My last blog on this topic was to hopefully recruit some new families on OAHU that would be willing to host a French student THIS summer. (By the way, they still need families!! The students get here on August 3rd! Please email me if you’re interested or know someone who might be – HERE is my blog with more information about hosting.)
Today, I want to write about our experience having a 17-year-old French exchange student in our home for three weeks. If you’d rather *watch* the journey, here is a video I just finished putting together for her
PS – I’ve watched it so many times… and it makes me cry EVERY time! Speaking of crying… that was my first reaction to Pénélope (tears of joy of course!). I Facebook stalked her before she got to Maui and knew exactly what she looked like so when she came down the escalator – I knew it was her and my mommy emotions totally went into high gear. I didn’t even know the girl! … yet thinking about the experience she was about to have… exploring Hawaii, learning about Hawaiian culture, feeling the Aloha Spirit, getting to know her fellow exchange students, getting to know us and of course – the BIG one – being an older sister to my little Jackson. It was all too much for me… I had about 30 seconds to GET IT TOGETHER (and not seem like a total weirdo). I swallowed my tears and focused on how I was going to get Jackson to give Pénélope a lei. It worked… whew! We greeted her with big smiles
The poor thing was exhausted from 20+ hours of travel so we got her home, fed her and put her to bed. The following day was the Fourth of July so we decided to take her to Makena Beach for a little stand up paddling and beach time.
That evening we ate out to celebrate her arrival – hoping that someone in Wailea decided to do a private fireworks show. There were no fireworks but boy did the sky put on a show that night. Simply stunning. We did the beach walk that night and watched the Lahaina fireworks from a far. A pretty darn good first day.
That weekend I had some on-camera work to do in Kapalua so Kaimi and Jackson took Pénélope to the Nakalele blowhole, heart rock and Lahaina to sight see (my blog/video on the Nakalele Blowhole & Heart Rock). Sunday was the “Welcome Party” potluck where all the families get to meet – it was SUPER windy but the food was great and the kids seemed to really enjoy one another.
Jackson immediately felt a connection to his new big sis. Playing ball, chasing her, reading books, doing puzzles and literally running circles around her. I’m sure it was exhausting. lol I know Jackson really liked her because he slapped her right across the face one day – a love pat, right? lol – something he’s only ever done to mom and dad! ha ha! We had to find a nickname for Pénélope because Jackson had a really hard time saying her whole name. She said some of her friends call her Pénou (peh-new) – so that’s what we called her! We went over the house rules (and ACE International’s rules) early on and made it clear she was a part of the family – no shame, eat whatever you want, whenever you want & just let us know if you want to go somewhere or need something.
The exchange students have a pretty packed schedule. Three days a week they have activities that last all day long. Kaimi would drop Pénou off on his way to work and I would pick her up at the end of the day – usually around 5pm (or later). Families are invited to come along on any and all activities (if they want, it’s not a requirement) – we chose to take advantage of tagging along on a couple of half day adventures – surfing & Molokini snorkeling.
The first week with Pénou went by FAST. Kaimi and I had already planned on going on our yearly family camping trip on the Big Island – we had the choice of bringing Pénou with us or making arrangements with ACE International (Chase and Tenessa) to have her stay with another family while we were gone. It seemed only natural for us to bring her with us, introduce her to another island (OUR island – Kaimi is from Kona, I’m from Hilo) and the whole family – now she could see what Hawaii was REALLY like lol – nothing like a large extended family to truly break someone in to the Hawaii lifestyle!
On Thursday Pénou came with Jackson and I to the library & for a haircut (because I needed help – holding & distracting him at the same time is nearly impossible for one person) and we packed for our trip. Thank goodness she’s so responsible – it had totally slipped our minds that she might need her passport for inter-island travel! Fortunately, Pénou was one step ahead of us and had already asked for hers back (The organizers, Chase & Tenessa collect all passports at the beginning of the trip for safekeeping). We left Friday and planned to return on Sunday.
The weather was amazing in Kona but the remnants of a storm were headed our way. ACE International decided to postpone their Haleakala adventure day due to the stormy weather. We found out at about noon on Sunday – our flight was at 2:30pm – so we made a last minute, spontaneous decision to change all of our flights and stay an extra night. It had been a LONG time since we had done something spontaneous like that!
We decided to attempt Halema’uma’u at night so that meant I had to somehow get the keys to my parents house and gate in Fern Forest. They’re in France so I called my brother Christopher, in San Francisco, to see if he had the number for the guy that is care-taking their home. He found it! We got in touch with the caretaker and everything was taken care of. When things are meant to be, they fall into place. It was POURING rain with a Flash Flood Advisory posted for the Hamakua coast so we went over the saddle. Hilo was rainy, but miraculously when we went to the crater the clouds parted just long enough for us to get a great shot. Side note: We pulled over in Kea’au for a potty break and Pénou got the news that she got into the university she wanted to go to! What a fabulous moment! She was one of 35 students that got in out of 800 applicants! Félicitations!!
The next day, we went back to the volcano to see the crater by day and walk through the Thurston Lava Tube. We had brief pit stops at Coconut Island, Bayfront, drove the Hamakua Coast and stopped for lunch at Village Burger in Waimea (highly recommended! Crazy how busy it is now that they are ranked in the top 10 on Tripadvisor!). We stopped at Hapuna and drove the Kohala coast to get back to the Kona airport for our flight. Exhausting but exhilarating!
