I have to say going to France for a French exchange was a pretty last-minute decision. I knew I wanted to go but honestly, I didn’t think I ever would. But getting the opportunity to go on an exchange to France is pretty amazing. But for me what was even better was getting to meet all the people that I did, my exchange partner - Sido came to Ireland first. Meeting her at the airport for the first time was nerve racking as we had only spoken a few times through text and once over the phone but it’s not the same as actually being with the person. I was also slightly apprehensive as she was about 2 years younger than me, but after about 5 minutes of meeting her I knew I liked her as she immediately laughed with me when there was a funny incident at the airport and understood my humour and personality. We clicked straight away and I had the opportunity to show her my home life in Ireland and what a summer in Ireland feels like all while she got the opportunity to learn and improve her English.

After her spending almost three weeks with my family and I in Ireland I was going to France next for my part of the exchange and it was safe to say I was extremely excited. I felt at ease as I already had a good friend in Sido and I really wanted to improve my French for the leaving cert and for myself. Although it was the first time I had been away from my family for that long but I really wanted to go and felt prepared. I looked at this trip with the hopes of developing my French and making many new friends. When first arriving in France I met her mum dad and brother who were all extremely welcoming. The transition into immediate French was a bit of a shock at the beginning and it was tiring trying to understand French being spoken so quickly and to be expected to speak French constantly as well. However, I had expected this as my French before going over was not at a high standard and I had never spoken French at such a full-on level before. Thankfully Sido and her family were extremely patient with me and were more than happy to repeat words and sentences with me to ensure I understood what was going on.

Sido and her family were extremely active and big into cycling. So after 2 days in France, I went along with them to Brittany for their annual cycling holiday with a massive group of their family and friends of about 30 people. To be honest it was a slightly overwhelming experience meeting such a big group of French people who all spoke the language perfectly, but I stayed opened minded and after about a few hours I settled into it. It was part of their family traditions, and I was made feel extremely welcome, so I respected and embraced that. In my opinion I think it was important that I kept an open mind and tried everything. Every time Sido said “do you want to do this” or “are u coming “I also made sure to say yes and tried everything. I would really recommend saying yes to everything and always keeping an open mind, even thought I was exhausted from all the cycling and trying to understand French on a different level. I know I would have regretted it if I didn’t. I would say it took about a week for my French to improve.

The first week I was mostly just listening to conversations and trying to understand them rather than talking. The second week I started communicating and speaking more and more but I really struggled with tenses. Having Sido as a friend was extremely helpful as she ended up writing it down for me and explaining it. To improve my French as much as possible I changed the language in my phone to French. I tried reading French books, magazines and newspapers and when watching films with the family Sido put the subtitles up in French to help me understand the film. The 3rd week we went to her grandparents’ house by the sea. They were also extremely generous and welcomed me with open arms. For an exchange it’s really important to want to go yourself and to feel ready. It’s a big step to take to go to another go to another country on your own for such a long time. But if you embrace the language and all the opportunities offered to you it’s definitely worth it and is an amazing way to improve at the language and also make international friends for yourself around the world.

TY Europe Rachel France

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