Monday, June 15, 2015

Je reviendrai, Québec

Salut, tout le monde! 

Well, I am back home from my five week French immersion program in Québec. It was an amazing experience, but I am also glad to be back home, where everyone speaks English and where the landscape is ridiculously flat. Dorothy was right when she said there really is no place like home. 

I thought I'd just take some time and talk up the program I did. The program is called Explore and is offered through the Canadian government. Anyone can do it (there were a few Americans in my program) but only Canadian residents are eligible to receive the bursary that pays for everything except your transportation. If you're Canadian, I would definitely suggest doing it. Your entire 5 week trip only costs whatever your flight/train/bus/gas costs, and you get to learn French! Even if you're not Canadian, you can still do the program, you just have to pay. 


Explore is an awesome program for improving confidence in French, especially oral. There was a lot of focus on speaking French. We had classes where we're encouraged to talk, conversation classes, and activities with the animateurs (the hosts who are native francophones) so we get to talk to francophones. The best thing about the hosts is that it's their job to be patient with you as you learn French. It's a great environment, because you get to feel comfortable talking and practicing with the animateurs, and then you can go out and talk to francophones in the city!


A hike to Cap Tourmente with students and hosts!
 There are Explore programs all across Canada, both English (for francophones) and French (for anglophones), but the one I went to was at Université Laval in Québec City. I can't really judge since I've only been to one program, but I honestly think the Laval program is the best. Laval is a bigger university and has been doing language exchange programs for years and years, so their program is super organized. They have a big focus on making you speak French, so you learn a lot in the 5 weeks. We were given bracelets the first week that identified us as either beginner (blue bracelet), intermediate (red), or superior (yellow). I was amazed at how much people with blue bracelets learned. At the beginning, they knew a few words, and by the end they could hold entire conversations! 

I was a red bracelet, so I could understand fairly well and speak enough to get by, but I definitely noticed an improvement in my own French as well. By the end, I could understand pretty well and felt like I could communicate well enough to get by living in Québec. The biggest thing though was definitely building up confidence. One of my friends commented on how her confidence had improved more than her actual ability to speak well, and she summed up it by saying, "They're going to hear my French whether they like it or not!" This is a great attitude to have if you want to learn a language, because you have to use it in order to practice and get better. And if you're too scared to use it, well that's not going to get you anywhere. 


Saturday hike to Mont du Lac des Cygnes, with the most incredible views.
The program itself at Laval is very strict about making you speak French, so it's an awesome environment to learn. The other thing is that the Québecois in Quebec City don't always automatically switch to English if you speak to them. Sometimes people switch, but a lot of people acknowledge your effort and the fact that you're trying to practice and will keep speaking French to you. There were were only a handful of people that spoke back to me and my friends in English when we spoke French to them. That's just another reason to go to Québec City if you really want to learn French, rather than Montreal or anywhere outside of Québec. 

Another reason to go to Laval is because there is a ton of stuff to do in Quebec City! There are some Explore programs at universities in smaller towns, but there is not as much to keep you entertained during your free time in afternoons or on weekends. The Université Laval campus is surrounded by malls, shops and little streets with cafés and cute little trinket shops. It's also about a fifteen minute bus ride from Old Quebec, the main tourist attraction, and the main metro bus goes right through the university so it's super easy to get around the city. 


One of the optional afternoon activities - painting!

The Laval Explore program itself organizes tons of activities. They have activities either at the university or around the city every afternoon, as well as a choice of three outing activities every Saturday. If you go on these activities with the university, that are led by the hosts, you get the chance to speak French even more. Sometimes it was difficult hiking up a mountain while also trying to speak French, but it was fun! 

I did the spring session (May-June) but they also have a summer session (July-August). If you are interested in going to Université Laval or doing an Explore program, I would love to chat with you or give you advice on what to expect or what to do in Québec City. Even if you're reading this months after it's posted, leave a comment, shoot me an email at asherlockwrites(at)gmail(dot)com or contact me on Twitter @asherlockwrites!

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