We began our journey in the capital of France and ‘the city of love’, Paris. With beautiful architecture and a bustling culture, Paris seemed magnificent to our Australian eyes. After checking into our hotel we began experiencing the wonders of the famous city, visiting landmarks such as Sacré Coeur, The Louvre and the iconic Eiffel Tower at sunset. Before we knew it, the time had come to board the train towards the south of France, to our new home town, Toulouse.
Butterflies fluttered in the stomachs of each student as we arrived at the train station of Toulouse. Our train screeched to a holt as we collected our bags and braced ourselves in order to meet our new host brother or sister and their families. Some had little faith in their French speaking ability, others were still unaware of the challenges of speaking an entirely different language competently. However, all were excited for new beginnings, new relationships and a new lifestyle as well as a new culture. Looking at each other with anxious faces, the courageous clunk of our shoes hit the platform of the station where we found ourselves looking directly into this new world. ‘Bonjour!’ and ‘enchanté’ echoed through the walls of the station as we were warmly and graciously welcomed into their beautiful lives.
Each individual’s experience with their host families is incomparable. Some vacated to the incredible beaches of Nice and Biarritz declaring, ‘the beach was absolutely beautiful, the water crystal clear’ while other students visited the breathtaking grandeur of the Pyrénées, some venturing into Spain. The students who encountered this environment stated, ‘the mountains were enormous, the snow was very pretty and the air was fresh and clean’. Various other experiences include remaining in Toulouse and further discovering ‘a stunning and beautiful French city’.
Living together and noticing our similarities and differences – in personalities, learning styles, lifestyle and culture – brought us closer in a way we could not have comprehended. Each individual family was incredibly different, introducing us to their ways of life and the ways to enjoy it.
However, they all made us feel at home. Content and comfortable in our environment, and nourished with a rather large amount of bread, pastries and cheese, our conversations became more fluent as budding friendships enabled our personalities to come through and intertwine. Despite initial language barriers, our own self-doubt, and the challenges of constant immersion, happily our language skills did improve. Our enhanced language capabilities felt captivating; allowing us to develop stronger relationships with our exchange siblings and their families, bringing forth our unique language styles and instilling a greater depth of character in us.
We were all incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to go to these stunning places and be cared for by our beautiful French families. As we take away strong connections, deeply improved language skills and a grasp on different cultural experiences, we know we will always remember this amazing experience. We are incredibly grateful for our host families who cared and so beautifully welcomed us into their world and are excited to in turn welcome them into ours this coming October.
We will miss France and all those who we encountered throughout each student’s journey. Despite residing in opposite hemispheres and vastly different worlds, we will always remain their ‘Australian babies’ (quote Millie Hogg’s host mother).
Eliza Wallis Year 10
Excitement coursed through our veins as we stepped off the plane into Fukuoka Airport, eyes wide with wonder.
We felt both excited and nervous as we boarded the ‘shinkansen’ (train), on our way to meet our first set of host families in Hiroshima.
Murmurs of ‘I wonder what my host family will be like?’ and ‘how am I going to survive with my limited Japanese?!’ filled the carriage as it ricocheted towards Hiroshima.
However, this unease dissipated instantly upon meeting our new families, who were wonderfully warm and welcoming.
Arriving at our new homes, our experiences over the next few days differed greatly. Some of us had the opportunity to view grand structures, such as Hiroshima Castle or Kintaikyo Bridge, whilst others took the chance to explore the expanse of the bustling city. Despite the variance in activity, we all came away with wonderful stories to tell!
Before we knew it, our time in Hiroshima came to an end. With much reluctance, we departed for Kyoto; shedding tears, exchanging hugs and promising to ‘kesshite wasuremasen’ – never forget.
After checking into the ‘ryokan’ (traditional Japanese inn), we visited an abundance of beautiful temples and museums. However, the surprising highlight of Kyoto turned out to be karaoke!
We had many fun moments here, from Mr de Winter performing a heart wrenching rendition of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ to Alejandro’s unintended lesson on how to properly pronounce the Spanish lyrics in the ‘Macarena’. Needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed this experience!
The next few days of the trip were spent in the countryside of Ogaki, so vastly different to the bustling streets of Hiroshima and Kyoto.
Here we had the privilege of wearing the culturally significant and representative attire of kimono. We visited the picturesque Ogaki Castle, and were also fortunate enough to meet the mayor of Ogaki, from whom we learned more about the city.
However, as quickly as we came, our time for departure arrived. Leaving with fervent promises to keep in touch with our new friends and family, we boarded the train bound for Tokyo.
Overarching skyscrapers and neon lights punctuated the lively streets of Tokyo. Here we visited a myriad of famous sights, including the heights of the towering Tokyo Skytree and the crowded Shibuya crossing. Along with our host siblings, we also had the privilege of going to Tokyo Disney Sea, a longtime dream for many of us!
It was with a heavy heart that we finally left for the airport to return to Australia, the image of our host families waving goodbye still imprinted in our hearts and minds.
We feel exceptionally lucky to have met and stayed with such warm, kind and accommodating people, people from whom we learnt much.
We still desperately miss Japan, and no doubt will remember this experience for a long time to come.
Gabby Lim – Year 10