Jennie Holmes

17 years on!

Explaining your motivation for wanting to leave your family, your friends and your country can often be hard, especially when speaking to people who can’t comprehend the notion of sending their children away for 6 months. I can’t quite pinpoint the reason why I decided that I wanted to go to France. I don’t think that at 10 I had any particular motivation other than that it sounded like great fun. I had no real comprehension of fear or worry (or homesickness) so those very adult concerns didn’t even cross my mind.

I had an amazing six months, not without it challenges but I don’t think that they would have been any different to those in a UK primary school. I got to learn French, but fundamentally an exchange is about more than that. You don’t realise at the time, you don’t even consider how it could impact on your future, it just catches you by surprise when one day you look back at your life and you finally understand how much it shaped you for the better.

Next year I am getting married, something that I am obviously very excited about, and planning for my future has certainly made me reflect on my past. There is also no escaping the fact that I am marrying a French man and this almost certainly wouldn’t have happened had I not done an exchange.

I went from Hartlepool to Normandy in a small village where my French family bred race horses. I went from being a townie to having my own horses as well as a forest to run around in and explore. I had two dogs as well, something that I was so excited about as there was no room for dogs back in Hartlepool. The family was fantastic, they welcomed me like I was their own daughter and I even took to adopting their name whilst I was out there. I was taken to Paris and to Disneyland which was something that I would never forget. I didn’t have an exchange partner like most as I only had 6 months left at primary school so my partner in crime was Augustin, my younger French brother. I will never forget his birthday, 14th July, as he was so excited by all the fireworks and celebrations that had clearly been put on for him.

Completing an exchange really opened my eyes to world. I got to be part of another family and experience all of the joys and tribulations that come along with it. Whilst I didn’t stay in touch with my exchange family this is quite rare and certainly hasn’t detracted from my overall experience. I consider myself to be especially lucky as I started to visit another family through ALLEF and this relationship has continued through the years.

The most important thing in an exchange is the desire to do it. You must want to go, you must be prepared to accept someone else’s love as well as someone else’s rules. As long as you are happy to wave goodbye you are opening up you life to an incredible opportunity. As I look forward to being part of a third French family in August I can’t quite believe how things have turned out. Doing an exchange is great fun and if I could sum it up it would be exactly how I feel now; a little emotional, a little close to tears but full of excitement with a big smile on my face.

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