Here's what happened: my original host family sucked. They never talked to me. They skipped half the dinners we were supposed to have together (which I have paid for in my room and board fee). When we did eat together, they ate as fast as possible and avoided conversation. When I had a friend over -- for the record, we were sitting in my room talking quietly -- the father came in and said without introduction, "on n'accepte pas des autres" (we don't allow other people). They explained to me in great detail why they hate Chinese people. They blew. I was actually planning on just dealing with it, and making the best of my independence and the good location, but after the racist diatribe against all things Chinese (which I guess must have included my best friend, Michelle Fang), I decided to let the director of the program know that they should not use this family again. My take on it was this: I can handle it because I'm already comfortable speaking French and have connections in Paris and therefore more independence than the average American exchange student. But for 99% of future APA students, this family would make them miserable. Mme la directrice's response, "I don't care if you're willing to stay with this family, we're not willing to let you. You're moving within four days." And they found me a new family in the same arrondissement. The complication was that I couldn't move in with this family before October 15, and they wanted me out before the 15 day trial period was up (if, within 15 days of moving in, a student moves out of a host family's residence, the host family is not paid for the semester of housing). So til mid-October I am living with Blandine, who works for APA.
Blandine lives with her husband and four children (ages 8-12) in the 13th arrondissement. Like my last host family, the apartment is very nice. Unlike my last host family, there is lots of nice clutter everywhere -- signs that a family who does things together lives there -- and no giant Chanel bottles, or stale cigarette smoke. There are two ovens and a whole slew of pots and pans. Blandine's oldest daughter wants to bake with me. I had my first real family dinner tonight since leaving the farm, and I can't tell you how wonderful it was. Everyone talked at the same time (complicated for Blandine's husband who is deaf, but speaks and reads lips), we ate lots of wonderful food (melon, salad with a mustard sauce, a salmon and leek tarte, and cheese), and drank a good bottle of wine. For comparison, my old host family's dinners consisted primarily of cold cuts and microwaved vegetables in various consistancies. My old host once mother gave me a dirty look for using my fork and fingers to pull off hairy spines on an artichoke (what the hell else was I supposed to do, levitate them off with my mind?). Tonight, Blandine gave up helping her son cut his melon with a fork and a knife and used her fingers to no one's disapproval.
Out of Blandine's three daughters, two dance ballet and jazz, so we had fun talking about that during dinner. I also helped the younger daughters do their English homework, which was lots of fun. I would love to stay with this family, but one of the daughters has moved into her brother's room temporarily so that I can be here. Two weeks is one thing for them to share, but a whole semester is another. Also, sitting on the desk in my borrowed room when I arrived was a sheet of paper that the kids had made saying "Bienvenue Rachel!" Each one wrote a little note to me telling me how excited they were to meet me. I will save it forever.
In other news, I had my first university class yesterday! It was relations économiques internationales at Paris IX Dauphine, one of the best economics and business schools in France. It was the hardest class I have ever taken, not just because the professor spoke very quickly, or that economics liingo is not necessarily the same in French as in English, but also because it was 3 hours and 15 minutes long with a 10 minute break. I had gotten 3 hours of sleep the night before (accidentally missed the last metro, so stupidly decided to go clubbing with my friends til 5 in the morning, poor decision), and it is a true testiment to the professor that I didn't fall asleep. Although I have to pay real attention to understand him, he's fantastic. He explains things clearly, he asks us good questions and encourages us to talk, he's sensitive to the international students in the class and explains vocabulary for us, and he obviously really knows his subject. I also made a few international friends at the orientation beforehand, and then after class started chatting to a French guy in my class. And he offered to help me if I needed it in the course! Yay! I hope he was serious, because I'm going to have to take him up on it. I'm in a third-year (the last year) level class with students who study only economics and business, and my preparation for this course is one semester of economics 101. In this first French class, we covered most of what I learned in that intro class back in the U.S. But it's okay! It's interesting, the professor is approachable, and I know I can do it.
Now that I know what my courses are going to be like, and now that I've got a host family who talks to me all the time, I really feel like I can leave France at the end of this school year with fluent French. And on that note, I'm going to sleep. Tomorrow our program is taking us to Borgogne for the weekend, so I have to get up pretty early.