Point of View: Foreign exchange experience leads to a more open mind

Bonjour ! Or, in English, hello.

Sitting in my garden, during this quarantine due to COVID-19, I took time to look back over my life and especially to think about all the travels I did and the exchange student experience I had when I was 18.

First of all, let me introduce myself: I am Sophie Samuzeau, born in June 1969. I spent a year in Homer as an AFS foreign exchange student from July 1987 ‘til the end of June 1988. Some of you might have met me at this time. This year in Homer has greatly enriched me and contributed to the person I am today.

I first stayed with Diane and Tony Borgman, then some time with the Marleys and, finally, with Florence and Peter Larson.

I was a senior in Homer High School, along with Keiiche Homna from Teshio, Japan (Homer’s sister city) and Nariman Movaffagh, who was a political refugee from Iran.

Prior to that year in Homer as an exchange student, I had however already lived a year out of France when I was a teenager. My father was hired in Gabon, Africa. He took his whole family with him and I thus lived there almost one year. I would not totally compare this year spent in Africa with the year spent in Homer, as Gabon is a French-speaking country and I was there with my parents. But, to me, this year in Africa was my first experience to get to discover other cultures and to always keep my mind open.

My year in Homer as an exchange student had a deep impact on me. Not only did I have to adapt to a different culture but I also became my host families’ daughter. I do not believe that many people can pretend they have three or four families. I am, furthermore, very fortunate to still be in contact with my “parents” from Homer and proud that they consider me as their “French daughter.” I am even happier that I came to Homer in August 2011 with my son, who was 9-years-old, to show him a part of the world and to get him to meet my hosting families, while seeing the place where I stayed at the age of 18. He just loved it and keeps on telling me, even nine years after, that this is one of his best travel memories.

After my year in Homer, I have since managed to either work in an international environment, or to meet people from other places by having a bed and breakfast activity at my house, or to travel to many foreign countries, always picking one where I have never been before. No matter if it is a short stay, my goal of being in the country is to live like the locals do: to feel the differences between their culture and mine and to not judge people because they do not act like me. This, to me, is one of the key beliefs that I learned through my experience.

And I will keep on acting this way as long as I can. Every time I get the chance to meet various people, it enables me the chance to learn about new and different habits and to better understand other cultures. I wish to always be able to go over prejudices, and, moreover, to fight them.

Sophie Samuzeau works at a cognac distillery and runs a bed and breakfast in Cognac, France.