While I can't say many positive things about the organization of the exchange, I can't say enough about how wonderful Julien, and our time with him, was. Those two weeks were filled with fun and memories that we'll keep in our hearts forever.
Nick had come home just before Christmas telling me that I would be receiving an email or phone call soon about hosting a French exchange student. He was interested, and I reminded him that he would have to be 'on' for those two weeks, and would likely have to give up his room. We have three bedrooms and recently changed out his bunk beds for a queen, so sharing the room wasn't really an option.
I printed out the emailed application and mailed it, and heard nothing. We returned home from PR late on the 23rd of January, and I remember thinking, well, I guess we weren't chosen. The students were scheduled to arrive from France on the 16th of February, so surely we would have received confirmation by then. I was a bit surprised to received an email on Tuesday the 25th of January, confirming our selection as a host family. An email followed, with the profiles of 3 students. I printed them out and took them along with me to Nick's weekly allergy shots appointment. Before we got home, Nick had already zeroed in on Julien and asked if we were allowed to choose. I wasn't really certain, but I emailed the coordinator with that request, and he confirmed the next day that Julien would be our student! Three weeks til his arrival.
I emailed him, including some photos, and he wrote back, with the same upbeat enthusiasm that was so evident in the letter included in his profile. He and Nick became FB friends, and he Iand continued to write back and forth, to work out some of the details of his visit. Important things, like, what kind of birthday cake he would prefer! And proposing and verifying activities, that sort of thing. We also became FB friends.
The time before his arrival flew by too, mostly because I was in a panic about getting things cleaned up around the house. Anyone who knows me knows I'm not big on cleaning. My family knows that if the house has been cleaned, we must be having guests! Now, while I'm used to tidying up closets and cupboards for the regular family member visits, I was trying to see our home through the eyes of our student. And I was a bit horrified! Now, if you ask Julien, he might still confirm that my housekeeping skills are lacking, but my goal was to make him comfortable enough to sleep at night, and not be afaid to eat and hang out in our home!
Ready or not, Julien was set to arrive on Wednesday, February 16th. While I hadn't been able to cross the attic off of my to-do list, I was satisfied that I had accomplished most of the cleaning and preparation that I had set out to do.
We were to meet the bus at the high school at 6:30, but since we weren't clear on where, we left early. Checked the front, checked the back, and then, as we were returning to the front, the bus rolled up. We raced out with our welcome sign and red, white and blue balloons. Our school was only hosting 10 of the 50 students, and only 3 of them were boys. So the odds were in our favour that we'd be able to easily spot Julien. And we did! And packed him up and whisked him off home, to dinner that Marc had agreed to cook. Hamburgers. I figured that would be a good American choice for Julien's first meal with us. Except that multitasking Marc had turned his back on the burgers for a bit too long, and they were burnt! Quite the ice breaker, but not the most delicious! We were able to salvage enough to call it dinner, and if anyone was still hungry, there were plenty of chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
It didn't take long for us to see Julien's determination and sense of humour. Those twinkling eyes spoke volumes and he was a good sport about that fine first meal we put in front of him. Even though he was at the end of a long day, he carefully thought out all of his contributions to conversation, and responded in English. Whether spoken to in French or English. I thought that was brave and admirable and was immediately impressed.
Before the balloons deflated, we grabbed a shot of them, the sign, and the kids.
Gaby is our queen of signs and posters, and created this one on the whiteboard in Marc's office. She also did another welcome sign on the chalkboard on her bedroom door.
After supper, we watched the Flyers game for awhile. While Julien insisted he wasn't tired, his body was approaching sunrise in his Alsace time zone, and he conked out around 10:00. I was surprised he lasted as long as he did!!
His first full day, he rode the bus to school with Nick, where the French students were then shuttled off to their first excursion, shopping at the Willow Grove Mall! The students were returned to their respective schools in time to ride home with their host students. If you take a close look at this photo, while they look like two boys returning home from school, you'll also see the shopping bag Julien has in hand. This was the first of several successful shopping excursions. He enjoyed shopping while he was here, and was very good at finding great deals for himself!
Despite the snow, the weather was unseasonably warm, so after school, the boys headed to the playground for some basketball. That evening, Nick and Julien attended a high school hockey game, while Gaby played a rare weekday basketball game.
Our French students had several day trips planned for them, to Philly and NYC, but DC was not on their itinerary. So we had decided we would spend a couple of days and nights in DC. Julien was on board, as we had discussed this via email prior to his arrival.
Another family down the street was also hosting a French student, they too were heading to DC, and they had put the idea of a Capitol tour in my head. So we dropped Roxi off at Petsmart and hit the highway for DC, intending to eat on the road, check in, and make it to the Capitol for our mid afternoon scheduled tour.
We made our tour, actually getting in on an earlier one. And we ran into the family from down our street, who passed along their passes for the House Gallery, so we got a peek at DC in action.
From the Capitol, we enjoyed a stroll down to the Washington Monument. The weather was unseasonably warm. Many were wearing shorts. It was definitely too hot for the boots I was wearing. Yeah, they were comfy for walking, but not in 70 degree weather!
This seemed to be the thing to do at the base of the monument, so our kids did it too. With the wind whipping the clouds past the monument, the illusion of movement was present. Very cool!
We found an Italian place for dinner, then returned to our hotel for time in the pool and hot tub.
Since we're less than a 3 hour drive to DC, we thought that Julien should have the say in our activities for the weekend. We had agreed upon The Smithsonian, and Julien narrowed down his preferences and then prioritized them. His choices, in order: American Art Museum, which is adjacent to the Portrait Museum, Air and Space Museum, Native American Museum and Natural History Museum. So our first stop, after breakfast at the hotel, was the American Art Museum and the Portrait Museum.
Julien, Nick and Gab
Gaby and Julien were armed with cameras and between the two of them, snapped several hundred photos at these first two museums. While the art was fascinating, and I'm glad I have those images, there's no point in even trying to share them here. As the day wore on, fewer photos were taken at each subsequent museum.
Plenty of interesting sights along the way!
By the time we got to our 3rd/4th museum, everyone was pretty tired. Besides fewer photos, that last stop was a lot shorter than the first! This was our last stop for Saturday, the Native American Museum.
Tex Mex for lunch. Burgers on the menu, of course!
We all needed to soak and relax after a long day of walking.
And, my favourite picture of our DC adventure:
At the first museums, the American Art and Portrait Museums, a family fun day was being held, I'm guessing because it was President's Day weekend. One of the activities was dressing up for a portrait with George Washington, and Julien was all for it! It was his FB profile photo for a few days. Love his spirit!
Sunday was our last day in DC, and we chose to walk over to the local McDonald's for breakfast. Marc joined us, but returned to the hotel to finish up some work while we headed for our final Smithsonian Museum, Natural History.
A favourite of many, I have photos of Nick in front of this elephant when he was about three years old.He's grown up a bit since then!
This 'coral reef' is a piecing together of knitting and crochet. The photo does not do it justice!
We returned to the hotel, picked up Marc, and walked over to the White House. When we had visited two years ago, we were told access to the front was limited and we could view from the rear only. Because there were barricades in place en route to the front of the White House, I assumed the same. I was disappointed to find out after the fact that we could have view the White House from the front. Just would have had to take the long way there. I apologized to Julien, who was very nice about it.
One of many cool buildings in DC. This one was en route to the White House.
We packed up the car and headed for home around 1. We stopped at another Tex Mex place on the way home. Chevy's. A place where Marc had previously eaten. Yummmeee!
As an added bonus for all of us, Julien's 15th birthday fell on the Monday of President's Day weekend, February 21st! The day had been planned out, based on our email communications prior to his arrival. The kids and I had shopped for his gifts, Gaby had made a sign the week before he arrived, and I spent Sunday night baking and frosting a chocolate birthday cake. Gaby also blew up many balloons, another one of her signature birthday celebration traditions. We put the sign up in the dining room, along with Julien's gifts, and waited for him to wake.
He was likely still functioning between both time zones, as he was up pretty early. Even though pancakes were on the birthday menu, he had a bowl of cereal while waiting for the others to wake. Once everyone was up, Julien opened his gifts and modeled some of them for us!
A Flyers toque from Gaby . . .
A Flyers Bobrovsky tee from Nick.
We decided on a monetary gift, so that Julien could shop for himself and find the perfect something.
Mid morning we had pancakes, then prepared to head out. First stop, Target. Then, lunch at Manhattan Bagel, and finally , a movie. Julien's choice. We saw The Green Hornet, which was a great choice for all of us. The only thing we could have changed about the afternoon was to allow more time at Target! Among other things, Julien picked up a Twinkies shirt for himself. Love it!
Dinner was also the birthday boy's choice. And he chose pizza. Homemade pizza recommended by Nick. Thanks for the endorsement bud!
For cake, we were joined by our neighbor and her French student.
Cake, cupcakes and cookies. Mmmmmmm!
And another favourite photo:
Love that he's such a good sport, wearing Gaby's birthday 'hat'. Love that his FB status for this day read: 'Mon anniversaire magnifique'. Love that smile!
Back to routine after a four day weekend, Julien and the French students spent Tuesday in Philly. The day was cut short by late arrival due to snow. Tuesday evening we made it to Montgomery Mall for more shopping! Wednesday, the students made the long trek to NYC for the day. We didn't see Julien 'til after eight. Thursday, a short day hanging with Nick at his school, in his classes. And Thursday night, the Flyers game!
Nick was probably the most excited of all of us, as he's become a big Flyers fan, and had never attended a game! We picked Gaby up at school and ate at Chickie and Pete's. We met Marc, who was just returning from PR and he took the kids to the game, which they won!
The kids made a sign, and all three were wearing Flyers colours along with peel and stick Flyers tattoos!
Julien wore his new Flyers shirt.
And Gaby snapped about a million pictures at the game. But none of them. At the game. Oh well! That's what I get for not being there myself!
And I got the photo I wanted!
