The dream of every backpacker – or how I won a language stay in the US

Student stories May 31, 2016

One day, I saw a missed call from an unknown number on my mobile. Usually, I completely ignore this kind of call, but this time – for no specific reason – I thought: “What if it’s important? I am going to call back…”. And then, the incredible surprise. I heard: “Hi! Thank goodness you called back. You just won a 2-week stay in San Francisco!”. I replied: “Excuse me, is this a joke? What are you talking about?”. And then, I remembered: an advert on Facebook, saying I could win a trip to a destination of choice. While I was filling the form, I didn’t have much hope. These kinds of things simply never happen to you, right?

A bit later, I finally managed to digest that I had actually won that trip. However, it’s only when I stepped on American soil that I definitely realised that I was going to spend some time in my favourite city, just like this, without having done anything special. When I arrived at my host family’s house at 10.30 pm, after the long trip, I fell asleep straight away, fighting the imminent jet lag…


No time to rest – the next day, I went to the city centre of San Francisco to join the language school of St Giles International.

The first day, they gave us a lot of information and we all took a test to determine our level.

I quickly met some of the other students and then I spent the afternoon with them. Mostly Germans, I have to admit… it’s crazy how sharing a native language can bring people together!

I found out that, with my 2-week stay, I was among the “short-term students”. Most of the people stayed twice as long and some of them stayed even for a few months.

The next day, classes began – and I ended up being in a rather exclusive group of 2 people! But the following week, other students would join our class. I had my moment of glory during a fun classroom game, evening the score for the “German Team”. My group was mainly composed of Swiss people, so the question was: “Who is going to win? The German speakers or the French speakers?”. The rest of the week was as entertaining as the beginning, with loads of discussions and interesting subjects.


My time at school was as interesting and fascinating as the exploration of the city. From shopping to sightseeing, you can really have it all there. And thanks to the central location of St Giles, I could reach any place quickly and without any problems. We went on a short ferry tour to the close city of Sausalito and to Alcatraz Island, famous for its prison (we went on the only rainy day, we couldn’t have picked a better one!), we visited the neighbourhood of Haight-Ashbury with a true hippy and explored Land’s End, a small piece of heaven, passing by Baker Beach and a breath-taking view from the Golden Gate Bridge… These are only a few of my favourite spots. And let’s not forget about the culinary treats! My advice as an insider is the Farmer’s Market, next to the Ferry Building, especially on Saturdays!

And do you know what made my stay in the City by the Bay even better? My incredible host mum! With her, and with the other students who stayed at her place, I could talk for hours, every night after dinner – and listen to her enthusiastic life lessons. I think this is the best way to learn about other cultures and, of course, I went back home with plenty of addresses of Japanese, Spanish and Swiss students.


Thank you so much to ESL for this amazing opportunity, not only for giving me the chance to meet great people along the stay, but also during the preparation of the trip.

By Jessica Steber

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