One week flew by like a blur. Before we knew it, we were having our last breakfast together early in the morning on Saturday, September 2nd. The food was the same, but for us, it was the little bit of time left to exchange the last pieces of gossip. After, we returned to our rooms to do the final packing, and met downstairs thirty minutes later with our (a bit heavier) luggage gathered together.
Not long after, it was time for the exchange students who take the train to leave in groups according to the train station they were to go to. Hugs and last minute Instagram exchanges were made. With my Taiwanese friends we practiced “la bise”, which was the way French people greet and say goodbye to each other, with their cheeks touching two times each side and making kissing sounds accordingly. I stood with Patricia and Nicole and watched as group after group walked out the FIAP and towards the shuttle that was to take them to the train stations. Soon, we along with about fifteen other exchange students were the only people of PIE left in the lobby, waiting for our host families to come pick us up. Nervously, we sat together on a couch and watched as pair after pair of French parents strode in, some accompanied by children, and exchange students jumping up and approaching as they recognized their host family.
We held our breaths as the main door of the FIAP opened again – and in walked a petit woman with curly light brown hair and glasses. I inhaled sharply as I recognized her as my host mother Isabelle. As she waited for the check-in with a PIE staff, she glanced around and we made eye contact. I rose from my seat and half-ran towards my host mother, doing my first “bise” with a French. My host father Gilles was parking the car somewhere down the street and arrived three minutes later, with a huge smile on his face. He was just as enthusiastic as he appeared when we made a video call on the first day of contact. They told me that there was a meeting for first-time hosting parents, and I had to wait downstairs with other students until it was over.
Almost an hour later, the host parents started to descend the staircase and rejoin with their exchange students. Papa and Maman found me beside my luggage and they each took a suitcase. I followed them outside onto the sunny sidewalk and together we walked towards the car, which was at the end of the street. After settling down, Papa pulled out of the parking spot and we were on our way!
Papa explained to me that they had arrived in Paris the night before, and the drive home will be almost four hours. I was beyond touched, for most host families that live so far away would choose to let the exchange student take the train and get to their town on their own.
The drive home was long but not hard. We stopped to buy water and some sandwiches, and had a cup of coffee. I was able to connect my phone to the car by Bluetooth and play music. I really like it when there is music on the road, not only does it drown out the continuous sound of rolling wheels, but also adds energy to long distance voyages.
Finally we came to a road that was very peaceful and quiet. It started to resemble the area I had previously seen on Google map, and that’s when the big white house came into view and we pulled into the parking area beside stacks of firewood for the winter. Papa and Maman helped me bring my luggage inside, and on the way we passed by the chickens, to which I stopped halfway and started to laugh. The three of them looked exactly the same, with white feathers and a red crown. Amusingly, they were chasing each other around and it was hilarious.
The first thing, of course, was the grand tour of the house, led by non other than my host father. I walked through the front door and to my left was a set of staircase. In front was a glass door, which was open and showed the living room and dining room inside. I recognized the kitchen at the end, which I have seen previously through the video call with my host parents. The windows in the kitchen provided a great view of the terrace, where a wooden table and six chairs were placed. There was a barbeque rack, and the place was surrounded by all kinds of plants. According to the host family placement form, Papa loved gardening. I suppose the party of colorful flowers was created by him.
I then followed Papa and Maman up to the third floor, where they showed me my room. One side of the ceiling was slanted because my room was right under the roof, with the afternoon sunshine pouring in from the window above our heads. The walls where painted white, paired with a deep red flooring, wooden desk and bookshelves, open-designed closet, and blue bed sheets. There was also a ladder which led up to the “attic”, where belongings of the former owner of this room, my host brother Guillaume, were stashed. Overall, I was super content with my room. Just the thought of having sunlight in my own space made me ten times happier.
What followed was the tour around every room in the house, and also the basement, where the family stored all kinds of supplies and did the laundry. I also visited the chicken farm, where Papa proudly showed me the nest and three fresh eggs inside.
Finally we went back into the house and sat down for a drink. Papa suggested that we make a video call to my parents. They didn’t pick up the first time (as usual) but soon my mom started a group call in our family chat. Dad in China, Mom in Taiwan, and me with my host family in France, we were able to instantly connect to each other. My parents thanked Papa and Maman again for their hospitality, while we gave them a little update about our trip home from Paris. In the middle of the video call, my youngest host sister Cassandre returned home. A few moments later, we reassured my parents that everything was going just fine, and hung up.
Papa’s phone dinged and he announced that Cassandre’s older sister Héloïse had proposed the idea to eat dinner together tonight. A few hours later, my younger host brother Clement returned home, and he excitedly suggest Italian food (I later learned that he was an Italian cuisine fanatic). That night, we piled into the car and drove to Germany, and enjoyed a delicious dinner.
My friends back in Taiwan couldn’t believe that it was so easy to get to another country. But hey, this is Europe.