The Sixers won, and beat the Detroit Pistons while scoring over 100 points. Apparently, anytime the Sixers score over 100, your game ticket is good at McDonalds the next day, for a free Big Mac. Who knew?! Julien thought this was fabulous!
Equally as fabulous, was hanging out at Marc's office before and after the game.
Since his office is en route to the Wells Fargo Centre, we had decided to pick him up on the way to the game. The kids didn't have that much time before the game, but had enough fun that they all decided we'd hang out for awhile on the way home. After all, it was Friday night!
We found out that Julien excels at most sports, it seems. We had already witnessed his skills with a soccer ball. He was also very adept with a ping pong paddle!
Marc's office is a giant playground. Besides the table tennis, weights and weight machine, there are several scooters that people apparently use to get around. You can't see the dart board in Marc's office, but you'll notice Gaby is practicing her putting. And they're all big into nerf guns and RC toys which have plenty of room to fly in this high ceiling space.
Knowing Marc was leaving for China Saturday morning, this was our last chance to get a group photo. Not our best, but at least we're all in it!
Four Days Left
The time was flying by. We couldn't believe that we just had a weekend and a couple of days before Julien's return to France. Wanting to make the most of it, I asked Julien what he'd like to do Saturday afternoon, the biggest block of time we had that weekend, with Gaby's basketball and soccer games. After some thought, he asked how much time we would have. From the end of one game to the beginning of another, we had about six hours. Julien asked if that would be enough time to visit the Amish outlets!
I would have loved to take him there, but being in Lancaster county, we'd be looking at over an hour's drive each way. I told him I'd explore other options, which included Peddlers Village and the new Philadelphia outlets. At the suggestion of one of the parents at Gaby's basketball game, we decided to go to Franklin Mills, a short 1/2 drive. Its an outlet mall, but closed in, like a regular mall. I had Julien look over the list of stores to make sure he could maximize his shopping, and he was good with it.
So Gaby went home with her friend Ashton after basketball, and the boys and I visited the McDonald's drive thru on our way to Franklin Mills.
One Big Mac for Nick, and two for Julien!
More success at Franklin Mills. Julien found himself shirts, another pair of jeans, and a pair of Vans.
We had hoagies for supper, but they weren't a favourite.
And then on to Gaby's indoor soccer game. These games have generally been on Saturday nights, and this one was no exception, at 7:42.
They lost, which might explain the look on Gaby's face, but we all enjoyed watching, and Julien told Gaby she was a good keeper. We stopped by Dairy Queen on the way home. It wasn't really blizzard weather, but we wanted Julien to have a taste for himself. He liked them better than the hoagies!
Sunday we all slept in. A bit. I had planned to play hookey from Sunday school once again, so all we had to worry about was getting Nick to his 11:00 rehearsal. Julien opted not to go. He still had postcards to write, and FB to catch up on. I was glad to see him being so comfortable, behaving just like one of my own. Right down to wearing his hoody instead of a jacket, to NYC. Nick would have done the same!
Just like one of my own!
Sunday afternoon, Julien, Gaby and I stopped in at Barnes and Noble. We were going to be celebrating Gaby's friend Julia's birthday that evening. Julia's family is the family down the street also hosting a French student, and they had invited us all to join the celebration. And there was pizza on the menu! So we had wanted to pick up a gift card at B&N. We also made stops at Five Below and Sam's Club, before meeting up with Nick at home.
We all had a lovely evening celebrating Julia's birthday, and the kids had fun playing rock band. With Monday being a school day, and the French students facing another long day in NYC, it wasn't a late night.
Julien got home from NYC around 8:30, and was up for a S'more dessert!
While roasting marshmallows was nothing new to him, building and eating a s'more was not only new, but delicious!
Mmmmm mmmmmm good!
And the long day took its toll. While we tried to watch Avatar, which we had found on cable, it didn't take long before Julien found his way to dreamland!
One of the photos I had wanted to get was Julien eating breakfast. Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Not only his breakfast of choice, but a late night snack, most every night!
On their way, Tuesday morning. To see them, walking down the street, you wouldn't know they've grown up on two different continents, speaking two different languages, living two different lives.
Julien had to take care of some last minute post cards, and preferred to mail them in envelopes.
We had both homemade pizza and burgers for supper. Those were Julien's two favourite foods while he was here, though I suppose we could have also served Cinnamon Toast Crunch!
Clara, the French student down the street had prepared dinner for her family on Tuesday, and we teased Julien a bit about that! Crepes were on the menu for their dessert, and Julien, Nick and Gaby joined them. They stayed for more rock band and were home just after 10. Late for a school night!
Nick and Gaby went to bed, but Julien stayed, up, packing and preparing for his trip home. We agreed the time had flown by, and he said he wasn't ready to go home. The trip was too short. I second that!
He presented me with a couple of special gifts, in addition to those he gave us upon his arrival. The first, two keychains that he had picked up in NYC. For now, they're on my desk. Not sure what I'll do with them . The second gift, even more treasured and personal, was the green/blue belt he earned in karate, which he's been taking for five years. When he gave me that, I couldn't hold back the tears. The sadness I was feeling at his impending departure. Two weeks in our life. But a lifetime in our hearts.