Jumping off Bench

Having Humor in France

When traveling, it’s important to be an ambassador of your country. What does this mean? It means wherever you are, you are an American and whatever they think of you is what they will think of all Americans. If you strut your bikini top and leggings while you’re walking down the Champs Elysée, the French are not very likely to have the best impression of Americans. However, if you dress as they do, ask for things quietly and politely (even if you must ask in English), smile, and say “please” and “thank you”. You’ll leave them with a nice impression of Americans and thus be an ambassador of your country. It’s important to show respect to their culture, their traditions and their people just as you would if they were to visit your home town. 

That being said, it’s also important to have a sense of humor when traveling. Traveling is predictably unpredictable and if you don’t have a sense of humor about it, then having to take a two hour taxi ride instead of the planned 20 minute train ride due to a strike will send your mood down the drain pretty quickly.

 To put you in the laughing mood, here’s an excerpt from “Wicked French for the Traveler” by Howard Tomb.

 “France has found favor with painters since Neanderthal times. Some of the greatest artists, Picasso and Van Gogh among them, left their native lands and moved to France permanently. Some historians believe that French sunlight has special qualities that bring colors to life for artists. Other experts insist that certain painters had simply bounced too many checks in their own countries. Whatever the reason for their presence, artists have left millions of paintings and sculptures in France.  You won’t be able to avoid seeing some of them during your stay.”

 Art museums have been idea pickup spots for centuries, since they naturally screen out the unwashed, thereby ensuring that the pool of potential mates is held at a relatively high intellectual an social level. But simply entering a house of worship such as the Louvre or Pompidou is not enough. Nor is the ‘knowing what one likes’ and gawking at it. Once muse en mettre plein la vue like Philippe de Montebello to be sure to impress one’s fellow art lover and prospective victim.

Note: Do not attempt to pronounce van Gogh. It sounds something remotely like ‘van gohjgkhh’. Stick with Vincent, ‘van-SAHN’.

Humorous phrases (with French translation) to use in the museum: 

Notice how the fruit is dramatically outlined in black.

Remarquez comme le fruit est soulingé en noir d’un façon dramatique. 

Cézanne’s little limes almost leap into your mouth.

Les petits citrons verts de Cézanne vous sautent pratiquement dans la bouche.

Have you noticed Monet’s bold use of blue here?

Avez-vouz remarqué l’audace du bleu dans ce Monet?

 The lone water lily signifies the essential loneliness of existence.

Le Nénuphar isolé incarne la solitude essentielle de l’existence.

Let’s talk about it over a cup of espresso.

Parlons-en tout en prenant un café express.

And  while you’re out at the café with your new beau or belle from the museum, you should follow some important café etiquette with your new beau or belle from the museum, you should follow some important café etiquette:

No matter how many espressos you drink while you’re there:

  1. Do not sing, even if you suddenly realize how to speak French.
  2. Do not make political speeches or announcements
  3. Do not slap strangers on the back
  4. Do not force-feed strangers or their dogs

 

Student taking pictures in France

Educational Tours in France

Whether you’re passionate about art, culture, history, architecture or exotic food, France has everything for those who love learning. Even before a college study abroad program, there are dozens of educational tours to help middle and high school students get the most out of the unique and interesting country of France.  

Enjoy coffee at a chic cafe at the Champs-Élysées, or an unforgettable meal in a brasserie hidden in Paris’ Latin Corner. Stroll the beaches of Normandy and stand on the battle site where Allied forces landed to liberate occupied France.. No matter what site or region piques your interest, France has plenty of gorgeous and educational destinations for students of all ages.

Explorica – Best of France Tour

Explorica, a travel company based out of Boston, offers plenty of opportunities for educational travel in France. For those students looking for an overview of the country, try Explorica’s Best of France tour. The 15-17 day trip introduces students to the culturally rich and diverse regions of France. From the chic shops of the Champs-Élysées to the historic Gothic châteaux in the Loire Valley to the picturesque beaches of the French Riviera, students will be able to explore the best sites in the country.

Prométour – French Classes & Homestay in Nice

Prométour Educational Tours have a few different options for students traveling to France, including their French Classes & Homestay in Nice tour, which lasts eight days. Throughout this educational tour, you’ll visit four cities in the southern part of the country: Nice, Monaco, Cannes and Eze. In each city, the students partake in a three-hour French class, where they learn the language, lifestyle and culture of France. Additionally, students are allowed to explore the cities and learn about the history of each place.

Education First – Paris in Depth Tour

Education First offers a comprehensive tour with their eight-day trip, Paris in Depth. With all-inclusive benefits, like round-trip flights, transportation throughout the trip, accommodations, a dedicated tour director, meals and activities, teachers can rest easy knowing everything is taken care of. Students will have the chance to take guided tours of popular attractions like the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre and Notre-Dame de Paris, among others. On day four, students are allowed to explore Paris on their own.

Jumpstreet Educational Tours – France Class Trip

If World War II history sparks your interest, Jumpstreet Educational Tours offer a 10-day trip to Paris, Normandy, Brittany and the Loire Valley. The trip starts in Normandy and Brittany, where you’ll retrace the roots of the Second World War. An afternoon can be spent exploring the beaches of Normandy at Longues-Sur-Mer where you can learn about the battles that happened during World War II, as well as the fortifications of the Atlantic Wall built by Nazi Germany. Of course, the tour also offers more than just war history – on day three you’ll visit Leonardo da Vinci’s home, the Clos Lucé, and the next day you’ll visit the expansive Palace of Versailles, among other adventures.

Vistas In Education – Family Stay & Custom Tours

VIE and their French partner APEC use their expert knowledge of France to offer custom educational tours throughout all of France, including standard tours of Normandy, Brittany and the Loire Valley; the Côte d’Azur and Provence; and Reims, Alsace and the French alps. Touring with a French government-certified guide allows travelers the opportunity to immerse themselves in French culture, enjoy authentic regional cuisine, and brush up on their French language skills before the capstone of the trip, a stay with a French family and a group dinner at the Eiffel Tower.

With the Family Stay, Vistas In Education gives students the unique opportunity to immerse themselves into the culture and become more than just tourists. Students make the most of what they’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to real life. Each student is welcomed as a member of their French host family and experiences the French lifestyle firsthand.. French host families will have a teenage son or daughter living at home and American students will have the chance to attend school when in session.

Son Tours – France History Tours

Son Tours strives to bring the enchanting past of France back to life with their History Tours. From imposing gothic cathedrals to royal medieval castles found in Burgundy, Anjou, Picardy, Champagne, and Alsace – students will be transported back to the time where kings and queens ruled supreme. Give your students a chance to learn about the age of the Renaissance, the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans or even back to the prehistoric period in Aquitaine, where cave paintings still exist from Europe’s earliest humans.

