The Social Sandwich, Part 9

This is the ninth in a series of posts describing my recent trip to England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, from writing course to school reunion and more.

More English coutryside. This time I was in Dorset, being driven along more narrow, twisty roads.

I had another first on this part of the trip. I played darts. I was pretty bad at it, and surprised the others tolerated me, as I was before that when we played tennis. I hadn’t played tennis for at least thirty years, probably more.

Still, I was able to show the family members I stayed with that I’m able to to do something. I won at Boggle.

And of course I went walking and altogether had a lovely time.

Walking in Dorset
Walking in Dorset

The question I had there, and still wonder about, is about exchanges between teenagers who speak different languages, and whether they ever work out well. I never had that opportunity and neither did my children. Twice we had a few members of visiting east European choirs to stay in our house, and they tended to talk amongst themselves in their language, leaving out my daughter who was hosting them.

On one of the days in Dorset, when we out with another family, there were three English-speaking teenage friends and a French girl. Everyone remarked how quiet the French girl was, but it was clear she didn’t understand the conversations, so obviously she couldn’t join in. One of the teenagers had been to France on an exchange trip, staying with a family he didn’t get on with at all.

So I wonder whether these exchanges ever do work out well, or whether the language is always too much of a barrier at that age.

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life. Social anxiety warrior. Cultivating a Fuji, edition 3, a poignant, humorous and uplifting tale, published with Ocelot Press, January 2023.

7 replies on “The Social Sandwich, Part 9”

I didn’t participate in any exchanges as a teen. i wondered what it would be like to totally immerse oneself into a brand new culture, language and way of life, but I was rather shy and didn’t think I could really handle the experience.

It takes a while and it also takes adults to be aware of what is going on and encourage the communication. We had exchange students at school and their first few weeks were very difficult even when they were given a lot of support but they soon picked up enough language to participate a little and if they were any good at sport they were soon made very welcome.
Our exchange students at university usually had more language skills but I found I was constantly having to explain social expressions and terminology.
It can work and work well but it takes a lot of effort and people have to want it to work.

My eldest did one – she was unbearably homesick in a family where they spoke no English, and when the French girl came to us she wouldn’t eat anything. It was so awful none of the other daughters went on one.

But the eldest – she picked herself up, and did a school trip to Russia, ate cabbage for a week, but said she had a wonderful time!

Does anyone ever enjoy exchange trips? Surely some do, although I haven’t heard of any….

When you say cabbage for a week, was that just cabbage and nothing else? For a whole week?

I did an exchange trip at around 13 – it was meant to be with the whole school, but the family I stayed with went on holiday so I went with them. The girl I was paired with found me a little childish, I think, and didn’t have much time for me… However, I had a good time with her 8/9 year old sister! We swam in the sea and collected shells and she helped me improve my French. She was a lot more fun, less concerned as she was with looking ‘cool.’ Thanks for reminding me of that! Generally though, I think exchanges with schools or youth groups might be better as the kids still have their familar friends around them and there is always one who can speak the language a little better and act as ‘translator’ but you still get the experience of staying with a family.

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