Through a program sponsored by Paris-based Loisirs Culturels à l’étranger, up to 25 French teens want to come to metro Atlanta this summer, and the organization is seeking host families for them.
The teens, who are ages 14 to 18, speak English and are from professional French families, plan to come to metro Atlanta July 9 through 29. But each student needs an American host family who will provide room and board, hospitality and friendship (host families are compensated).
Gina Anaya, an east Cobb mother of three, said her family hosting a male student, Noé, last summer was a symbiotic experience.
“It was fun and it was fulfilling,” she said. “We learned a lot (about) the culture and the laws in France. He tried to teach us some French while we were teaching him some English. It was a give-and-take regarding the customs, the culture. We learned a lot from each other. He was a little shy at first and reserved. More of his personality came out the closer he came to leaving. By that time he was comfortable (with us). ... We took him out for his birthday to a Mexican restaurant where he got to wear a sombrero hat, so he didn’t feel like he was missing out on celebrating his birthday. He bonded with my son (Evan) but with my other children (Anisa and Nina) as well.
“He was very intelligent and well mannered. He’s a great kid. All the (French) teens from (the program) were very nice. ... They were shocked by a few things we take for granted. For example, refills on sodas. (Noé) was shocked he was able to get a refill here. They’re not allowed that in France. There are certain indulgences here that are not allowed there. Another example is racism. That is not tolerated there. You can go to jail for not being welcoming someone of another race. We learned a lot of different rules or laws we take for granted here. ... There are not a lot of fast food restaurants there, so while he was here, he was eating hamburgers and steak.”
Program organizer and east Cobb resident Linda Farmer, a retired French and English teacher at Lassiter High in east Cobb, agreed.
“It’s just a wonderful experience for the American family ... (and) for the French student,” she said. “Each learns the culture of the other.”
Farmer, who has coordinated the program for 22 years, said it encourages host families to include the French teen in as many family summertime activities as possible, such as trips to the pool or local sporting events.
“There’s only one other (exchange student program) like it, and it’s in Boston,” she said. “Before 9/11, this particular program was all over the United States. It was in California and Seattle and so many other places. After 9/11, it built (back) up a little bit and one of those places was New Orleans, (but Hurricane) Katrina kicked that out of the running. There are a few other three-week programs, but they don’t pay the host families.”
Said Anaya, “It’s just a wonderful experience. You learn so much from one another and it can be a lot of fun. We did things as a family that we wouldn’t normally go out and do since it’s just us. But we got to experience a lot of (Noé’s) first experiences with him, which made it even more memorable. I just moved here three years ago from Chicago, so we learned a lot about what was in Marietta and going to the museums — the Marietta Museum of History and the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park — and learning about the local history.”
Anaya said her family may host a French teen again this summer, as long as their move into a new house in early June goes as planned.
“It was very rewarding experience,” she said. “I think any family would learn so much just from those three weeks of experience with a child from another country. It will make you reflect on what we take for granted sometimes.”