French Links – Unexplored Paris

French Links offers the self-proclaimed “Francophiles’ Delight” with its Unexplored Paris tour. Ideal for a week or long weekend trip, the main intention of this tour is to take you away from the standard tourist-flooded attractions and let you see another side of Paris. These hidden gems will educate and delight the student traveler, as they travel through the Marais District, the Covered Passages and the Bercy District, as well as little-known museums, art studios and more. With several different types of guided tour offerings, such as A Women’s History of Paris, Celebrities in Stone, the Middle Ages in the 21st Century and even a private cruise on the Seine.

Educational Advantage Tours – Rome Florence, Nice, Paris

This 10-day tour from Educational Advantage will give students an in-depth look into some of the most historical places in France. The Rome Colosseum will introduce students to the majesty of Roman architecture and learn about their culture. After three days in Rome, students will head to Florence and marvel at the most famous sculpture in the world, Michaelangelo’s David. On day seven, they’ll explore more of great works of classical artists, when they visit the Chagall and Matisse Museums in Nice. The trip concludes in Paris, where students can wander the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, Palace of Versailles and the Eiffel Tower.

ACIS – Le Grand Voyage Tour

With this educational tour of Trouville, the Loire Valley, Paris, Provence and Cote d’Azur, students will have an action-packed 10-day tour of the most visited regions of France. Students will be tasked with learning about the appeal and impact tourism has had in France over the last 150 years. They’ll also have the chance to explore a number of different historic sites, such as the Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct and the Château de Chenonceau.

Travelbound – Normandy-Château du Molay Food Technology

With this culinary-themed tour offered by Travelbound, student groups have the opportunity to learn about the rich culinary heritage and traditions of Normandy. Highlights of the tour include an exquisite frogs’ legs and snails tasting at dinner, some quality time with goats at a cheese farm, bread baking courses at a boulangerie, and French food preparation and ingredients training. Those students interested in learning about the food of France will relish in the chance to take expert cooking lessons at a local restaurant or culinary school.

Anglo Educational Tours – Tour The Somme

Anglo Educational Tours offer many options to the student traveling to France. One of their most popular choices, however, is the tour of the Somme. Here, students can explore some exceptionally interesting sites and enrich their learning by visiting the places read about in books. As the location of the largest battle of World War I on the Western Front, the Battle of the Somme, this tour will take students through the history and outcomes of this major international upheaval. Visit the Museum of the Great War and learn how the Allies fought off the Central Powers in 1916 during the four and a half month battle, in which more than one million soldiers were wounded or killed.

ProActive Travel – Educational Tour to Paris

With ProActive Travel’s Tour to Paris, students will be thrown into a rich and cultural experience that they can’t find in a classroom. Students are guided through all of the best attractions, like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée Marmottan Monet. Students can also easily combine their trip to Paris with guided tours of other cities, such as Normandy and the chateaus of the Loire Valley.

CEI Europe Tours – West France Tour

This tour, offered by CEI, is ideal for student groups interested in history and culture. With customizable itineraries, students can learn about some of the most intriguing attractions in the Western France region. From famous castles to the breathtaking Mont Saint-Michel Abbey, CEI offers an unforgettable experience at an affordable rate.

Rocknroll Adventures – Educational School Tours to France

With Rocknroll Adventures, students will be whisked away and immersed in the French culture on a completely custom trip. To ensure that the student group enjoys every moment of their trip, Rocknroll offers a healthy balance of outdoor adventure with historical and cultural experiences. With a designated program every day, they take the stress off of the teacher or group leader and do all the organizational work for you.

Bon Voyage!

Whether you want to take a stroll along the Seine River, look out upon Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, cook up some local cuisine or learn about the solemn history of WWII, there’s no shortage of educational tours for students in France.

Whether you’re a teacher or student looking to travel to France, there are learning opportunities for learners of all ages. With a France’s rich heritage in art, culture, history and architecture, there’s something for everyone in this beautiful country. There’s plenty to see, so what are you waiting for? All you need is a sense of adventure!

Schedule Your Tour Today with Vistas In Education!

If you’re dreaming of traveling to France, while learning all about the country’s history, culture and language along the way, reach out to Vistas In Education today. We offer a number of different opportunities for teachers and students alike. We’ll take the stress and hassle of organizing a student trip off your shoulders, giving you peace of mind knowing that everything like flight tickets, transportation, accommodations and meals are well taken care of. From personalized Family Stay programs to custom educational tours, we offer our clients an experience that they will never forget.

Find out why our clients continue to put their trust in VIE – get in touch with us today!

 

La fête de la musique!

Ernest Hemingway écrivait en 1964 « Paris est une fête ». Depuis le 21 juin 1982, la France entière devient une fête chaque année à la même date. En 1981, Jack Lang, alors ministre de la Culture, nomme un nouveau directeur de la musique et de la danse, Maurice Fleuret. Ce dernier souhaite alors créer un évènement d’envergure qui permettrait une rencontre de toutes les musiques, « sans hiérarchie de genre ni d’origine ».  La Fête de la Musique naît ainsi la même année et se déroule depuis plus de trente ans le 21 juin, jour symbolique du solstice d’été, le jour le plus long de l’hémisphère nord.

France24

La Fête de la Musique est un évènement national, gratuit et sans but lucratif. C’est majoritairement une manifestation de plein-air, des concerts sont organisés partout en France. Des représentations sont également organisées dans les prisons et les hôpitaux, afin de ne laisser personne en marge de cette célébration.

Asso-florine.com

Le succès de cette célébration a permis à la Fête de la Musique de s’exporter dans le monde entier. Elle a d’abord séduit l’Europe grâce à la charte de « La Fête Européenne de la Musique » signée à Budapest en 1997. En 2016, la Fête de la Musique a été célébrée dans 120 pays. Afin de faire vivre l’esprit de la Fête de la Musique tel qu’il a été imaginé en 1982 par Maurice Fleuret, chaque pays doit respecter la Charte européenne de la Fête de la Musique dont les principes sont la gratuité, la date du 21 juin, la diversité des pratiques musicales ou encore les concerts organisés en plein-air.

La ville de New York a adopté cette tradition. Organisée par Make Music New York, la Fête de la Musique est célébrée depuis plusieurs années dans la ville qui ne dort jamais, de Times Square à Greenwich Village en passant par Staten Island.

