My first two weeks in Grenoble, France have been both amazing and completely overwhelming all at once.
I was surprised at how quickly I felt like part of the family. My host parents, Rose Marie and Philippe, and my two teenage host sisters, Sophie and Catherine, are so friendly. I have my own shower in my room, although I am still working on shortening my shower time. They are very concerned with conserving water. One thing that my family made me aware of right away is the importance of eating dinner together. Unless I warn my host mother ahead of time, I am expected to be home at 7:30 to eat with the family. The food was (and sometime continues to be) quite a shock to me. I acknowledge that I am very picky about food, so I knew I’d have a difficult time with food here. My host mom or dad will ask me and the other American student living in the house as we’re eating if we like the food, and sometimes I do, but quite a few times I have had to say things like, “It’s good, but it’s not my favorite.” Sometimes they can tell that I don’t like a certain food (my host mother is very perceptive), but as long as I try everything on my plate they don’t mind if I don’t finish. Every American student that I have talked to here has said that they have “closet food” for the occasions when they are served something they don’t like, or if they are served less than they would normally eat in the U.S. I took their advice and found it to be quite useful.
During dinner, we usually talk about normal day-to-day activities, such as music and whether we liked class that day, but sometimes we talk about politics (my host parents have differing opinions on the French government), crime, natural disasters, unemployment, and religion. Conversation is a part of why eating dinner together is so important to the family. In my home in Wisconsin, we catch up on each other’s lives while watching TV together or just by walking into each other’s rooms and asking. But here, everyone just stays in their room most of the time outside of mealtimes. Sometimes I feel alone in the house because it’s so quiet that you would never guess that there are five other people there. I have had to adjust to many things in my first two weeks here, but I’m very excited to continue experiencing the French culture.
Alyssa De Valk is studying abroad in Grenoble, France, at the University of Grenoble III with the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS).