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Published: August 24th 2007
First sunset on my walk around the old city
I’m just back from a five-week adventure in another French speaking place-Québec! After some debating between returning to France for the summer or trying out Québec I decided to enroll in a 5 week intensive language program in Chicoutimi (a town of about 70,000 people 2 hours north of Québec City) at the University of Québec. It was marvelous!
After Paris I completed my degree at CU Boulder, but, sadly, did not have the time to take any French courses. So I was rather rusty going into this program after a year away from the language. Anyway, I grabbed a plane to Montréal and took the city, and the start to my five weeks, by storm. The last time I visited Montréal it was in the dead of winter, so this was an entirely different experience. Live music played throughout various parts of the city, people milled about the streets until all hours of the night, and I even saw the most impressive rainbow of my life! What a great omen for the start of my journey.
6 and a 1/2 hours on a bus from Montréal to Chicoutimi left me ready to get out and get started with
My host sisters
On a family outing to pick strawberries
my new, temporary, life. When I arrived at the school my host family was notified and came to pick me up. My host mom seemed impressed that at my competency in French, saying that the students before me had very little French in the beginning. We pulled up to a nice home with two kids and a dog. My host mom made dinner while my host dad worked in the yard and the kids and I colored. The accent in Québec is very different than in France, so I found it hard to understand my host parents when they spoke to each other, but I was fine when either one would address me directly.
Day one was a language placement test and an orientation to the school. We met our “animateurs” -a group of twenty-somethings who were around to make conversation and also to lead workshops. The program enforces rather strictly a policy of only French, and so if one is caught speaking in their native language they have two warnings and then they are OUT! This rule proved harder for some than for others, but it certainly was effective.
Immediately we started our routine, which was four
hours of class in the morning (about 15 students per class ages ranging from 17-60, with over 200 students in the program) and then workshops in the afternoon. The options for our workshops were film making, theater, hiking, canoing, and others. I chose canoing, meaning that I got to canoe while speaking French for 3 hours once a week. The other afternoons we had activities, like spinning, yoga, dance, or choir, or we learned about québécoise culture. In the culture classes we would learn to dance the gig or listen to local music. It was all so fun!
The evenings we would watch films from Québec, like L’Invasion Barbare or La Grande Séduction, or would do improvisations in French…or would go out to the bars and try local brews! It’s hard to complain about the student life. Even our weekends had activities, with one trip to Lac-St-Jean to enjoy the pretty view, a visit to the zoo (where we hopped into a train with caged sides and rode through open spaces with bears and buffalo, not unlike Jurassic Park!), and then visited Val Jalbert a ghost town with an impressive waterfall in the heart of it.
we took an overnight trip to Québec City. What an enchanting city. It was so alive. It seemed that each street held another musical group or performance artist. We spent most of our night at a bar called Chez Son Père which proved magical. A live band rocked local music and the entire bar sang along and danced raising their pints at the start of each song with a cheer as though the band had selected the best song. It was truly delightful to be in the midst of such energy and music.
Our final outing was to whale watch at the mouth of the St. Lawrence. We actually saw four species of whales and lots of them- really impressive! Getting out into the sunshine proved to be essential as we geared up for our final week of classes and activities.
The differences between Québec and France I found to be analogous to America and Britain. In France, there is more of a witty intellectual culture, while in Québec a gregarious attitude reigns. Both are extremely proud of their culture and heritage, and I’d say with good reason. Perhaps one of my favorite parts about the program was
getting to know Canadians. I met many wonderful open people and had many great talks over the course of five weeks. Though there I did overhear many an anti-American joke, on the whole my experience was beyond positive.
On the last night, after 5 weeks of living ONLY in French we were allowed to converse in our native tongues! I found English to be rather harsh to the ear after only hearing the French “r” for so long. Also, talking with my friends was a bit jarring; we sort of had to start over again. The tone of voice, the word choice, the intonation, all of that was different in English.
I am so satisfied that I chose to go to Chicoutimi for the summer. My confidence with my French has sky rocketed, I met some incredible and inspiring people, and played in the gorgeous province Québec. Conversing only in French was, of course, very difficult and frustrating at times, but all the breakthroughs made it worthwhile. Whenever I am in a francophone place and I meet new people who ask me different questions or share their point of view with me, I remember why I learned another
Chez Son Père
Enjoying a bar and live music at the bar Chez Son Père
language- and why I want to learn more!
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