The first day of school is always full of excitement, mixed of course with nervousness. You wonder about meeting new people and embarking on a new learning adventure.
Now, add to those feelings the fact that you’re going to be away from home for the first time, on the first day of school. Imagine if you will, living in a town much smaller than you are used to, in a different province and in a different language! Well, that is my adventure. For 5 weeks, I will be in Chicoutimi, QC, living with a host family that I have no information about, AND using only the French language! It’s terribly exciting and somewhat overwhelming.
By now, you’re probably thinking what is this craziness, why would anyone do that voluntarily?
Why am I talking about the first day of school and going away and French for 5 weeks? Have I gone crazy? No dear readers, Ne vous inquiétez pas. C’est le programme d’Explore!
What’s Explore you ask? It’s an amazing bursary program for Canadian students to be fully immersed in the French or English language and potentially unfamiliar Canadian Culture. Being in a bilingual environment at Glendon, my goal is to be able to take courses in French and to be able to converse easily with francophone students. I received an offer for the Spring Session in Chicoutimi where I would be living with a francophone host family. I was super excited to be leaving for a French Immersion experience in about a month! The next steps were to accept the offer, registering for “L’école de langue français et de culture québécoise à l’Université de Québec à Chicoutimi” and to start packing!
Chicoutimi is in the Saguenay region, about 3 hours north of Québec City, on the Saguenay River. It’s very difficult to pack for 5 weeks not really knowing what to expect weather wise. It only began warming up in Toronto the week before I left. With the knowledge that Chicoutimi is much farther north I had to figure out what to pack. The last time I packed for a northern destination, (Churchill MB), the weather there changed to the opposite of what was normal for that time. With that experience at the back of my mind, I packed for three seasons keeping in mind what looks good, what’s easy to fit in one suitcase, and the fact that the temperature is going to be warm by the end of the 5 weeks. I have to confess, my Nanee’s (grandmother) expert packing skills had to be employed.
My parents although happy for me to embark on a new experience, were a bit nervous. In true Collins style my travels began as a family road trip to Chicoutimi. For anyone who knows my dad well enough, that shouldn’t have been a surprise, he loves to drive. It felt just like our vacations as we sped out of Toronto at 6:30am. We drove to Québec City on Saturday and had a chance to take a walk around the old city after dinner. This brought back memories of our previous trip to Québec City. I took many pictures to start documenting my trip.
We continued to Chicoutimi the next morning, but not before we asked for directions to the correct highway at McDonalds while getting breakfast. (You see, we had veered from our google map directions.) The McDonalds employee didn’t know how to get to the highway, but with the help of other francophone customers, some translation help from myself, and of course drawings, we were able to find our way. We found the correct highway immediately. The drive was gorgeous with snowy forest and icy lakes. It reminded us of our trip through the Cabot trail. We could not resist stopping at a lookout point, le paysage était tellement beau!
Nous sommes arrivés à Chicoutimi and found the University easily even though the street signs are really small. When we got to the university, I briefly met up with one of my friends from Glendon, she was just leaving with her host family. The registration process was quick and we just had to wait for my host family to pick me up. I met some of the animateurs and animatrices, they were tellement sympa! After about 20 minutes, ma Chicoutimère est arrive and it was time to say à bientôt to my family
It’s been just over a week since I’ve been in Chicoutimi and I’m loving it! Sure, the first few days took some getting used to, you know with the whole French only thing, but it’s been even better than I expected. My host family is doing an amazing job making my roommate and I feel at home. I’ve made some really cool new friends at school and the profs and team of animateurs are very accommodating. The facilitation of learning strives to make students of all levels feel comfortable and confident when they speak French. J’aime beaucoup Explore et Chicoutimi et j’ai hâte de participer aux activités, aux ateliers, aux excursions pour avoir la chance d’améliorer mes compétences en français.
Never Gonna Give You Up – The Lost Fingers