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The Sault Star, August 2011
Paris family swaps home with Sault clan for summer
By Jordan Allard, Special to the Star
How does swapping life in a French suburb located just outside of Paris, France, with Sault Ste. Marie sound?
A French family who made the switch is in town for the summer and they're not complaining one bit.
Instead, they appreciate the everyday things many of us take for granted.
"We live near a big city like Paris and spent three weeks in Toronto in a huge city and we wanted to try and see (the natural) side of Canada," said Sandrine Helfrich, who is in Sault Ste. Marie with her family as part of HomeLink International.
"You're living in a large city, but there is beautiful nature everywhere. Animals, trees, flowers are all over."
Sandrine has been in the Sault for just over two weeks with her husband Alain, a concert manager in France and their children Leslie and Meryl. They've traded places with a local couple who have been staying in the Helfrich's home in Columbes -- located just 7 km from the heart of Paris.
HomeLink International is the program that brought the two families together.
It's been around since 1953 and Sandrine said recently HomeLink has started to gain increased popularity throughout Europe.
"People want to travel differently," said Sandrine, a teacher in France who speaks English. "They want to meet the real people in the places they visit and especially for us, we like to get a sense of how people really live."
The two families were in contact for weeks leading up to the swap, ensuring both were comfortable with each other.
"It's like if I was letting friends stay in our home," said Sandrine, after many conversations between the Sault couple and herself.
To help make sure their time in each city runs smoothly both families informed neighbours of the swap. While Sandrine's friends have been looking after the Sault couple in France -- last update saw them in Normandy -- neighbours here have also reached out.
"It's been fun for us, a real pleasure to meet and spend time with them," said Tony Dionisi, who along with his wife Elizabeth and daughter Michelle, have showed the Helfrich's around town.
"To learn about their culture has also been great. Even something like seeing what time they eat and how they great each other; it's all very interesting."
Sandrine reports the Dionisis haven't been the only locals to show the family why the Sault is referred to as the friendliest city in Algoma.
"Everybody has been so nice. When people see that we're french, they all try to speak our language. It's incredible the way people here want to learn about our country."
While here, the Helfrich's have been exposed to many different aspects of life in Canada. For the first time they saw wildlife such as bears, moose, rabbits and even a chipmunk, up close. They've also hit the local beaches, restaurants and the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre.
"It was very exciting to see the animals up close. I had only seen bears and moose in books and on television before now," said nine-year-old Meryl.
"I love the beaches here. The weather was beautiful when we went and the beach was very clean," added 12-year-old Leslie.
While the kids enjoyed the beach, Alain and his friend Jacques Renaud -- visiting this week from France with his wife Olga and daughter Marina -- were at local lakes trying to reel in fish. They managed to hook an 11 pound salmon.
"The fish here are very big, much bigger than at home. I really loved fishing here," Jacques explained.
Sandrine said her family has enjoyed life as a temporary Saultite. Since the Helfrichs have travelled to the United States, Asia, Australia and throughout Europe, that's a compliment that carries some weight.
"When I say people are very friendly and we've loved life here, you know it's a great place."
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