That week we had a fundraiser dinner to go to for Hawaiian Canoe Club, we went to the mall and since Pénou’s activities were postponed earlier that week she went on day trips with the group Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Pénou’s best friend Solene was also one of the visiting exchange students so we made arrangements with her “parents” for each family to take both girls for a couple of nights. Pénou went to Hana with Solene’s family that weekend. I’m so happy she really got to see the ENTIRE island (but we missed not having her around)!
The next week was already the last week!! How did that happen?! Monday was Molokini adventure day – Jackson and I tagged along in the morning and it was such a blast!
The kids all seemed to really have fun together. I could tell they were really forming life-long bonds with one another. On a personal note, Pénou really started to become integrated into our family. The first week, conversation was about getting to know one another but by week 3 we were really riffing… Pénou is a mini-me! lol She is hungry all of the time and has a really good metabolism, she wears her emotions all over her face, she’s clumsy/awkward at times and prone to accidentally hurting herself… ha ha ha!! We had a great time talking about these things and sharing our views on the world, family, friendships, school… the list goes on…
I know you’re probably thinking, well duh! You speak French – that’s easy for you! BUT, we really were committed to the purpose of the experience. I tried to speak to her in French so that I could practice and learn from her but I must admit I fell into English more often than not since I’m so out of practice. Pénou, on the other hand, was really committed to speaking English with Kaimi and I. As for Jackson, I really wanted him to hear French from someone other than me so Pénou spoke to him in French. It was such a great experience to have two Francophones in the house.
Okay, where was I?… oh yeah, the last week. So the last week we started to feel sad… knowing Pénou would be on a plane by the end of the week made me tear up. We had Solene at our house for a couple of nights and the girls cooked us dinner! Zucchini & Honey Quiche (RECIPE), Tomatoes with Herbes de Provence and a chestnut cake with chocolate frosting (CAKE RECIPE) – delicious! I also took the girls to the end of the road (on this side) – La Perouse Bay & we spent a day in Paia shopping and walking around. The girls even treated me to lunch! Such a sweet gesture that I really appreciated.
The “Farewell Party” was also rescheduled due to bad weather and took place the night before the kids left to return to France. It really was amazing to see these kids having the times of their LIVES! We were blessed with another stunning sunset to cap off their last night in Hawaii. Several of the students ordered “Maui” jewelry from me to remind them of their stay in the islands. Here they are modeling it at the LAX airport. lol
On her last day, Pénou spent some time with Solene (and Solene’s Hawaii teenaged “sister” – also 17) in Paia that morning. I dropped her off in Kahului and ran around town making her a gift bag to keep her busy during her 15 hour layover at LAX. I even snuck a few items into Pénou’s packed bag to remind her of us when she unpacks in France – a necklace (to make her think of me), a Hot Wheels truck (Jackson is obsessed and it’s his favorite word right now) & banana macadamia nut pancake mix (Kaimi made her pancakes on her first morning here). After picking her back up we went to get shave ice and visited Kaimi’s workplace for a couple minutes before heading home to give her time to pack and shower. That day was super sad yet really amazing – we talked and laughed the whole way home – like a mother and daughter would I’d imagine…
The goodbye at the airport was bittersweet… we were so happy that Pénou would return to France knowing she would be attending the university of her dreams and starting her new life as a college student and adult – but we were really sad to not have her energy, her light, her spunk, her kindness and generous spirit around the house anymore. There were tears… but we know that this is not “a dieu” for us but instead a brief “a hui hou” (until we meet again) – we WILL visit her in the Alps one day! That’s a promise…
Oh, one more thing. I wanted to share Penelope’s “letter to your (potential) host family” – the one that made us fall in love with her in the beginning. And maybe this will help you to understand what a truly amazing experience this is from the student’s perspective.
“My name is Pénélope. I’m seventeen years old and I am really cheerful to go to Hawaii this next summer. This travel will help me to perform my English what is crucial for me because next year I would like to study it at university. Furthermore, thanks to this incredible experience I will be able to discover a new way of life and a new culture in a beautiful island which is a place totally different of the one where I am living. Actually, I come from a small town next to Grenoble, a city in the mountains of the Alpes. My parents are pharmacists, and I have two older sisters. One studies biology at the university and the other is chef in a restaurant in “L’Alpe d’Huez” which is a ski resort where we go every week ends during winter. Actually, the ski is a passion in my family and as we have an apartment in this station close to our home we can profit from the snow during the winter. I appreciate skiing with my friends too; however I can’t ski every time because I often have cross country competition too. In fact, my second passion is running. I train two times every week after school in the athletic club of my town. I also play clarinet for 10 years. With my parents, we love to travel and when my sisters and I were children, we discovered few countries in the world. Now it’s more difficult because every of us live her own life and we don’t have the same holidays. However, I have the chance to continue to travel with organizations like Nacel (ACE International). For instance, I went three times in United States, in Los Angeles, San Diego and Miami: it was amazing, that’s why I am so excited to be able to live again this experience. Thus, I already live in a host family so I am totally ready to live like them. It’s for me very enriching to share few weeks with unknowns, and I hope they will become friends!”
On that note, if YOU, or someone you know, are interested in hosting a French Exchange Student with ACE International here is basically what you need to know
They provide to you:
- $400 = for hosting one student, $700 = for hosting 2 students, $1000 = for hosting 3 students
- Planned day-trip activities 3 days/week for the student plus a Welcome & Farewell Party for everyone to enjoy
You provide (for 3 weeks):
- Three meals a day, a place to sleep, transportation to/from drop-off locations & ALOHA
If you’re interested in hosting shoot me an email and I can get you in touch with Tenessa and Chase. You can also see my blog on hosting for their direct contact info.