MMNY

Si vous avez la chance d’être en France à cette période de l’année, ne manquez surtout pas cette opportunité de profiter du soleil, de la musique et de la convivialité à la française !

Paris Plages

A Family Guide to Summer Traveling in Europe

Are you taking your family on the trip of a lifetime?

Europe offers all sorts of fantastic fun for your family’s upcoming vacation – from gorgeous beaches to historic monuments to ancient cities and more, you’ll have fun while making great memories at the same time.

If you’re searching for information on how to make your family’s trip a success, you’re in the right place. Here’s your guide to summer travel in Europe!

Tips for Traveling with a Family to Europe

There are several ways to have an enjoyable family vacation to Europe. Follow these easy tips when you’re planning your trip and on your adventure.

1) Don’t Try to Cover Everything

Unless you’re on sabbatical, you most likely won’t have the time to cover every amazing thing Europe has to offer – but that’s ok! You can still get in many of the major sites and a few of the hidden gems. You should pinpoint various spots to serve as home bases and then venture out to the surrounding areas on day trips. This will cut down on your overall travel time, which can be very exhausting, and may even end up ruining your trip with delays, cancellations and extended plane, train or bus rides.

2) Take Advantage of Free Activities

Traveling with three or more people can really rack up the costs of entertainment. If you’re trying to cut back on costs, but still want something the whole family can enjoy, there are plenty of free or discounted activities to take advantage of. For instance, the majority of European museums waive entry fees for children. If museums don’t quite pique the interest of your youngsters, there are festivals, spectacles and celebrations throughout the summer that are free to attend. Additionally, parks and playgrounds are always a fun and free way to spend your time.

3) Head to Family-Friendly Locations

Finding the best family-friendly location in Europe isn’t too hard – you will just need to conduct a little research on which locales have amenities specifically for families. London, for example, offers a dedicated kid-friendly section on their website; likewise, France also calls out family-friendly content front and center on their home page.

4) Make Sure Your Family Understands the Language & Culture

Cultural norms and languages vary from country to country, and can even differ from town to town throughout Europe. To ensure that your family is prepared, teach them some of the common phrases, manners and norms of the area you’re visiting. If one of your children gets split up from the group, how will he know how to ask for directions and navigate streets?

5) Save on Data

It’s no doubt your smartphone has become a main tool of navigation and communication for the members of your party. Just so you don’t have to take out a second mortgage on your house to pay for international data costs, encourage your kids to use wi-fi when available, as well as Skype, Google Hangouts or FaceTime as a cost-friendly way to stay in touch with each other. Maybe the most effective tactic would be to limit phone time to emergency-only use. Visiting Europe is a once-in-a-lifetime experience after all – you and your family should actually experience it in real life. If those options don’t work, there are also international data plans that will help you save on roaming charges.

6) Connect & Reflect

Kids have a tendency to forget things. To ensure the significance of a trip to Europe doesn’t go over their heads, have them keep a journal or diary of their day-to-day activities. Encourage them to record everything they’re experiencing, from the sights that they see, to the people that they interact with and the words that they learn. They may not be keen on the idea in the moment, but they will thank you later when they have a journal full of travel memories.

Best Family-Friendly Places in Europe

Now that you’re armed with some traveling tips, you’re probably itching to choose a family-friendly location for your upcoming vacation. Here are some of our favorite places for families to travel in Europe.

Paris, France

Paris is a spectacular city with plenty of affordable family activities. Simply wandering around the streets, avenues and town squares will offer plenty of exposure to the local culture, including street vendors, performers and painters, historic monuments, and gorgeous scenery.

The summer is an especially nice time to visit Paris, when the city gets a beach. Paris-Plages (Paris Beaches) is a plan run by the office of the mayor of Paris that creates temporary artificial beaches each summer along the river Seine in the center of Paris, and along the Bassin de la Villette in the northeast of Paris. These are the perfect place to layout in the sun and take a dip in the nearby pools during the hot months.

Another added benefit to visiting the City of Lights with your family is seeing the famous museums; the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay and many other museums in the city are free for kids up to 18 years old, with many also offering student deals to those a little older. It’s also free to tour the famous Notre Dame Cathedral.  There is a small fee to climb the tower stairs at Notre Dame, but perched among the stone gargoyles, you’ll have an incredible view of the city.

If you’re traveling to Paris with small children, you may be delighted to know that there is a Disneyland located in the city. In many ways, Euro Disney has been adapted to suit European families and their cultural sensibilities, giving a delightful twist on an American classic that can be well worth the day trip.

London, England

As one of the oldest and largest cities in Europe, London offers endless amounts of activities for every family. A trip to London could last a few days or an entire year – and you still couldn’t fit in all of fun things to do. From fashion and music to finance and politics, London is a gorgeous city, so you want to try to experience all of the best things while you’re there.

If you’re travelling to London during the summer, something you must do with your family is the London eye, an iconic riverside ferris wheel located on the South Bank of the River Thames. You’ll witness stunning views from high above the city, and when you’re done, enjoy food from one of the many local vendors. Tickets can be purchased at a discount online, starting at £18.95 for children and £23.45 for adults for a 30-minute rotation.

Another great family-friendly activity is the London Zoo, the world’s oldest scientific zoo. Major attractions include the Lion Lodge, where you can sleep over at the park, the aquarium hallways, which makes you feel like you’re underwater, or let your kids feed the giraffes, monkeys and birds and watch their faces glow with wonder.

Try traveling the Chunnel of taking a EuroStar train to travel between Paris and London. With the ease and accessibility, you can see both stunning cities in the same day!

And what would a trip to London be without learning a little bit of history? Visit iconic buildings like Big Ben, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the Tower Bridge to marvel at some of the most famous architectural structures in the world. Wherever you go within the city, you’ll always find something amazing.

The French Alps

When you think of the French Alps, winter villages, intimidating ski runs and hot cocoa probably come to mind. However, the area can be even more fun during the summer, with unmatched outdoor activities like alpine hiking, swimming and biking.

If you’re travelling with young children, consider heading to Chamonix, France. It’s an adequately-sized town that has plenty of activities for visiting families. If the heat is getting to you and want to take a dip, head to Lac de Passy which reaches the perfect temperature during the summer, and it’s only a 30-minute drive from the town.

If your children are a bit older, you may score some brownie points by taking them to Tignes, which recently opened a mountain biking park and cross-country ski tracks with difficulty levels from green to double black. There’s even a resort right on the grounds for easy access to and from the park.

