There is so much more to France than just the magnificent city of Paris. Most host families live in small towns or villages, and each region of France looks and feels different. You will have a chance to become immersed in the world-famous culture, from food and architecture to philosophy and painting. The beautiful countryside stretches from the Atlantic to the Alps and from the English Channel to the Mediterranean Sea.
A semester or year in France with AFS offers enough time to truly explore the richness of French culture. Improve your French language skills while living with a host family and attending a local high school.
Get ready for a demanding academic experience in France. The quality of education is very high; the French “lycee” (high school) will probably deliver a heavier school load than you are used to. A typical school day in France goes from 8:15am-5:00pm, but don’t worry, Wednesdays are usually only half-day, and if your school offers class on Saturday, it will only be a half day as well.
Your local chapter may organise get-togethers for AFS students or excursions to other cities or regions in France. Also, over the course of your program, AFS staff and volunteers will meet with you to evaluate your experience and help with your cultural adjustment.
French is the official language, but local languages are also spoken: Provencal, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Occitan, Basque, Alsatian and Flemish. However, French will be the language spoken by your host family and used in your host school.
You are required to have studied the French language for at least 2 years to be eligible for this program.
Host Family & Community
Students are placed throughout France, many in the countryside– about 80% of placements are in rural areas. 10% of placements are classified as suburban placements and the remaining 10% are urban. Though it is unlikely that you will be placed in Paris or other metropolitan areas, you’ll get a chance to tour Paris during the Arrival Orientation.
Host families in France, like all AFS host families worldwide, are not paid. They open their homes to students in order to share their community and culture as well as to enrich their own family lives.
The French are extremely proud of their language, culture, heritage and nation. They are also interested in learning about life in other countries, so you can expect to be asked about the history, customs and government of your country.
French people like to laugh and joke with everybody; they may make fun of the way foreigners speak French or of customs that are unfamiliar to them. They do not mean to be unkind; it is just part of their culture. Showing feelings, expressing satisfaction and gratitude are customary in France.
The nuclear family is the most important element of French society. The father is the authority figure in the household and treated with great respect. Traditionally, caring for the children and managing the household is the responsibility of the mother, while the father is more occupied with work outside the home.
Schools place a heavy emphasis on academics. Because of this, very few extracurricular activities are offered during the week, but some sports and drama opportunities are available. Soccer and Rugby are popular.
French teens, like most teens, enjoy socialising by going to the movies or getting together at each other’s homes or in local cafés.
Teens are required to observe the rules of the household, to help with household chores (even if they are not directly asked) and to participate in their family’s leisure activities.
Food is very important to the French. They like to eat and drink, and when they are not eating, they enjoy talking about food. There are many different varieties of cheeses as well as local specialties like foie gras, escargots de Bourgogne, crèpes and cassoulet.
In France, there are three main meals. Breakfast is the smallest meal of the day and consists of coffee, tea or hot chocolate with toast, butter, marmalade and sometimes cereal.
Lunch and dinner are warm meals and consist of three or four dishes served one after another: first course (soup or salad), main course (meat or fish and vegetables), cheese and/or dessert. Dinner is the most important meal; The whole family eats and socializes together between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Vegetarians are difficult to place and will have to adapt to a lifestyle with plenty of meat. Vegetarians are rare in France; if they are invited for dinner where meat is served, there often is no special vegetarian plate prepared so they eat whatever is served to accompany the meat.
School is probably the best place for you to meet people and make friends during your stay in France. You will probably attend a public high school, but it’s possible that you could be enrolled in a private high school. The course load in a French Lycée (high school) may be heavier than what you have been familiar with at home. You will be enrolled in Séconde (10th grade), Première (11th grade) or Terminale (final year), depending on your age, school background and knowledge of French.
The school day is from 8:15 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. There are seven class hours daily with five- to fifteen-minute breaks between classes and an hour break for lunch. Wednesday and Saturday are usually half-day sessions.
Orientations & Activities
In addition to the orientations that you will participate in domestically (the locally held Discovery & Pre-Departure Orientations), you and your fellow AFSers will have several orientations while abroad.
These required orientations are intended to help you maximize your AFS experience, prevent culture shock and to gain knowledge, skills and a global understanding.
In addition to the orientations, many local chapters organise activities for students and host families throughout the year. These will vary from chapter to chapter but may include parties or excursions to other cities or regions in France. Unlike the orientations, these activities are optional and are not included in the tuition.