A student at Bowndoin College, Viv came to study in Paris last fall with the Hamilton in France program. Here, she writes about what it was like to live with her a host family in the 20th arrondissement, a vibrant area on the east side of Paris.

When Hamilton asked me what kind of Parisian neighborhood I wanted to live in, I told them I wanted to be somewhere not too touristic – somewhere that felt like a real, lived-in neighborhood.  I am so glad I did, because otherwise I would never have stayed with my host family in the 20th arrondissement.  The process can be very nerve-wracking; I worried that I would be intruding into the normal rhythm of a family dynamic I knew nothing about, all while needing to handle delicate communication in a second language.  However, my host family was able to put me immediately at ease. 

When I showed up to their house, my host father offered to take me for a tour of the neighborhood and show me which metro lines I would need to get where.  My second day, I asked permission to go out with some friends and he looked at me like that was the craziest request he had ever heard.  “Do what you want!” he said, smiling, “come and go!  Live your life!”  The generous amount of freedom they afforded me allowed me to explore the city on my terms, but they also were kind enough to guide me at times.  They recommended me museums, took me shopping, and to the cinema and the theater.  I went out with their oldest daughter and her friends, chatted about school and English class with their middle school daughter, and played boardgames with their seven-year-old son.  They helped me do my homework and keep up with the quick-paced Parisian conversation, cooked delicious meals (from scratch!) every night, and invited me to stay at the many dinner parties they hosted with friends and family.

At a particularly large gathering one night near the end of the semester, surrounded by all the guests with whom I had become friendly over the months, I was struck by how lucky I had been to be placed with my host family and how lovely it was that these warm people had opened their home and their lives to me.  It sounds cheesy, but I can’t wait to return someday, head back to the 20th, and stop by.