Though I've been placed in the south of France, I'm working with an ITALIAN host family, who lived in the U.S. for 10 years, and therefore speak English to me in their home. I realized that if I wanted to improve my French skills, I was going to have to find my own opportunities.
I have introverted tendencies, so this was not an easy task for me. I'm not one to just strike up conversation on the beach, or visit a pub alone and make friends with the bartender. On top of that, I'm a girl, travelling alone (haha, blaming my parents for instilling this paranoia in me), so safety is always a priority.
Enter: social media and Couchsurfing.org! Many people have heard of couchsurfing as an affordable (free) way to find accomodations while traveling. However, less people see it as a way to make new friendships. Well, start rethinking. I am convinced that couchsurfing is the best and safest way to get into local life while travelling.
Let me tell you WHY couchsurfing.org versus other social media sites.
- For starters, the people on this site are WELCOMING of culture exchange. It may seem weird to message someone you don't know and ask them to hang out, but think about it: they're opening up their homes to complete strangers. They WANT to meet travelers.
- Secondly, **users on this site can give and receive written feedback for others they have met before!** You can get a feel for a person by the amount and quality of feedback they have displayed on their profile, as well as how they fill out their personal information.
- Third, (and personally, this is important to me) couchsurfing.org isn't a dating site, so its users are less likely to make unwanted advances.
- Lastly, if you're still too shy to individually message a couchsurfer check out the activities and group pages! There are loads of public events created where you can just show up and meet locals and other couchsurfers in larger group settings.
I've had an amazing experience using this website to meet people in France, a few of which have turned into great friends who have really shown me what it's like to live here. I would have never ventured to an improv show at the town theater, gone rock climbing in the tiny town of Peille or walked a secret beach trail in Antibes if it weren't for the locals I met.
Good luck with your own experiences getting into local culture abroad! Happy (and safe!) travels. :)