My eldest came home with a letter from school yesterday. It was inviting her to participate in a long standing French Exchange arrangement through school. We have less than forty-eight hours to respond and pay a non returnable deposit and so I have been deliberating as to what we should do.
I did a French exchange myself when I was her age. It wasn't a school arranged thing. I flew by myself, my first time on a plane and was met at the airport by total strangers who spoke little English. My host had a broken leg which was unfortunate and so I spent most of the week in the apartment watching French television. I missed home horribly but I think my French improved. The girl, whose name I have forgotten then came to stay with us, didn't smile or speak for a week and that was the last I ever heard of her.
What happens with the children from Coutances is very different. They arrive en masse, the students having been matched to a hopefully like-minded child beforehand. They attend their host's school and various group activities are organised. If she falls lucky with her host it might be fun. But will it do her French any good?
I am certain that there are huge benefits to be had by spending time in a foreign country with someone who lives there. She will get a real taste of French life and that is something that I can't replicate. When we have been to France as a family it has been as tourists and whilst we do our best to speak the language and point out differences between our two nations, it is not the same as actually living amongst it for a while? Absolutely not. But will it make a difference to her GCSE French mark? I very much doubt it.
If it were just about her going to France for a week I probably wouldn't really give it much thought. But her host has to come back here and that's where the trip goes awry. Firstly, we have no spare room and in saying that I don't just mean a room that no one sleeps in. Our house is packed. Every spare inch is utilised every day. We don't even have a lock on the bathroom door as there's never just one person in there at a time! This is a problem to which there is no obvious solution. Also, we are very busy. Just because one child has a guest doesn't mean that everyone else's lives can be put on hold. And if I'm horribly honest, do I really want a potentially surly teenager to fill my house, turn their nose up at my food and cost me a fortune in ungratefully received outings? Well, no.
I know being a parent is all about sacrifice and Lord knows I am prepared to put my children before my own needs. But in this case it is my view that the potential benefits are far outweighed by the certain disadvantages. I feel like I am supposed to say yes because I should strive to give my child every opportunity in life but there is little about this trip that she can't get from other aspects of her busy and privileged life. I feel almost bullied into letting her go and that I am somehow failing her educationally if I refuse.
So what to do? Do I let her go and endure the return visit knowing that the chance of the trip enhancing her knowledge of French is minimal. Or do I follow my head, knowing from life's rich experiences that it is likely to be unsatisfactory and say no? Who said parenting was easy?