Of course, among all the things a trip to the French Alps offers, hiking remains one of the most popular activities – and for good reason. Surrounded by picturesque views, you will see the unique features and faces that make this mountainous region so famous. And you don’t have to be Bear Grylls to see it, either. There are a number of gondolas, chairlifts and cable cars that transport sightseers up and down the mountainsides so they can view the jagged peaks. Additionally, there are fantastic day walks that can be done from many main resorts, and guided tours available in most places.

Florence, Italy

As the birthplace of the Renaissance and once kingdom of the Medici family, Florence is home to some of the world’s most significant art and architecture. The city contains dozens of museums and art galleries that have influenced the fields of art, culture and politics alike. If you want to inspire a lifetime of memories for the entire family, take them to one of the most artistically-important cities in the world.

During summer, a peak tourist time, try the Oltrarno district, located across the river from the Ponte Vecchio. It’s normally less crowded, which is great for families with children. The area offers vendors serving up local cuisine, picnicking spots in the Boboli Gardens and musical performances in the Palazzo Pitti courtyard.

And, of course, you can’t visit Florence without visiting the Duomo. This is the city’s most prized architectural treasure, a grand cathedral toured by thousands of tourists every day. Your family will marvel at the breathtaking size, gorgeous dome and detailed design; something they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Zakynthos Island, Greece

This island tucked away on the southwest side of Greece in the Ionian Sea is a popular summer vacation destination. With several popular beaches featuring white sand, crystal-clear blue water and sheer limestone cliffs, many families head to this island getaway for much-needed rest and relaxation.

Navagio Beach, otherwise known as Shipwreck Beach, is an exposed cove on the coast of the island, and is the location of a famous shipwreck of the freightliner the MV Panagiotis. The ship was left there and still rests partially buried on the edge of the beach. Tourists can access the island by boat to explore the area and take photographs.

Another thing tourist families love to do while they’re visiting Zakynthos is to visit the town of Kalamaki, which is a nesting place for the endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtle. The turtles are most active during the summer and can be seen from both boats and the shore – they may even come up to you and say hello!

Best of Luck Traveling with Your Family in Europe!

Now that you know the best travel tips and family-friendly locations, you’re ready to plan your trip. Whether you choose to visit the famous museums of Paris, the sleepy summer mountain towns of the Alps or the warm sandy beaches of Zakynthos Island, Europe has something that every family member will enjoy.

Cheers to your upcoming trip!

Eiffel Tower Cloudy

STATravel Reviews: Is STA worth it?

As the self-proclaimed largest travel company for students and young people, STAtravel offers transportation, hotels, insurance, planning information and more for those youngsters who want to see the world.

Whether you’re traveling to China for the summer or exploring Europe during a gap year, STA may offer some of the best deals around – but is there a catch?

Let’s breakdown some of the Internet’s best reviews and decide whether or not it’s worth it to use STA Travel.

What is STA Travel?

STA Travel is a student and youth online travel company that consistently offers deals for destinations such as:

  • Australia
  • China
  • France
  • Germany
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa
  • Switzerland
  • Thailand
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

The organization offers low fares, group travel trips, insurance assistance, discount cards and more, that are structured to help young people afford to travel the world. Their site also features preparation information to assist students in planning their trips.

With all of these benefits, it seems like a no-brainer, but let’s take a look at what some people have been saying about the travel company.

Take a Look at the Reviews for Yourself

There’s no better way to see what a company is all about than to read their reviews online. So, we curated a few of the more informational ones to help you decide whether or not you should choose STA for your next trip.

Worst Customer Service Assistants Ever

1 out of 5, reviewed 1/7/2017

This is the last year I will use STA travel for overseas trips. All the customer assistance employees I have dealt with have been disinterested and barely helpful. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m a mature aged customer or they just don’t like their jobs much. I rang the STA I booked my ticket with to find out if my Qatar Airlines flight would be affected by the gulf state’s ban on everything from Qatar and they didn’t even ring me back! Judging by the poor reviews on this site, STA’s poor customer service is systemic and the head office obviously doesn’t want to rectify the problem. I’ll take my money elsewhere in future.

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It seems the majority of negative reviews mention STA’s customer service – or lack thereof. If something goes wrong with your booking, itinerary or payment, you may end up spending long hours on the phone, or possibly days to weeks waiting for a refund or response from a customer service representative.

Slow and Inefficient Customer Service

2 out of 5, reviewed 2/6/2016

We booked numerous flights with STA with a flexible pass which we thought would be great. It is not!! It is difficult to contact them to change flights and then they respond with the wrong information 3 days later! So stressful when you’re away trying to enjoy a trip! Its taken me nearly 2 weeks just to change one flight!

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Again, poor customer service is being reported, in addition to wrong information and communication difficulties. STA does operate offices in more than 20 countries across five continents, meaning their workforce is expansive. You’re always open to the possibility of chatting with a subpar customer service rep.

Make Sure You Scrutinize Your Itinerary Very Carefully

3 out of 5, reviewed 10/4/2013

I have used STA travel many times over the years and have usually had pretty good experiences with them. I recently returned from a trip to London; on the outbound connecting flight from Hong Kong to Australia I was very annoyed to find out that my flight was not as stated on my STA itinerary. Seems that I was making a stop enroute to my destination. This would not have been such a big issue, but the stop was not made clear to me when I booked, and this extra stop added many more unnecessary hours to the flight causing me a lot of confusion.

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Because it is a large company, and customer service appears to be below average, you should ensure that you scrutinise your itinerary meticulously when booking through STA. If you notice something seems off, call customer service right away, as it could take some time to get it modified or cancelled.

Great Site for Travel Deals for Anyone under 27

4 out of 5, reviewed on Apr 21, 2008

Great site for travel deals for anyone under 27 – you can qualify for most of the deals on STA even if you are not a student (you can also easily lie about being a student if they ask you). Before you book your trip on any travel site, you should check here first — there are deals on plane tickets, hotels, rail passes, etc. Also, some of the group trips are fun if you want to meet other people on your trip.

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As this reviewer said, some of the deals on STA Travel are simply unbeatable. Those students traveling to Europe on a budget can certainly benefit from the reduction in costs on plane, bus or train fares, as well as low-rate insurance and discount cards. If you want to meet new friends, they also offer group trips for affordable prices.

Couldn’t have Asked for Anything More

5 out of 5, reviewed 7/31/2014

I booked my Europe & America gap year with STA Travel Bondi Junction. The woman sat with me for as long as I needed, answered every question and if she couldn’t, she called a friend who had been to that place. She hooked me up with an ISIC student card, gave me discounts on everything possible and booked me into some awesome Busabout adventures. When I received confirmation, all the prices and procedures for cancelling and changing dates were explained. And to top it off, a comparative website said that my 5 flights would cost over $4,000 and STA managed them for $1,700 (great airlines too like Virgin, Emirates & Qantas). I plan to use STA Travel for my Summer trip to Asia. Great business!

