Can you crash a wedding in an ancient cathedral, watch a unique performance of the Cirque du Soleil, and try a month of living in and experiencing francophone culture for (almost) no charge?
Well, that’s exactly what I did last summer with my friend, Taylor Mulder!
Official Language Programs Canada offers a government-funded learning opportunity for Canadian students called Explore. For the summer session in which I participated, students experienced a month-long French-immersion program in which they could live, learn, and explore in a francophone community.
In my case, I received a bursary to study at the Cégep Trois-Rivières in Quebec. Explore programs are fully French immersion. I wasn’t even allowed to speak English! Classes, activities, and daily life were conducted all in French. However, it wasn’t quite as scary as it sounds. There were plenty of students at the Cégep who barely spoke any French coming in, and were welcomed by incredibly supportive and accommodating teachers and leaders.
No Cafeteria Is Perfect
While some locations offer accommodations with homestay families, in Trois-Rivières I stayed in an apartment-style dorm with two roommates located at the school.
I ate at the school’s cafeteria for most meals, with local restaurants and grocery stores available as possible alternatives. In general, the cafeteria food was pretty good. Of course, no cafeteria is perfect, and I did see my share of questionable meal options. If I didn’t want the main course, I always had the option of a pasta or salad bar. Let me tell you, the pasta bar was amazing. Vraiment délicieux.
Unfortunately, there was one French word that I wasn’t prepared for when ordering my food. When I thought the chef asked if I wanted saucisse porc, (pork sausage) he actually asked if I wanted saucisse fort: spicy sausage. The meal was delicious, but I was unable to finish it because of my extremely low spice tolerance. C’est dommage.
Every weekday, I had about three hours of formal French classes. Students were separated into groups of about 20 based on both writing and speaking skills. These classes were both challenging and rewarding. Although it’s definitely difficult to learn a new language while fully immersed in it, by the end of the program my speaking (and, to an extent, grammar) skills were vastly improved.
However, looking back on this summer, I don’t think of the classes. Instead, I think of the amazing experiences and friends I made along the way.
When not in classes, there were a variety of optional activities to partake in. I was never bored. I watched a performance of Cirque du Soleil created specifically for Trois-Rivieres, which was one of the most breathtaking two hours ever.
And on a day trip to Quebec City, a friend and I were exploring the Cathedral Notre-Dame du Quebec and accidentally crashed a wedding! I still remember my surprise at seeing the bride and groom walk down the aisle.
Not only that, but I made some amazing friends from across Canada. I now have connections to people living anywhere from Ottawa to Edmonton to here in the Vancouver area.
This experience was truly incredible. I learned so much about Quebec, the French language, and even living independently. I really hope to do it again in the future.
Je me souviens!