I vividly remember my first French lecture in 11th std during which our teacher had informed us about the Indo-French Exchange Programme. My mind had instantly started playing scenarios of what and how it would be if I were to be a part of it. Fast forward to today, it’s already been two years since I participated in the same, the memories being nonetheless crystal clear in my mind.
The entire journey was and still is so overwhelming. It enabled me to explore a new country, adopt a different culture, speak a foreign language more confidently, meet new people (who soon turned into family and friends), and most importantly exchange thoughts and opinions with people who didn’t share my language, nor my culture. Moreover, it gave me a deeper understanding of my own city, country and culture as well (trust me, I hadn’t been to several places in Pune earlier, which I then got to visit with my correspondent).
However, for me, the best part about being an exchange student is not discovering a foreign country as a mere tourist. Exchange programmes aren’t just about visiting the tourist attractions or savouring the culinary specialties. It’s much more! Making chai-poha for my host family, drawing and colouring along with my correspondent’s little cousin, listening and dancing to French songs with my host parents, cooking with my correspondent and her sister or learning french swear words from them, going through my host family’s old pictures, hanging out with my correspondent’s friends, giving presentations about India in their classes (that, too, in French), enjoying the late-night conversations and discussions with my host family… these little, yet invaluable moments truly made my journey unforgettable.
Moreover, since it was an “exchange”, my correspondent, too, got the opportunity to explore a new country in a different way; while staying here with me and my family. This brings me to another significant benefit of an exchange program- it wasn’t just I who got the exposure, but my own family as well. My family, too, got a chance to meet, talk and stay with a person who didn’t share the same language, culture or country. Be it my mother watching Bollywood movies with my correspondent and teaching her to put mehendi or my father asking her about the life in France; my brother teaching her new English words and expressions (and learning French ones from her) or my sister sharing our childhood memories; my cousins chatting and playing with her or my correspondent tasting the apparent spicy Indian dishes with my family… it was so overwhelming to see my whole family have this kind of an experience, about which they talk to this day!
I had once read a quote: “Travel far enough, you meet yourself” and today it makes much more sense to me. This exchange programme helped me improve as an individual. I became stronger, braver and more responsible. I also became bolder and much more confident, both as a person and as a French-speaker. I could genuinely feel the change in me. Being an exchange student, for me, was life-changing in every sense of the word, and I can never imagine my life otherwise. After all, it wasn’t merely a month in my life, it was a life in a month.