Since the middle of July, we have hosted 14 French students. Each of the five weeks we’ve had with them have been different – both in the people that have come to stay with us and the dynamics of each group. Some, like the first group of girls we had, got along like a house on fire and on hindsight, made our job that much easier. Others were a little more challenging, with probably the most difficult to manage being those that were less communicative – we never really knew if they were enjoying themselves or not!
We’ve learnt lots along the way. From being a little apprehensive and stressed during the first week, we soon became more confident and capable of dealing with different situations. Edward often had to adjust his lessons at short notice – it was never possible to prepare them fully before the students arrived, as he didn’t know their level of English until he met them. It was then a case of setting them up each evening (or even in the morning!) for the next day. Often the group would be extremely diverse in their capabilities, even though the students were usually of a similar age – sometimes the youngest would be the best English speakers!!
For me, the biggest challenge, initially, was providing the meals. I can cook but haven’t really had to provide many meals for children before! Loose guidelines from the company we are working with suggested lunch time and evening meals should consist of 3 courses, to respect the French culture! But, my philosophy was that they were here to be immersed in English, so I made just 2 courses for these meals, which is still more that we would have had in England! So, so far, so good, I had my menus planned for each day of the sejour, and once the first group had ‘approved’ it all, I thought, great, I can do more or less the same each week 🙂 Wrong!! The third week’s group were my biggest nightmare – one had an allergy to dairy foods (no eggs or milk), another didn’t eat salad and then I discovered, when serving up chocolate dessert, that the other ‘hated’ chocolate and vanilla!! I pretty much had to re-plan my whole menu and each day I was wracking my brains for something I could prepare that all of them would like! Still, we all survived and I didn’t poison anyone!
By the fifth week, we were both more relaxed and confident about what we were doing. The feedback from the students, both in their mid-week evaluations and in our guest book, has been fantastic. If we’d had any doubts about what we were doing, these comments are very reassuring:
Aside from the lessons and meals, we have taken each group out in the afternoons for some sort of activity. Most weeks consisted of a trip to the zoo, an afternoon at the lake/beach at Sillé, a visit to a medieval castle or a Roman town, a nature walk and laser games to finish off! Again, we have adjusted these to suit the students or the weather – we took two different groups to a maize maze and ‘foot-golf’, which seemed to go down well. In the evenings, after dinner and homework, we organised other ‘activities’ – playing cricket, croquet or boules in the garden, baking, making sweets, printmaking, making an insect hotel, having a film night with popcorn, making giant insects, cooking ‘twists’ and marshmallows on an open fire, to name just a few.
In between it all we had one week off. It wasn’t enough!! In addition to taking in the students, we have had the builders here, replacing the roof on the house and replacing all the doors and windows. The timing has been less than ideal and at times it’s been extremely difficult to keep the environment for the students safe and clean. We worked hard to keep dust down to a minimum and to straighten things up when doors and windows had been replaced. Occasionally we took it in turns to take the students out so the other could do a bit of DIY/painting while the scaffolding was still in place! During our week off, rather than relaxing and recuperating, we spent a lot of time clearing up the site and the barns, after the builders had left rubbish and debris everywhere, touching up paintwork and getting ready for the next group of students. At least next year we won’t have this added complication and extra work to contend with.
So, overall, it’s been a good experience and very rewarding, especially when you can see such a difference in the students in the space of a week – some who barely spoke at the beginning, were positively ‘chatty’ by the end! We shall certainly be much better equipped for our next bookings in October. In the meantime, we shall enjoy a little respite, some DIY and a visit from my parents in a couple of weeks!
Here are just a few photos of our time with some of the students….. Happy days! ♥