THE Wright household is even more crowded than usual this week. The family is host to two French girls who have come to the UK as part of an exchange visit.
Each year the school in Abergavenny that Emily and Eleanor attend arranges for pupils studying languages to spend a week in France, staying with a French family. Pupils are paired with French students of similar age and interests in the hope they will have things in common. The arrangement is reciprocal, so the French students get to stay for a week with a British family in Abergavenny too. Such arrangements are common in most schools in the UK and are used to promote the learning of languages, giving pupils the chance to use their language skills in the native country. As with most such arrangements Abergavenny is twinned with a specific town in France with which cultural exchanges of different kinds take place.
Earlier in the year Eleanor visited France and spent the week with a family, going to school and improving her knowledge of the language and culture. This week it was the turn of the French students to come over to the UK. The group consisted of about 30 French children, aged between 12 and 15. By chance another Abergavenny family were unable to have their exchange student to stay with them so the Wrights had two, rather than one, French visitors staying with them.
Amelie and Julie arrived on Thursday evening having travelled on a coach for al most 18 hours to reach Abergavenny. They were naturally tired, so after brief greetings with the Wright family and a quick snack, they went off to bed.
In the morning they had to join in the morning chaos that fills the Wright house on a weekday. Eleanor showed them where the breakfast things were and how breakfast takes place on a school day. Before long they were off to school with Eleanor for the day. There were some special treats arranged for the visitors during the day, such as a visit to the Abergavenny Town Hall where they were greeted by the Mayor.
At the end of the school day the girls returned with Eleanor to the Wright house. As at breakfast time, they again saw that they had to fend for themselves if they were hungry!
The French students had a week of going to a British school, lightened by occasional visits to local museums and tourist sites, the Millennium Stadium1 in Cardiff and Big Pit2 were notable highlights.
Part of the reason for the exchange programme is so that the students can sample a small part of ordinary life in a foreign country. This ideal is not always met as it is difficult to maintain ordinary life when you have visitors staying with you. In our house, having visitors means that we try to en sure that the food is of an even higher quality than usual. As our guests wanted to sample true British culture, the food we ate was slightly different from normal.
Whereas a normal meal might be pasta with ham and cheese, we arranged for the visitors to have typical national meals such as roast beef, toad-in-the-hole3, chicken and roast potatoes and even the famous British fish-and-chips. To the delight of Max and Milly we had traditional British puddings for this week: apple pie and custard, ice cream and rice pudding. It was unusual for us to eat so many traditional foods in one week, but it was enjoyed by both the French and the British children.
The favourite traditional meal came at the weekend when we had what is known as a 'full English breakfast'. This consists of bacon, sausages, egg, fried tomatoes, mushrooms and plenty of tea and toast. Normally, breakfast is simply cereal, fruit and toast with milk, coffee or tea. The French girls did seem slightly bemused by this change in the breakfast routine, but it was nice for us all to sit around the table together and spend time over the morning meal instead of having to eat it hurriedly as and when each person was ready.
The evening meal was the time when we would try to talk to our guests. As they were here to learn English, it made sense that we should try to speak English with them. This met with rather limited success! Our poor visitors seemed unable to make head or tail of anything we said. Enquires after their families, along the lines of how many brothers and sisters they had and what were their ages was about as far as we got. Even that took huge amounts of effort and acting out in sign language. When we tried to speak in French, we did not make much more progress either. It was all rather difficult, but we had fun and everybody ended up laughing at our attempts to communicate with each other.
At the weekend it was our turn to amuse our guests. To make it more comfortable for the French students and the British it was decided to spend much of the day with Eleanor's friends who also had exchange students with them. In this way there were plenty of people around with whom they could speak their own language and every one could relax a bit more.
The activity for Saturday was a trip to the neighbouring town of Brecon. Here we played ten pin bowling; this is really more of an American tradition but nobody seemed to mind. On the Sunday we took everybody on a long walk along the river Usk which is very picturesque. The views of the mountains are particularly impressive. We borrowed our neighbour's dog and had a very pleasant afternoon. The weather remained untraditionally dry for the whole day!
Before long it was time to say good bye to our French girls, we packed them off with plenty of food and presents for their families. It had been good fun, Eleanor had be come firm friends with the girls. I think their English was better when they left than when they arrived and I hope we gave a favour able portrait of ordinary British life.
- by David Wright (UK)
1 A recently built sports stadium. 2 Big Pit is a real coal mine and one of Britain's leading mining museums. With facilities to educate and entertain all ages, Big Pit is an exciting and informative day out. See also: http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/bigpit/ 3 Sausages cooked in a batter pudding, rather like Yorkshire pudding.