Every summer, American students get involved with isolated seniors in France: an unforgettable experience!

For more than 15 years, the French organization Petits Frères des Pauvres has hosted a dozen American students each summer to allow them to discover the joys of working with isolated seniors and to foster intergenerational ties. While Covid prevented the organization from hosting them for two years, this forced break was the opportunity to conduct a survey among former students… We share the results with you!

The partnership with the American university Brigham Young University (BYU), which has been strengthened each year, has allowed us to welcome more than a hundred young people. Summer is a time when the isolation of seniors can be even more difficult to live with, especially for those who cannot go on vacation. So, for two months, these young people leave their country of origin and commit themselves to relieving the loneliness of our seniors. Welcomed directly into the teams, they visit the elderly supported by the organization, organize outings and discover French culture at the same time.

This project allows the seniors to experience intergenerational and intercultural encounters that are great vectors of social bonding, different from what they experience on a daily basis. As for the students, it allows them to live an unforgettable experience with isolated elderly people, which then has many impacts on their lives. We share with you the results of the survey, to which 66 students responded!

A professional impact

This experience has been very formative in my young adulthood. I don’t think I would have been able to enter the workforce as competently without it.”

All of the students who responded to the survey say that this experience helped them develop professional skills and improve their French. Most of them also tell how they were able to make the most of their stay during job interviews. For others, finally, their volunteering has completely defined (or redefined) their professional career.

After the summer spent at Petits Frères des Pauvres, I decided to change my career plans and I am now working in the nonprofit sector.”

The two summers spent with Petits Frères des Pauvres highlighted the importance of human development in nonprofit work. I returned to France afterwards to do a master’s degree in Paris in French, and I was naturally drawn to cultural social centers, which inspired my research paper on teaching French to adult immigrants in the nonprofit sector.”

Personal enrichment

I got to know several people who remained my friends until they passed away. I learned so much about empathy, patience and love from my dear friends among the elderly in Dunkirk and even the volunteers.”

In addition to this professional impact, the experience with the organization is a real personal enrichment for the students. A majority of people talk about a stay that changed their lives and during which they developed many human skills such as empathy, listening to others, opening up to the world and to other cultures… Human contributions that are just as important as the professional ones!

My experience was one of personal growth in many areas, including expanding myself beyond my comfort boundaries, challenging my language skills, and learning who I was as a person.”

An unforgettable experience

The survey results reveal that this volunteer experience, although relatively short, impacted the students in many ways, sometimes for life… Experiences, encounters and exchanges that these volunteers have never forgotten and that have truly changed their lives for some:

And as another important benefit, I also met the person I eventually married while we were both working for Petits Frères!

To illustrate the impact on my life, I always tell the story that I named my oldest daughter after one of my dearest Petits Frères friends.”

Each story we collected reveals a life path impacted in some way by this volunteerism and reminds us of the importance of intergenerational connections. In closing, we asked these past participants to describe their experience in a few words:

It was honestly the best thing I’ve ever done.”

An eye-opening, rewarding, and magical experience.”

One of the best experiences of my life. I learned so much, and grew so much.”


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