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This happy traveler has the opposite opinion on customer service as the one-star reviewer, however this person also went into the local office and met with someone in person. Again, this reviewer is raving about the deals they received and how much money they saved ($3,300 isn’t bad!) The discount card is also a nice perk, letting you receive deals at stores across dozens of countries.

 

Is STA Travel Worth It?

Overall, our analysis is that STA Travel is worth it – for most people.

STA offers good information for the world traveler and better deals for those traveling on a budget, but you may end up getting ripped off, or deal with underwhelming customer service once in awhile. For what it is intended for though, STA may be the right option for someone in college who wants to have some of the complexity of traveling abroad simplified for them.

With even more factors and unpredictability at play with group travel, having a trusted partner with a long-established reputation and in-country expertise can make all the difference for educational travel to France. Choose Vistas in Education if you want to make sure your experience is well-planned and hassle-free – as VIE focuses solely on making student and group travel to France excellent and authentically enriching.

map of france's cities

The Students Guide to Exploring Different Regions of France

Are you getting ready for the trip of a lifetime? For students travelling to France, you’ll be embarking on an adventure that you won’t soon forget – full of history, art, architecture, and of course food.

Every region in France is unique and features different opportunities for days of sightseeing and adventures. If you’re hopping the pond and heading to France, be sure to research the country’s most popular areas so you can make the most of your time abroad.

We’ll help you out by highlighting some of the top regions and départements (the French equivalent of an American state) that we think you should explore.

Île-de-France

Surrounded by rivers including Essonne, Epte, Aisne, Eure, Ourcq, and the region-spanning Seine which separates the two sides of Paris, the Ile de France region is where the country as we know it was born. In this temperate basin, the most popular cities for student tourists include Paris, Versailles, Fontainebleau and Giverny. With lively culture abound, you’ll find trendy bistros, quaint cafes and quirky bookshops mixed with medieval monuments and ancient landmarks around every corner. If you’re looking for old-world charm and the epitome of French culture, Ile de France is the region for you.

The Loire Valley

This region boasts two ancient provinces, Anjou and Touraine, which were adored by French royalty and nobility. Before Henry IV moved his court to Paris, kings, princes and barons built the most gorgeous castles in the Loire Valley. Some of these castles include Chambord, Cheverny, Amboise, and Villandry. Many are available to tour for a small fee.

Brittany

Extending into the Atlantic Ocean, Brittany occupies the westernmost region of the country, where rocky coastlines, celtic heritage, rainy weather and a regional language and history define the culture.

The area is home to many ancient archeological wonders. In fact, one of the oldest hearths in the world has been found in Plouhinec, Finistère, and is still standing at an age of 450,000 years old.

Carnac, the area’s most historic city, is home to one of the most extensive Neolithic menhir (ancient, massive standing stone) collections in the world. Celtic tribes inhabited the region following the prehistoric era, and ties to the Gaelic tongues of Wales and Ireland can still be heard in the local language of Breton.

This region is also a popular destination for French vacationers who visit the sandy beaches, jutting cliffs and relatively affordable lifestyle.

Normandy

Since we’re on the subject of historical places, Normandy, located in northern France, is home to one of the most famous sites of World War II: the D-Day landing beaches. But with over 370 miles of coastline and a thriving tourist industry, there’s plenty to see beyond the 1944 invasion site. It’s a favored getaway spot for those retreating from the congestion and pace of cities, and many hotels, restaurants and shopping centers are frequented by tourists year-round. A few other fantastic attractions in the region include the Rouen cathedral, the abbey of Jumièges, the island abbey of Mont St. Michel, and medieval Bayeux with its famous tapestry.

The Ardennes & Northern Beaches

Often overlooked by American tourists, this northern region is known for its beach resorts and historic sights. This region, bordering Belgium, features one of the most embattled areas in France, with its best known port, Calais being a contested military stronghold for centuries.

Today’s port is more peaceful, filled with ferries instead of battle ships for tourists to travel along its waters. If you’re interested in historical architecture, try visiting the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Amiens, the medieval capital of Picardy, featuring the highest nave in France at 138 feet high.

Lorraine

Located in the northeast corner of France, Lorraine borders Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg. While Lorraine is the famous for being the birthplace of Joan of Arc and the countless wars it has experienced, those aren’t the only things that draws students to the region.

The peaks of the Vosges forest is the nearest thing to an extensive wilderness area you’ll find in France and offers pleasant hiking trails for the outdoorsman.

With renowned cuisine — especially the signature foie gras et choucroute (fattened duck or goose liver and sauerkraut) — wines and beers, Lorraine is a hotspot for foodies from all over the world.

Champagne

Champagne offers historical sightseeing like no other region in the country. A significant amount of France’s history is tied with the region’s holy site of Reims, where every French monarch since A.D. 496 has been crowned. Any invader wishing to take Paris would have to first go through Reims and the Champagne district. Even all the way up to World War I, the region has been exposed a large amount of brutal battles.

If you’re a student of age (legal drinking age in France is 18), here’s a fun fact: The 78-mile road from Reims to Vertus, one of the Routes of Champagne, is home to a trio of winegrowing regions that produce 80 percent of the world’s champagne.

Burgundy

If you’re looking for leisurely time off from your studies, head to the Burgundy region of France, which is filled with incredible cuisine – local specialties include dijon mustard, boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and wines coveted the world over.

You’ll also find stunning old-world cities, like the capital, Dijon.  Known as the “City of a Hundred Towers”, Dijon  was once the Roman crossroads between the Mediterranean and northern Europe and was home to the mighty Dukes of Burgundy.

If you’re interested in religious history, head to the region’s Fontenay Abbey, where churches, cloisters, dormitories and more have been preserved for centuries. This gives visitors a chance to glimpse into what life was like in a medieval Cistercian abbey.

Wine Regions of Bordeaux

Another area that sees fewer American tourists is the wine regions of Bordeaux. While the area mostly offers flat, fertile land, it is home to towns that were pivotal in French history. Saintes, for example, has noteworthy Gallo-Roman, medieval and classical heritage, making it a popular tourist destination and a member of the French Towns and Lands of Art and History.

Active in wine and liquor production, the area’s villages also produce such celebrated libations such as Cognac, Margaux, St. Emilion and Sauternes. With abundant wine growing areas, varying widely in size and sometimes overlapping, the region is centred around the city of Bordeaux.

