The first time I took a bath at my host family’s apartment, I put the plug in the bathtub drain and got ready to enjoy a delightfully relaxing evening.
However, my few blissful moments of peace came crashing down when I discovered the plug wouldn’t come out. No amount of prying with my fingernails or swearing under my breath would work. I quickly regressed to animalistic instinct while trying to figure out a quick and discreet way of disposing of the body of bathwater.
I scrounged around in the cupboard and found a bucket to empty the water into the sink. However, I didn’t predict the amount of noise the water was going to make splashing down the sink, and before I knew it I heard a concerned knock at the door.
“That doesn’t sound like a shower. Is everything okay?”
I froze. I was cold, wet and wrapped in just a towel.
All I could manage in French at that moment was: “I have a … problem.”
Instant regret hit my brain as I realized how bad that sounds without context of the situation. My French mom ran to get my French dad while I got dressed as fast as I could while still soaking wet.
We all crowded into the bathroom as I tried to explain with my infantile French what had happened. However, the second I started talking I somehow managed to forget all the words for all the nouns in the bathroom, reducing me to miming the action for a plunger to try and unplug the bathtub.
I was beyond embarrassed.
My French dad emptied the rest of the bathtub, got a cheese knife from the kitchen and tried to pry it out with the sharp edge. When that didn’t work, my French mom got a wad of duct tape to try and wriggle it out that way. Nothing worked and my French dad resorted to calling the plumber while I apologized profusely. My French mom consoled me and said something I’ll never forget: “The only thing that is truly serious is death. The rest can be easily fixed one way or another.”
There are far and few experiences in life that provide as unique of a learning opportunity as living with a host family does. After spending fall quarter in France, I realized I wasn’t getting the most out of my year abroad in terms of language progression. That’s when I decided to up the ante and move in with a host family. An entire room to myself, two traditional French meals a week, breakfast in the mornings and having living breathing French people to bombard with all of my questions — what more could I want?
My French parents live in the 12 district of Paris on the southeastern side of the city. Both of their grown children have moved out, leaving me a spacious bedroom with a gorgeous view of the neighborhood. Their apartment is less than a 30-second walk from the metro and surrounded by all sorts of patisseries, bakeries and fruit merchants.
Living with a homestay family may seem less convenient and more isolated than living among other students, but I’ve found it to be one of the most rewarding decisions of my study abroad experience. Of course, it’s not necessary to live with a host family to become fluent in a language, but it’s helped me tremendously in terms of navigating French language and culture.
Needless to say, it’s been an interesting experience moving back into a family setting. Since I haven’t lived at home since high school, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have someone wash my sheets, wake me up in the morning or make breakfast for me before class. It’s quite nice.
Contrastingly, it’s been quite challenging to sacrifice speaking English in order to improve my French. By forcing myself into this purely francophone environment, I’ve voluntarily turned into a child again. I no longer have the luxury of knowing exactly what I want to say. My French mom gives me a lot of new foods to try every week and conversations are simplified and enunciated slowly for me to understand. It’s almost as if I’m reliving parts of my childhood again. For example, the hilarious misunderstandings, mortifying experiences, countless questions and games of charades that I remember fondly (and not so fondly) from back then.
I quickly forgot about “The Great Bathtub Incident 2k16” a couple nights later when my host family celebrated Chandeleur, the holiday of crêpes in France. My French parents’ excitement and eagerness to teach me about this holiday reminded me of my parents’ own excitement and eagerness to teach me about Chinese holidays when I was younger. I loved sharing this experience with my French parents while spreading different jams and chocolate onto the paper-thin pancakes. I happily munched on the sugary and chocolaty crepes while my French parents chattered about their days with me.
In some ways, it’s quite nice having a support system while living in a different country, and to have someone guide me through the frustrating experience that is studying abroad.