When you are a solo long-term traveler, without income, it is best to choose countries where you can stretch your dollars further. Regions such as Southeast Asia, India, and even parts of Eastern Europe could all fit within a tight budget quite nicely.
On the other hand, Western Europe isn’t gonna get you as far. This is especially true if you are from a country such as the United States where the currency rate isn’t in your favor. Prices are generally 30% higher due solely to the exchange rate – sad but true.
So then why did I choose to spend the first two months of my first long-term trip in France?
1. I have ancestors from France and I wanted to learn more about my background.
2. The French can sometimes get a bad rap. We have all heard the stereotypes. They are rude. They are snobby. They can be rather fluffy. Always wanting to poke holes in cultural theories, I wanted to get a first-hand account if this was really true.
3. Since I would be spending most of my trip in hotels, hostels, and guesthouses, I thought it would be interesting to do a homestay with locals. Not only would this help with my budget, but it would also support my first two reasons mentioned above.
While searching on GoAbroad.com, I came across a program with Geovisions called Conversation Corps. For a fee, Geovisions sets you up with a host family in France, or another country of your choosing, who has an interest in improving their conversational English in exchange for room & board.
• You must be a native English speaker, and be willing to spend 15 hours per week helping the family with their English. No formal lessons are required; instead you are helping them practice in regular conversation – providing corrections, helping with pronunciation, etc. It is up to the family how they want this arranged during the week. My families didn’t want any structure, and didn’t really pay attention to the number of hours as long as you were there a decent amount of time to talk with them.
• The host family provides accommodations, all meals, and usually transportation upon arrival and departure.
• You can stay a minimum of one month, up to a maximum of three – but the longer you stay, the less you end up paying per month. The fees vary per country. In France it’s currently listed as $1,549 for one month, $1,599 for two months, or $1,675 for three months. So the longer you stay, the more cost efficient it is. I decided to stay two months, which at the time was $1500. This amount of time was cost effective, and still left me another 30 days on my European visa. Most foreigners can travel in the European Nation for 90 days legally, and I wanted to do additional traveling outside of France. Some countries are less expensive, for example, the program in Spain is only $1,155 for up to three months.
• You do not get to pick what part of the country your host family is in. You can give a preference to the region, but it’s based on where they have families available during the time you want to go. I believe most volunteers stay with the same host family for the duration of their stay. My time was split between two families, one month in the North in the Brittany region, and one month in the South in Provence.
My feelings at the end of the program were mixed.
What I liked:
Overall, Geovisions fulfilled their end of the bargain. They matched me with nice families, and provided enough information upfront on the process and any information I needed.
I got a really good opportunity to see what it was like to live with two different French families. And I was lucky to gain insight on the significant regional differences. Watch for another blog post where I provide my thoughts on those French stereotypes that I mentioned earlier in this post.
Many travelers to France go to either Paris or the French Rivera, but this trip allowed me to slowly check out lesser-known cities that I may have not gone to otherwise. I had been to Paris prior to this trip, but comparing Paris to the rest of France would be like comparing New York to the rest of the US-it’s different.
Many programs such as this have an age restriction. You have to be under 26 for many host family/au pair programs, and under 30 for many work opportunities. Yep, in these cases I would be denied – but this program was open to even an “old gal” like me – Yes!
What I would have changed:
I generally stay away from volunteer programs that charge a significant fee, but I knew that this program was a fit for what I was looking for at the time. But that said, I later learned that the families didn’t receive any cut of the fee. I thought they would have at least received a couple hundred dollars to help with the additional groceries, but they didn’t even know that I paid a fee.
I felt the months were a little long. Although both families were very gracious, towards the end of each month I started to feel like a burden. Because I didn’t pay my fee to them and because “talking” didn’t feel like work, I felt like I was getting a free ride. It was most likely all in my head, but I still didn’t like the way it felt.
Additional tips if you do a program like this:
1. Bring a gift from your home country for your host family. I would bring something that they may have never seen or can’t get where they live.
2. If you’re interested, use your time to there to learn the language. Because I knew they wanted to learn more English, I didn’t try to speak French. I later realized that I should have, and it was a missed opportunity.
3. Geovisions sent a local coordinator to the host families’ houses at the end of each stay to make sure everything went smoothly. I would request to meet the coordinator at the start of the stay as well. I think that would have helped to set expectations from the start and would have made me feel more comfortable in my new environment.
At the end of the day, I had a really good experience the provided great insight into another culture outside of my own. There are a lot of opportunities out there if you want to find a way to travel outside of traditional means; you just need to search them out.
Geovisions did not ask me to write this review, this was purely my feedback on a program I did in the past.