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Occupying the lower-eastern portion of the country, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is a newly-formed region that features the country’s second-largest metropolitan area, Lyon. Just a short, two-hour train ride from Paris, it’s relatively easy to get to the place known as France’s “Second City.”  As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lyon is known for its historical and architectural landmarks and its role in the history of cinema.

A good time to visit the city is during its famous light festival, Fête des Lumières, occurring every December, allowing Lyon to claim the title “Capital of Lights.” From Lyon, you can travel north to explore through the Rhône Valley toward Provence. Travel south of Lyon and you’ll be able to see medieval villages and ancient Roman ruins in Pérouges and Vienne.

The French Alps

Bordering the Rhône-Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur regions, the French Alps offer some of the world’s best skiing. With snowcapped mountains, ancient glaciers and crystal-clear alpine lakes, the French Alps also feature some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery. While the region attracts some of the most affluent people from all over the world, if you’re a student on a budget, we’ve got some good news. Lift ticket prices are a fraction of the price that they are in the United States. Chamonix, a famous ski resort facing Mont Blanc, western Europe’s highest mountain, has one-day passes that range from $47 to $67. If you’re travelling to the French Alps during the summer, you can visit indulgent spa resorts including Evian and the relaxing 19th-century resorts at Lake Geneva.

Provence

Home of the French Alps and bordered by Italy on its eastern side, Provence has often been considered the playground of the rich and famous. With premier destinations like Aix-en-Provence, associated with Hemingway and Cézanne; Arles, the city known as “The Soul of Provence” and captured in a famous painting by Vincent van Gogh; Avignon, the 14th-century capital of Christianity; and Marseille, the country’s third largest city, after Lyon and Paris. The unknown beauties of the region include Nostradamus’s birthplace of St-Rémy-de-Provence and Les Baux de Provence.  Nature enthusiasts will find a myriad of options for hiking and camping.

Côte d’Azur – The French Riviera

The majesty of the Azure Coast makes it a tourist hotspot in the country of France. It’s an affordable option for students who want to travel to its famed beaches and coastal resorts. Nice, the region’s biggest city, is a popular destination for French tourists that want to visit the Mediterranean Sea.

Since the Renaissance, the picturesque surroundings of Nice have attracted not only those beach-goers and sun-bathers, but some of Western culture’s most notable painters like Henri Matisse, Arman and Marc Chagall. Their work is proudly displayed in the city’s many museums, including Musée Marc Chagall, Musée Matisse and Musée des Beaux-Arts.

The Dordogne

The land of delightful foie gras and delectable truffles, found in southwestern France is also home to some of Europe’s oldest settlements. Dordogne offers gourmet eating and wine-tasting, gorgeous chateaux, villages and historic sights, making it one of the most popular vacation destinations in France. In the Périgord, the cave paintings at Les Eyzies have shown traces of Cro-Magnon (first early modern human) settlements.

The Pyrénées

Located along the border with Spain between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, southwestern France features one of Europe’s most unique cultures. The region’s hidden villages, beach towns, and culinary traditions are ripe for discovery for anyone travelling through France.

Biarritz, on the Atlantic, features some of the best surfing in France. Toulouse, a major city and the regional capital of Occitanie, boasts two UNESCO World Heritage sites — the Canal du Midi and the Basilica of St. Sernin, the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe and an important stop along the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.

Throughout the year, millions of Catholics make annual pilgrimages to the City of Lourdes, located on the edge of the Pyrénées. In the small mountain villages and towns, the old folkloric traditions, filled with Spanish influences, are still prevalent.

Have Fun Travelling to the Regions of France!

Crossing these regions off your travel list will give you the chance see everything France has to offer as a cultural and historical destination. There is so much history and culture to learn by visiting the towns, villages and homes of the French people. Now that you know more about these regions and départements, you can pack your bags and plan your travels accordingly.

For students travelling to France, we hope you have a fantastic trip — Bon voyage !

paris climate guide image

The Climate in France: A Seasonal Guide on What to Wear

There are a number of diverse climates in France, each featuring certain characteristics that you need to prepare for. Wherever you’re traveling to in France, packing accordingly will make your trip go better overall. Here are some general tips for what to wear depending on which season and region you’ll be visiting.

Geography of France

France covers an area of 248,573 mi², and is the largest country in the European Union. Metropolitan France has over 2,100 miles of coastline, bordering the Atlantic Ocean, North Sea, Mediterranean Sea and the English Channel. With the exception of its northeastern border, the country is mostly surrounded by seas, oceans and other natural borders like the Rhine river, and the Jura, Alps and Pyrénées mountain ranges.

Climate of France

In general, France has a pleasantly temperate climate. France is split into four distinct climate regions:

  • Oceanic climate (western France): This region sees normal rainfall scattered over many days and features modest annual temperature fluctuations.
  • Continental climate (central and eastern France): This region features cold winters and hot summers.
  • Mediterranean climate (south eastern France): South eastern France features warm and dry summers. Damp but mild weather and rainfall in October to April and steady sunshine throughout the year.
  • Mountain climate (at or above 600-800m altitudes): High amounts of rainfall, snow falls three to six months per year.

Best Time To Visit

Overall, France is a popular year-round destination, with an agreeable climate in most regions of the country. Summer (June-August) is the peak season for tourists, when it is warm and sunny at many of the popular destinations.

Southern France is balmy during its spring, from March to May, and during the fall, from September to October. These are less popular times to visit, meaning prices are considerably lower. Tourism picks back up from December to March throughout ski season at major resorts in places like the Alps and Pyrénées.

The northeastern region will see warmer summers and colder winters. In the western coastal destinations, the Atlantic affects the climate where the weather is generally mild with rainfall throughout the year. Prepare for hot and sunny summers if you’re planning on visiting this region, remember to pack sunscreen and a hat.

Required Clothing

For the summer in all areas, you should pack light, breathable clothing. You should bring waterproof winter gear if you’re visiting the mountains, all year round. In winter, even in the Mediterranean part, you’ll need a sweatshirt or jacket for the nighttime.

paris in winter

Paris during Winter under Snowfall.

Packing for the Weather

When packing for the weather in France, here are a few tips that you should keep in mind:

  • The weather in France can change quickly, so dressing in layers is important to fight fluctuating temperatures.
  • It’s always smart to pack a travel umbrella and a lightweight raincoat to fend off any rain that might suddenly appear.
  • Winter can bring sub-freezing temperatures, so dress accordingly by bringing your coat, gloves, hat, scarf and other winter clothing.
  • In summer, throughout the country, wear sunscreen, bring sunglasses and a sunhat.
  • In the cooler spring season, bring semi-warm clothing and dress in layers to protect from chilly days.

