After my first trip to Germany alone at 17, I had a serious case of wanderlust. Not wanting to go straight to university after school, I decided to take a year out, travel, and learn French. So in the Autumn of 2009, I boarded a flight to Paris for the first time. I was going to stay with a host family and teach English at a nearby language school. Let me be clear, I didn’t speak a word of French at this point, and was extremely nervous about living in the French capital. My worries were not eased when I arrived at the airport; my host mother was waiting in arrivals with a sign for me, but I had barely introduced myself when she turned and walked briskly to her car, not even offering to help me with my luggage. She drove a very expensive car and had a very large, expensive house, which she shared with her much older husband and their seven year old son. She barely talked to me as we drove to their home about an hour outside of the city, and once there, she didn’t even let me unpack. She showed me to my room, which to my dismay, was down in the cellar towards the back of the house, with a tiny, high window in the corner, which I later discovered had been carved out under the grass in the garden. Once showing me to my room, she promptly told me I could unpack later, and handed me a list of rules for her house. That was my first sign things were not going to be very fun here.
As the days wore on, I quickly learnt to avoid her as much as possible. She would bang on my door at 6am each morning even though I had set an alarm clock, and drive me to work (after she had given her seven year old a BOTTLE of milk for breakfast) and her husband would pick me up in the afternoon. I was not allowed to make a mess of any kind (and this included leaving any drops of water in the kitchen sink after washing my hands), and was not allowed to help myself to any food in the fridge or the pantry. She inspected my room on an almost daily basis, and was quick to declare her disapproval of the state of my bathroom sink.
I was to take one-on-one French lessons at the school where I worked, and one afternoon I just broke down in tears with my tutor, who told me she understood how awful my host mother was. Another intern at the school had also lived with them the year before, and she had left within a couple of weeks. This had made me feel a little better. As did the morning I went to their son’s golf lesson with my host father. We had sat at the bar at the club, and although we didn’t speak the same language, he had seemed kind and understanding. He even gave me 50 Euros to take the train to Paris for the day, and had told me through sign language not to tell his wife.
However, I should have been more suspicious. There’s no such thing as free lunch, after all. Shortly after my day trip to Paris (where, despite being only 17, alone, and speaking no French, I didn’t get lost and had a wonderful time), I came home from work one afternoon to find my host father sitting in the kitchen. This was unusual in itself as he worked long hours each day, and was never home before 9pm. He started talking to me in French, but I didn’t understand and before I knew it, he had started massaging my shoulders and was inching his hands down and around my waist. I have never felt so uncomfortable in my life, and at first I didn’t know what to do. My first instinct was to stand still and not agitate him, but I quickly gathered my strength, ran out of his grip and out the door. I stayed in the village for a few hours, walking, figuring out what to do. When I returned in the evening, he wasn’t home. I went straight to my room, and for the next few days, I avoided everyone as much as possible. I explained my situation to my boss, and he agreed with my decision to leave Paris. I was looking online for jobs I could do in France or French-speaking countries, and decided it might be nice to become an au pair. I quickly heard back from a lovely family in Switzerland and a week later, I caught a flight to Geneva.