with my family. And then the third family lived very far from the school so I had to wake up, walk about ten minutes to the train station, take a twenty minute train ride, and then walk about ten more minutes to the school. I got home a lot later in that family, but since they lived in a bigger city, I got to go out with my host sister or with my friends after school. 

How has your knowledge of the French language expanded? 

It’s definitely improved a lot. Before I went, I was in French classes here [at Consol], where I tried to learn as much as I could about French culture and the language. Before I left, I thought I was really prepared. I got off the plane and I was like, “I know nothing, I know absolutely nothing.” And so it was kind of a shock at the beginning to see how little I did know, but I think I caught up fairly quickly. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert but I definitely can get by. 

What have you gained through this experience? 

An appreciate for other cultures, and for traveling, and for really seeing a place with my own eyes. Living with another culture gives you an insight to other people and other viewpoints that I wouldn’t have gained if I had stayed in College Station. 

What advice do you have for students considering pursuing a foreign exchange experience? 

I would say definitely go for it, because as scary and as hard as it can be, it will open up so many opportunities in the future. It will really teach you a lot.