Choosing where to live during my time in Angers was a difficult process. I was initially turned off by the idea of living with a host family because I was concerned that I would feel obligated to spend most of my time with them. I was also worried that I wouldn’t feel as independent and would find it challenging to venture out on my own. Ultimately, I decided that living with a family would be best to assimilate myself with French culture; it would be a nice “ease-in” to my six months abroad. Plus, it meant that I would have less of a concern finding meals to eat as they’d be prepared for me. Always a plus!
I only learned of my host family’s name a couple weeks before leaving for France. M et Mme Berthelot. Attached to their name was their address, which I searched on Google Maps right away. The neighborhood looked small and quiet, not terribly far from the campus. I was satisfied.
Once I’d arrived and spent a night in France, I left the studio apartment in Paris and made my way to the train station Montparnasse. I must have hit “rush hour” there because I ended up waiting in line to a buy a one-way ticket to Angers for about an hour. When I finally managed to book my journey, I had about two hours to kill before the train arrived. After grabbing a croissant (my first one in France!), I waited for the ‘Départ’ board to update with my platform number. I was feeling very European when I finally boarded my train to Angers.
The ride was nearly two hours, but the rolling hills of the French countryside made it easy to stay entertained. It was the perfect amount of time to relax and try to clear my mind and prepare for my next adventures.
Once I arrived in Angers, I was greeted at the train station by Sue, my program director, and a small, white-haired man named Jean, who was to be my house “dad” for the month of July. From the station, we drove towards northwest Angers into the village of Avrillé, where the maison de Berthelot is located. The house is small and quaint in the center of a picturesque neighborhood, decorated with flowers and neatly trimmed shrubbery, just as I’d viewed online. Entering through the front door of the home, I was reminded of a comforting presence, much like stepping into my grandparent’s house. Wooden floors covered by a mix of eclectic rugs, painted walls supporting artwork claiming no specific genre, and mismatched furniture that still manages to appear uniform made this strange new place feel like home.
In the tiny yellow kitchen, I met Thérèsse, my house “mom” and we struggled through the language barrier as she showed me around the house. My room, the single room downstairs, is wallpapered in a light yellow and displays a set of paned doors that filter in the light of the day (and evening, since the sun doesn’t set here until nearly 10:30pm). Two closets and a desk accompany the bed and make for a functional living space.
I’m living with two other girls in my program, Maggie and Sydney. Both are close to my age and are very sweet and friendly. We’ve all gotten along well, which is a nice reassurance! In the mornings that our schedules coincide, we ride the 20 minutes on the tramway into centreville for our daily courses at l’Université Catholique de l’Ouest.
Angers is easy to get around, with trams and buses travelling over most corners of the city. Most everyone walks around downtown, which, with it’s cobblestoned inclines, has proven to be quite the daily workout. The city maintains a strong sense of history with it’s older architecture and structure. It’s really a beautiful city and I’ve enjoyed getting to know my way around.
We share a family dinner at the house most every night of the week. We typically eat around 7pm and partake in a four course meal: appetizer, main dish, bread & cheese, and dessert. It’s always a lot of food and it’s taken some adjusting to pace myself and plan out my portion intake. So easy to eat more than my stomach desires! We’re encouraged to eat everything that Thérèsse has prepared and I feel rude declining seconds, but I’m going to have to start or else my waistline will certainly suffer!
The meals have been good, but different. The items themselves are fairly normal; it’s the combinations that confuse you. They’re all very French and most things are served cold, so it’s a real treat when we’re given a hot meal. I like to think I’m pretty daring when it comes to trying new foods and that has held true since arriving in Angers, but some of the items are not as appetizing as I’d like them to be. I’m starting to compile a list of meals we eat and will share those later on.
Living with a host family has been a great way for me to practice listening and speaking in French. I am a bit further out from campus/downtown than I’d like to be, but the tram makes it fairly easy to get around. And who would have ever guessed that I’d miss a night of frozen dinners and vegging out in front of the tv!? C’est la vie…