Six-month foreign exchange leaves Rhys fluent in French
BEING sent away from home for six months to a foreign country to learn a new language would sound daunting to most ten-year-olds.
But for Rhys Barrot it was a move that will likely change his life.
The De La Salle pupil took part in a French exchange programme – following in the footsteps of his mother Hannah (36) who went on the scheme more than two decades earlier. She still keeps in touch with her French ‘sister’ Sophie Blum and sees her once a year.
And after just a few weeks living in France, Rhys was fluent in the language and says he has made a friend for life in Luc Françot (11) – the French boy who he took part in the exchange with.
Luc first travelled to Jersey for six months before Rhys returned the visit and went to live in La Rochelle. During his stay he attended a French school, took part in karate lessons and played basketball.
Mrs Barrot and Rhys say thanks to his new found skills they can now enjoy ‘secret’ conversations in French away from the rest of the family.
But there were tough times. Mrs Barrot, who works for RBC, said she ‘wailed’ for hours after her and her husband dropped Rhys, now 12, with his temporary family in France.
During the time he was away, she was advised to only have one conversation on the phone a week for the first three months and then once a fortnight thereafter.
‘I cried every time we got off the phone for the first two months,’ she said.
‘I have had a mix of reactions from other parents. Some say: “How could I send my son away for six months?” I don’t see it as a bad thing. The organisation who set up the exchange do a great job and after six months I have a bilingual son.’
Rhys said when Luc first came to stay at his family home it was strange. The two families had been paired together by the exchange company EnFamille after a lengthy application process which involved pages of questionnaires and even an interview in Oxford. The two families were then allowed to Skype each other.
‘Rhys didn’t speak French at the time and Luc didn’t speak English. But Luc brought out a Nerf gun and Rhys had one too and that was it,’ Mrs Barrott said.
Asked how quickly he learnt French during his exchange, Rhys, who has recently returned from a visit to see Luc, said: ‘Luc was my dictionary for the first two weeks but after that he was not allowed to help me. I remember after three months of being there people kept thinking I was French. I started to think in French. Even now half-way through a conversation I’ll say a French word.’
The exchange cost in the region of £1,400 per family. Each family is then responsible for the living costs of the child while they are staying with them.