The Fawcett Family

16 year old Becca’s Story

The Fawcett Family

The Fawcett Family

Seven years ago my mum was reading a book (“Home From Home” – Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges) about exchanges. She thought they sounded exciting and adventurous. She asked me if I would be interested in doing one. At the age of 9 this sounded like a great idea to me; go to a different country, meet new people, make new friends, not to mention learn a new language. My parents, shocked at my response, began to look in to an organisation called ALLEF where families are matched to each other and then the exchanging children spend 6 months each in the other country with their exchange and their family.

After filling in an application form about ourselves and our way of life we had a visit from an ALLEF representative followed by an interview with the French and British co-ordinators. Suddenly everything happened really quickly and I was due to spend the next year of my life with a girl called Justine. She travelled from France with her three brothers and parents one Friday evening just after Christmas 1993. They arrived at our house in Sheffield at 11.00 am. Dad was putting out the milk bottles and saw the Renault Espace pull up outside. He couldn’t believe that they’d managed the journey from Portsmouth in such a short time!

Becca and Justine

Becca and Justine

The Trouve family seemed lovely though there were a few problems with communication. Mum and dad managed with their rusty O level French and sign language whilst all the 8 children eyed each other up for a while. My youngest sister Jess who was 4 bore a striking resemblance to my youngest French “brother” Baptiste (5). They had exactly the same hair cut! We kept on finding ourselves talking to the wrong person! Justine, my exchange partner, seemed to be very nice although she was a bit shy at first. When we had all spent 3 days together and decided that we all liked each other the exchange officially began. Justine’s parents and family went back to France and Justine settled into our family. The following 6 months were fun and exciting as we went on many trips to places like Scotland, Norfolk, and London showing Justine as many places as possible. Justine and I built up a strong friendship and it didn’t seem very long before she was talking English. By the end of the 6 months people thought she was English. Mum says the day Justine came in from school saying someone had “nicked her pencil and it wasn’t fair” made her realise how much she had settled in.

The Trouve Family

The Trouve Family

June came and it was my turn to go to France. On the ferry we were both excited and scared. Justine hadn’t seen her family for 6 months, although she had spoken to them by phone most weeks and now I was going to leave my family for 6 months.

When we arrived I was accepted into the family with my French mum, Daniele, telling my mum “As my own, Alison, no more, no less….” I experienced many of the different aspects of French life; schooling in Argentan where the lessons were more formal with lots of copying and learning poems by heart, Food – goute at 4 when we got back from school followed by dinner at 8 and the different routines like homework as soon as you got back from school.

My French house was in the countryside in a village called Sevigny near Argentan. It was huge and had been designed by the family. It was very different from our old house in Sheffield. The garden was huge (on a slope). We had great fun, inventing games with the next door neighbours and often having competitions on the computer and on the bikes. We were allowed up to the forest on our bikes but not through it. Justine and her friends had found an unexploded bomb from the second world war and had even managed to get a mention on French television!

My understanding of French began to grow after a month and by 3 months I was speaking French and could not always speak in English to my family on our weekly ‘phone calls. After six months I could speak fluently and found it very difficult to speak in English when I first returned to Sheffield.

Coming back home just after Christmas was exciting and sad too. I knew I would really miss Justine but I realised how lucky I was to have had this amazing experience. Seven years on Justine and I meet up regularly for a month or more each year. Both of us are happy speaking in either language and our friendship grows each time – we even think of ourselves as twins!

I can’t imagine life without Justine, my French family and friends nor our regular trips to and from France. Not only have I gained knowledge of the French language (I took my GCSE at 13 and got an A*) but also of the French way of life . I know that I can manage live away from my own family and survive. My trip to France definitely made me stronger and more independent.

15 year old Emily’s Story

Emily and Laurence

Emily and Laurence

My French exchange was called Laurence and she lived in the south west of France in a village called Lussant near Rochefort. To get there I had to go on an aeroplane for the first time. I remember the airport staff looking in my bags and exclaiming “how long are you going for?” I don’t think they expected my “6 months” answer! I was so excited about getting on the ‘plane for the first time that I forgot to say a proper goodbye to my parents!

