Monday, April 26, 2010

#65. Live in Quebec for three months and learn the language

As I said in my introductory post, moving to Quebec when I was sixteen was one of the first major travel experiences I'd ever had. I'd taken French courses my whole life in school - that is simply part of the Canadian school experience - and had a desire to be able to say more than just the phrases taught in the workbooks. Our school had been participating in the French Exchange program for years and years, and in the last few of those years, I'd become friends with some of the prior exchange students. I also wanted to be the one in our high school yearbook who had a whole page dedicated just to her and her life experiences (yes, at sixteen I'll admit I was on the vain side). Overall, I felt that the exchange program was a good fit for me.

Quebec City, Quebec Canada
Chateau Frontenac, a gorgeous and very historical hotel!

I signed up, beat out some of the other hopefuls, and had my exchange partner, Caroline, move in with my family and I in September of my Grade 11 year. She stayed until the end of November, and it wasn't my turn to leave until February. I remember being excited for Christmas holidays simply because they meant time was moving closer and closer to my departure date.

Outside my school in Ste-Agathe-Des-Monts with some friends

Finally, it was time. I piled onto the airplane with several other students from around Alberta and headed to the Montreal airport. I was picked up by family and began my 'new life' in Quebec - at least, for the next three months.

It was indeed an amazing experience. Caroline's group of friends was eclectic and independent, marching to the beat of their own, much different drum, and we had silly and entertaining parties that included such activities as costume dress-up and couch dancing. With them, my confidence in meeting new people and learning foreign languages increased. My family lugged me all over the province, attempting to show me how wonderful Quebec is (and it is!).

Outside the Olympic Stadium in Montreal

I experienced the beauty of Vieux Quebec (Old Quebec City), skiing at Mont Tremblanc, the Parliament Buildings, the Biodome, the Funiculaire, an NHL hockey game - the Canadiens of course - and the busy streets of Montreal, as well as a traditional Cabane a Sucre, where I was able to see how real Canadian maple syrup is made, and created my own maple taffy on a stick by pouring the syrup onto crushed ice and letting it cool.

Making maple syrup candy at the Cabane-a-Sucre

My school provided me with many opportunities, as well. They realized quickly that I was not the strongest French speaker - despite another boy from Alberta, who was fluent, helping me to cheat my way along! - and enrolled me in such classes as art, sculpture, computers, and radio DJ experience. It was a lovely three months, where my most difficult courses were economics (in French) and Grade 12 math (in French - and yes, I know I told you I was in Grade 11 at the time - there had been a mix-up when they enrolled me, so I just had to suck it up and take Grade 12 math one year early, in French.) I met many wonderful friends and even competed in the school's talent competition! I love to sing, and so I did a karaoke version of a song by Quebec's favorite star, Celine Dion. I didn't win because I used a karaoke tape and not a live band, but I had a great time anyway.

Making lifelong friends in Quebec on my French exchange trip

After three months, I returned home full of confidence in myself and my ability to travel the world on my own, and was able to talk a mile a minute in Quebecois-accented French. 15 years later, I still am in contact with several of the friends I made long ago on my journey.

We loved to pose on that dumb rock! Ha ha!

For any young reader who is considered doing an exchange program but is hesitant, I suggest to you to take the risk and scoop up any experiences that come your way - the exchange that I participated on was indeed worth it!

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