Sunday, September 13, 2015

A New En Famille Exchange

When our daughter was 12 she took part in a total immersion exchange through en famille to france for 6 months each way. We blogged a record of it. We thought that was it at the end, the next 6 months were about preparing for GCSE [she got an A* for the French btw] and some family crises to move through. We were very surprised when our daughter felt she would like to consider a shorter en famille visit to Spain and did a very careful submission, as at the age of 14  [year 10 equivalent even though we home educate] there are so many more things to consider. However, we looked at what i think as the 10 tips  for an en famille exchange and thought we could commit to 3 months each way

My 10 top tips:

1. en famille have a lot of experience in this, so their advice is likely to be right, even if you might have done it slightly differently!

2. shower your exchange child with love and affection  [including physical hugs for physical children] - they need to know they are part of your family and not a guest! This offsets when you have to reprimand - just as with the kids you have had all their life. The love and affection we gave FrB was reflected back, and made the exchange so much more wonderful, and a joy to do. [tho she always hated being told off!]

3. your rules apply, you might need to be a bit more explicit though than usual in how you ask. I realised that I usually make suggestions, that my children know means there is an expectation. I needed to be very clearly instructing with FrB -' would you like to empty the dishwasher' in my head is an instruction, in hers it gave the option of no! By the end of the exchange she was starting to understand that in the uk, many grown ups would ask her in a way that though she could think there was an option, they were expecting compliance! equal chores too!

4. yep, you will need to spend money - you can't do the 'just 6 months' mentality - so if you have boogie boards or scooters or bikes etc for your 2 current kids, and are going to use them, then you need another one - begged, borrowed, bought. 3 ds consoles [reconditioned, ebay etc] etc, 3 equally valued children. Also all 3 busy at clubs and groups, all 3 having new clothes as needed. While they are with you, they are yours. They are young, and they will measure value in equality terms. Get your wider family to buy into this too. Our parents were very good at giving the same presents for xmas and birthday, and the same money presents for holidays etc. FrB was noticeably appreciative of this.

5. think what you would really like to achieve for your exchange child and focus on achieving that. your own child should be having that focus on their international bit of the exchange. Honestly, you really want to give this your best shot. It isn't about getting something good for your child - that is definately going to happen, it is about beginning well a long term relationship with another child and another family. [see our planning for FrB post]

6. pre-discuss kids money with the exchange parents if you are planning on giving your child some to take. It was quite difficult that FrB came with an amount of money our kids don't ever see. We managed this - mostly! En famille recommend only a minimal amount to go out to be potentially towards gifts. As hosts, you are expected to give each child the same money if you do pocket money, holiday money etc. [so one having loads more does rock the boat]

7. take photos. ideally send some  weekly to your exchange parents. It will make a big difference to lots of them :) . [emails from smartphones are easy] A blog, or a shared photo online album - think flickr - also can make the world of difference to parents missing their children. I missed SB like a hole through my heart, and I think regular photos with or without words would have made a big difference. I know not all families are so photo mad, but even if you are not, try the regular photo update! You will be grateful when you are left behind!

8. discuss with exchange parents what things your child really wants to continue - these should be minimal and not a huge financial drain!  your child will hopefully do the clubs and groups of her exchange sister. So for us, SB continued clarinet in france, and FrB oboe in England. SB did theatre and climbing and scouts in France, and FrB did judo, ballet and guides in the UK.

9. any problems, either when your child abroad, or you have your international child, speak to en famille early to help get this sorted! Fabienne was very helpful when SB had severe homesickness and wondered whether it was right for her at the beginning of the exchange. They recommend that they do all the sorting.

10. and, above all else, enjoy. Do this with love and enthusiasm.

However, life has a way of getting even more complicated, so when we had been given a match, which seemed lovely, it seemed that SB wouldnt be able to go, due to family reasons mostly, but other things too. We spent a weekend looking long and hard at what was fair and what we thought we could achieve with all the pressures, and decided we could host, even if we couldnt commit to the full exchange.

2 weeks later, and our Spanish daughter arrived!! Sometimes no preplanning is a good thing!

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