Laurence’s house was in a really small village which was very different to living in a big city like Sheffield. Her dad, Phillipe, was the village doctor and his practice was attached to the house. Laurence and I would look out of the window and watch all the different “malades”(patients) arriving for their appointments. In the evening during dinner, her dad would tell us loads of funny stories about things that happened to him as a doctor..

School in France was very different for me because I went to my exchange’s school which was Catholic and also half an hour away in the car. My school in Sheffield was two houses and a road to cross away! It seemed that school in France was a lot more serious and there was more concentration on the academic side rather than the social side. Unfortunately the school dinners in France are just as bad as the ones in England but overall the food in France was really good and we ate loads of things from the region – tomatoes, fruits, salads, eggs from the farm and even animals that had been reared by Laurence’s relatives.

I had a really good time in France and met loads of people. I tried new food and have had some great experiences over the years – horse riding, cycling to the nearest town, white water rafting, camping, climbing in the Alps ….

I took my French GCSE in Year 9 and got an A* like Becca. I don’t know yet whether I want to take it at ‘A’ level like her.

Even now, telling people that I spent 6 months away from my family is a great conversation starter!

13 year old Lucy’s Story

The Chemins, Trouves and Fawcetts get together

The Chemins, Trouves and Fawcetts get together

When I was 10 I was really frightened at the thought of six months away from home. One Easter, we went to France to collect Becca and Emily who had been back to visit the Trouves and another family we knew in Brittany. When I heard everyone speaking French together I wished that I were brave enough to go to France too. I wanted to speak French and understand what was going on too!. Bene, whose daughter had spent 6 months in Scotland said that I could go and visit them in their house in Bruz near Rennes. She said that I could go to their house for a while and then decide if I wanted to stay longer. So I went and decided to stay for the whole 6 months. Now I love speaking French – when I am in France. I find it embarrassing speaking it in Sheffield. From the start I knew that Lise (my French exchange) would not come back to England.

Lucy

Lucy

Whilst I was in France I had two sisters and two little brothers. I went to public school which seemed quite similar to my own Junior school in England apart from having homework in France and a two hour lunch break where we came home to Bene.

The food in France was really nice. One of the nicest things we had were gallettes which were a speciality of the region. A gallette is a bit like a savoury pancake with ham, egg, Emantelle cheese, tomatoes and mushrooms. It has a different flavour because of the ble noir (buckwheat flour).Also in France you always eat bread with every meal. Where I was staying we had salad and cheese after every meal.

I stayed in France for Christmas which was very different from England because the day before we had a huge meal (we had snails and garlic butter!) We then put our shoes under the Christmas tree before we went to bed. In the morning, when we woke up there were presents all around each pair of shoes. We had a big Christmas meal with lots of relatives and drank home-made cider which was stored in their cellar.

The family were really nice but Lise and I did not get on that well. I did get on with her older sister and 2 little brothers who I played with a lot. The bad thing about my exchange was that my French dad injured his knee about 2 weeks after I arrived which meant that everyone was a bit stressed – a bit like in Sheffield where my own dad had broken his ankle when were on holiday and was on crutches when I left!!

A year after I had done my French exchange the youngest brother of Justine, Baptiste who we all knew well came to stay for 6 months. He is now my best friend and we have spent the last two summers together. When we’re older he ’s going to have a flower shop in France and I’m going to have a sweet shop next door – but it will be quite near the ferry port as I will want to come home to England!

11 year old Jessica’s Story

Jess and Pauline

Jess and Pauline

As my 3 sisters had all done exchanges and could speak fluent French I wanted to do it too. That way we could all speak French to each other and mum and dad wouldn’t understand! I did a lot of different things in France. I went to a Roman Catholic church instead of the Methodist church at home so the things they did in that church were very different. I also went to the village school by myself so made friends in the village of my own. You learn other things apart from French when you go away. I learnt how to ride a horse because the family I stayed with had a horse. At school I learnt different things like poems that you had to recite to the rest of the class. Sometimes I was allowed to e-mail my mum and dad which was good. Philippe sent photographs to them on the computer.

I did all this through a group called ALLEF and now I have lots of friends in England and France who have done similar exchanges. I think it’s great.

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