General Style Tips

France is the home of fashion – if you’re a tourist, you don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb. Follow these general style tips to fit in with the trends of style culture:

  • Go for a smart, chic, stylish look. Tailored or well-fitting clothes will serve better than baggy clothes or t-shirts with logos.
  • Black always is in style in France.
  • If you are traveling to any of the big cities, leave your swimsuit at home – there are few places to use it.
  • Beyond Paris and other cities, such as the countryside and the beach, dress is normally more relaxed, conservative and practical, but still smart and stylish.

Weather forecasts are available:

If you’re looking for the weather forecast, try one of these options:

  • by calling 0892 68 02 XX (XX: No department – 0.34 € / min).
  • by logging on to www.meteo.fr
  • Try the Weather+ app – it gives helpful six day forecasts for both night and day, which can help with planning. It also tracks all the places you’ve been to. Download for iPad/iPhone or Android
Saving for Trip to Europe

Student Strategies in Saving for a Trip to Europe

Are you dreaming of looking out over Paris at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or marveling at London’s legendary Big Ben? Perhaps you’re captivated by the Roman Coliseum or the Parthenon in Athens. Regardless of where you want to go, if you’re a student planning a trip to Europe, you need to have money in the bank to make your dream trip a reality. Don’t worry – Vistas in Education is here to help! Here are some useful money saving strategies for students so you can make your European trip a reality.

Create a Budget

Budgeting is extremely important when trying to save money. With a budget, you can lay out all of your planned and potential expenses. Try and think through what you’ve spent money on in the past month. Some of your costs may include gas for your car, food, cell phone bill and going out with friends. Whatever you’re spending your money on, it all adds up, ultimately detracting from your potential to save for your trip. A budget will help shed light on areas where you can trim excess expenditures.

Open a Bank Account

If you don’t already have a bank account, you should open one as soon as possible. A savings and checking account makes money management much easier. Consolidating your money in one place lets you track your savings progress and keeps it safe. Almost all banks also offer incentives to store your money in their vaults in the form of interest. If you’re new to banking, research your options – many banks offer a sign-up bonus, giving you a little monetary boost that you can put towards your trip.

Avoid Using a Credit Card, Use Cash (Sparingly) Instead

With a credit card comes the responsibility of self-discipline when buying. A credit card makes it easy to swipe away any items you want to purchase without thinking of the spendy repercussions. Another downside to credit cards is accrued interest. This means that if you don’t pay off your credit card balance every month, you could end up paying excessive fees, often up to 30 percent of your total expenditures. Instead of using plastic, try using cash instead. Physical money lets you reconsider if you really need to supersize that meal or purchase that expensive shirt.

Watch for Bank Fees

Bank accounts, while very useful, often carry certain fees that can be devastating to your saving efforts. For example, many bank cards won’t absorb ATM fees when you withdraw cash, which can vary from $2-5 every time you get cash. Try using your bank’s designated ATM, which should be free. Or, you can get cash back by buying something cheap, like a pack of gum at a cash register, using a debit card. In a similar vein, don’t overspend on your debit card. With overdraft fees, that apply every time you overdraw on your account, it can really eat into money that you’ve saved up.

Take Advantage of Student Discounts

Whether you’re buying school supplies, books, clothing or even coffee, there are tons of companies that offer student discounts. Take advantage at checkout by asking the clerk if they offer any discounts for students. For more information on which stores do offer discounts, check out this guide, 40 Stores that Give a Student Discounts.

Learn How to Cook / Don’t Eat Out

Even if your local sub shop does offer a student discount, avoid eating out regularly. Instead, learn how to cook a few good meals that you can store over the week and reheat as needed. And always pack a lunch, or at the very least a snack. The average meal when eating out costs an $12.75. It will add up quickly if you go out a few times a week, which really puts a dent in your wallet.

Get a Summer Job

If you have the summer off from school, look into getting a part-time or full-time job to help you generate some income that can go towards your trip. Whether it’s bagging groceries, mowing lawns or working at the movie theater, there are no shortage of jobs for high schoolers during the summer. Not only will you save up some extra dough, you’ll be able to get out of the house and away from your parents!

Lower your Cell Phone Use

Instead of chatting on your phone, try using free video calling programs like Skype, chat programs like Facebook Messenger, or the always classic email when you’re connected to wi-fi. Avoid watching videos, downloading large pictures, or talking on the phone for hours when you’re using LTE to decrease excessive data charges. As cell phones evolve from a luxury to a necessity, it’s becoming all the more important to monitor your usage of mobile devices.

Avoid Impulse Buying Situations

If you’re prone to making impulse purchase, curb that behavior by avoiding shopping completely. Unless you’re buying something you need, such as food, don’t even put yourself in a situation where you could spend frivolously. If you happen to be in a situation where you feel like buying something, stop and consider how many hours you would have to work to pay for it.

 

Ready to See Europe? Start Saving Today!

Whether you’re dreaming of walking along the beautiful beaches of Croatia, watching a soccer match in Madrid, or seeing the Mona Lisa in person at the Louvre, it will cost you a pretty penny to make it happen. Follow these steps and in no time you’ll be well on your way to saving enough money for your dream trip to Europe. Bon Voyage!

Student Travel Deals

10 Student Travel Deals to Take Advantage of in France

Are you getting ready for the trip of a lifetime? Travelling in France as a student may seem a little nerve-racking at first, but once you get there, you’ll be creating memories that last forever. While being a student likely means that you’re strapped for cash, don’t worry. There are plenty of student travel deals to take advantage of once you make the trip across the pond. Here are 10 of the best ways to save money when travelling in France:

Eurostar Train

Eurostar is the only high speed train that directly links France, the UK and Belgium via the Channel Tunnel, or “Chunnel”. Eurostar takes travellers from city center to city center, and is perfect for students travelling on a budget in Europe. Prices are affordable, starting at £45 for a one-way ticket from London to Paris.

Discount Airlines

To save money when travelling in France and throughout Europe, consider buying plane tickets through discount airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair. Tickets can range from $50-$80 in most cases, giving you an affordable and convenient way to visit other cities. There’s only one downfall – these budget tickets are usually non-refundable and non-changeable, so make sure your plans are concrete when you book a flight.

Take the Bus

Buses are a quick and inexpensive option when travelling around France’s cities. The bus system in France is extensive and you can reach most places by a local or regional bus, normally for just a few euros. While the bus systems can be confusing, you can contact the tourism office of the region or town you’re planning on visiting ahead of time to ask for information, recommended scheduling and a map.

Consider Flying into one of the Cheaper Airports

There are 155 airports in the country of France, meaning you should have several options to choose from when purchasing your plane ticket. The main airports that usually offer the cheapest airfare are:

  • Lyon – Saint-Exupéry
  • Toulouse – Blagnac
  • Nice – Côte d’Azur
  • Paris – Charles de Gaulle
  • Paris – Orly

 

Buy Your Plane Ticket Before Peak Tourist Season

France experiences their peak tourist season from roughly mid-June through the end of August. Knowing this, you can save some money by booking your trip during the off-seasons. Booking from November through spring break in March can make a big difference in the cost of the flight.

Stay in Hostels or Try Airbnb

If you’re a student on a budget in France, hostels offer great accommodations, especially in Paris. You can find a common area, or dorm-style room in paris for just €15, while a private room is around €50. Another option is to check out Airbnb where you can find one-of-a-kind accommodations for fairly affordable prices.

Visit the Free Sights

France has many must-see attractions, like museums, churches, parks, and the Eiffel Tower. Many of these are free for tourists, such as the Maison de Balzac, and Maison de Victor Hugo (museums), the famous Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, or the beaches of Normandy where the Western Allies of World War II launched the largest amphibious invasion in history. If you want to visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris, we suggest walking to save some money; adults over the age of 25 willing to take the 704 stairs to the second floor pay €7, those aged 12 to 24 years pay €5 euros, and children 4 to 11 pay €3 euros. Admission tickets with elevator access to the second floor cost €11, €8.50, and €4, respectively.

Avoid Frivolous Spending on Shopping

If you’re travelling on a budget, especially in Paris, avoid frivolous spending on shopping. High taxes and labor costs can make material goods quite pricey for the average student. Instead, we recommend that you save your money and spend it on once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Head to the Grocery Store

Instead of eating out for every meal, head to the grocery store for a cheaper way to eat and refuel. Not only will they have everything you need to stave off hunger, you’ll find food that’s just as authentic at any restaurant. If you’re old enough, they have much better deals on wine as well!

Use the Bike Share Program

Many cities have bike-share programs that offer an affordable and active way to see the sights. For example, the Paris bike-share program boasts over 20,000 bikes at 1,800 stations located in convenient stations around the city. You can use the bikes by purchasing a one-day pass for €1.70 or a one-week pass for €8.

Take Advantage of Your Age

If you’re a student, most likely between the ages of 12-25, you’re in luck! In that age bracket, many of the aforementioned items are discounted even further, such as museum passes, metrocards, bus rides, almost anything. All you need to do is ask–and bring your ID to prove your age. Regardless of how old you are, many of these discounts are also available with a simple student ID (and most places accept international student photo IDs).

Best of Luck with Your Trip to France!

While travelling to France on a budget may seem tough, it’s more than possible to see all the sights when you’re a cash-strapped student. Just be smart with your money by finding public transportation, avoiding tourist traps like expensive restaurants and clothing stores, seeing free attractions, and taking advantage of student discounts. Once you’re in France, you’ll realize that you don’t need that much money to find student travel deals and create memories that will last a lifetime. Bon courage et bon voyage!

Restaurant France

Why you should stay with a family in France

From guest blogger Elise! See her earlier post “How a Séjour en France Can Change Your Life” 

Why you should stay with a family in France

When I first decided to go abroad to France, it didn’t actually register that I would be living with host families. It wasn’t until after I received my location, the small village of Ploërmel in Bretagne, learned about my new school, and had to write my first introductory letter to my new “parents” that I realized that I was about to step into the real lives of other people. If you are anything like me, this reality made me a little nervous. But while it may seem daunting to live with a family different from your own, the fear and any negatives are far outweighed by the positives of such an adventure.

Language acquisition

Living with a host family is one of the best ways to become fluent in your target language. Being fluent is not just about correct grammar, and an extensive vocabulary. Fluency requires an in-depth knowledge of colloquial expressions, cultural nuance, and accent. All of these come naturally when living with a host family. Host brothers and sisters make sure that you are using trending expressions. Younger siblings have an innocent yet direct way of correcting the way you pronounce words and parents are quick to offer alternative ways of saying otherwise delicate things. As you spend time with locals, you’ll naturally begin to imitate the way they speak which eventually leads to a loss of your own American accent. By the time I left France, strangers didn’t actually know where I was from! They would start talking to me and then a cloudy look would come across their face. “Et d’où viens-tu mademoiselle?” “And where are you from, miss?” they’d say. To this day, I get a certain amount of pleasure of asking them in return where they think I’m from. People have all sorts of explanations for my accent- “you must come from the north of France,” “maybe Belgium,” “oh I know, one parent is Swiss, and the other German.” To see the looks on their faces when I tell them that I was born in the United States to parents who didn’t speak any French at all, was the best!

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Relationships

Living with a host family is by far the easiest way to become part of a community. When you are in a new place, there is nothing more intimidating than knowing no one and having to make all new friends. Staying with a host family helps a lot! Their friends become your acquaintances, if not your best friends. Their social calendar becomes your social calendar. On the second day of my year in France, my host family arranged for me to spend time with the friends of their daughter who was studying in the United States at the time. On day two, you can only imagine how poor my French was but somehow I got through the day and came away with some new friends! I got to know other people during my year but my first friends remained my best friends– and those are friendships I still hold dear.

Personal Growth

Being a part of a local family meant an amazing opportunity for participation in local cultural events. I joined my host family for Friday evening community dances, Red Cross fundraising events, and my host dad even ran for mayor. At 16, I had a front row seat to local French politics! How thrilling! For holidays, I joined the family for their traditional celebrations which included dinners that lasted 4-5 hours and many delicacies that were new for me. I experienced life at their rhythm and pace. This inevitably left me to reflect on my experience. I spent a lot of time thinking about differences and similarities between me and them, between Americans and the French. Perhaps, one of my fondest memories in my host family were the conversations I had with my host dad each evening. We would spend an hour or two after dinner discussing events of the day, and world news. We talked a lot about nothing and everything all at the same time. I was surprised by the number of similarities between our two cultures. And perhaps more importantly, I learned to laugh at our differences as opposed to 1) fearing them or 2) assuming my own superiority. People and cultures should never be subjected to a ranking system, but despite their differences, can co-exist harmoniously.

I don’t pretend to suggest that living with a family abroad doesn’t come with its own difficulties but every time I think back on my experience in France, I am reminded of how essential the home stay was in developing me as a person. It’s worth it.

Until next time… A bientôt!

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