Greenheart Travel knows the power of travel. That is why we’re committed to helping people who haven’t had the chance to be fully immersed in a new culture, travel, and live abroad for the first time. Every year, Greenheart Travel offers First Time Traveler scholarships to help new travelers get out and meet others around the world. Recently Sophia won a First Time Traveler scholarship to attend Greenheart Travel’s Teen Language Camp in France. Here is a little bit about her first independent travel experience!
When “young me” dreamed of exploring a new country, I never considered that my favorite moments would be spent with a family whom I had only learned of their existence a week beforehand. Even when I knew I would be staying with a host family, I thought I would prefer spending time with my classmates doing excursions led by the school. Instead, I ended up feeling like a part of their family and being taken on exciting adventures from the beautiful west coast to the Pyrenees mountains.
My host family and I spent the first week adventuring after school. The first and second night they made me an amazing dinner and asked me lots of questions that I was happy to answer. They seemed so interested in learning about my culture and becoming more fluent in English. And I thought I was there to learn! They shared with me their food and their lifestyle in exchange for my input on how it compared to my own. I never realised how little I thought about the world around me, but as I tried to answer their questions, I became increasingly aware of how little I really knew the answers. I think that’s when I decided to pay even more attention to my life there. I wanted to retain every detail.
The third night, after I returned from our school’s excursion to Bordeaux, my family took me to the Dune du Pilat. After the long hike up to the top, we ran down! The two children I was staying with both took my hands and we dashed down, sliding most of the way on the loose sand. The hike up was worth it each time just to feel the wind rush by. After we had our fill of the dune, my family took me to a beachside park, and we watched the sunset and played on the playground. The kids were so crucial in my French education. They didn’t speak any English but wanted to learn and were always happy to tell me what things were in French with the childlike wonder that made it stick in my mind. All my thanks go to the children for teaching me so much.
On the fourth night, my host family took me to a surprise location. They had told me the name but hadn’t told me much about the place, and I was willing to be surprised. It was live music! There was a beautiful park near where they lived with a skate park area and a concert place. I had the most wonderful time listening to the musicians.
That weekend my host family awoke me very early. We had been planning this trip for the whole week, and it was finally time! We piled in the car, all drowsy… and went to the Pyrenees mountains! The drive up was long but beautiful. It was amazing to drive the same amount of time it would take me to reach the mountains in my state and be in a whole other part of the country. After our long journey, we hiked a gorgeous mountain trail. I had never been hiking in the mountains before, so for my first time, this was perfect. I was in awe the entire time. We returned to a small cottage hotel that we spent the night in. The next day we hiked two different trails! While it was hard, I was so proud of myself for making it through. And the payoff was wonderful — we had reached the top of a mountain and could see the whole range all around us. It was beautiful. On the way up we had seen cows and horses galore and even gotten to pet them! Both nights there we went to the family’s favorite Italian restaurant. When they suggested it I thought I wouldn’t be too surprised by the food. Of course, it would be better, but my best friend’s family are Italians who own an Italian restaurant. How different could this be? The answer was: very different! The pizza was light and crunchy with cheese that didn’t feel entirely like grease. I was baffled, and I enjoyed every moment of it. They had the most delicious raspberry cake and spectacular ice cream. Couldn’t be better!
The next Monday I was back to school, but afterward, my host family and I curled up on the couch and watched Harry Potter. Mildly disappointed that the lips weren’t synced up and it made it very difficult to watch. But I certainly enjoyed hearing all the lines I knew so well in a different language.
We spent the next two days resting at the house after school, as I was feeling a little exhausted from sports and Aqualand. But I did spend a fair amount of time playing with the kids in and out of the pool. We got to play lots of Uno. My host father even made waffles! I never considered waffles as a dessert, but I’ll definitely be implementing that into my life at home.
That Thursday was Bastille Day. It was amazing getting to celebrate it in France. My host family hosted a party for their friends, so I was able to listen to them converse as we had ice cream and melon. We listened to music, a lot of which was music I greatly enjoyed. I now have a much larger playlist!
As Friday was my last full day with them, my host mother wanted it to be very special. We took a walk through their town and to the park we had been to the previous week. There were new musicians this day, and therefore new music. As the musicians played music, I drew with the children. I struggled to focus on drawing as I was so enraptured by the music. The lady singing had a beautiful voice and the guitarists and drummer matched her so well. I got closer to listen to and watch the performance and even recorded a few songs so that I could relive such an amazing moment later. I truly loved every moment of that night. We stayed for a good hour before walking home under the light of the stars.
Finally, it was Saturday. Before I had to take my train, we went for a final walk around Arcachon. My host mother took us into possibly one of my favorite libraries that I’ve ever been to. Not only did it have so many sections and different books, but it also had a huge game room for the little kids. There were shelves upon shelves of board and card games, as well as play areas and toys. I was taught how to play a few games in French, particularly ones that would help my vocabulary be quicker. Unfortunately, after only a couple of hours, I had to leave for the airport. My host family took me to the station, and we said our very tearful goodbyes. I felt like such a part of their family and being separated hurt more than I had expected. I still miss them so much, and we talk often.
I am so, so glad that I got to spend my time in France with a host family. I believe that it was crucial to my experience, and it was amazing to get to live life as if I was a true part of this family. As well, I’ve made lifetime friendships with these people, and I have every intention of returning to visit them whenever I can.
Thanks for sharing your story Sophia!