This summer I decided to do something I have never done before. I decided to take advantage of UB’s study abroad opportunities. I spoke with my director in the French department and came up with a plan I would not regret. I spent three weeks in Chicoutimi, Quebec, where I lived alone in a region foreign to me, where English was definitely not a language you could pass by with.
I remember when I first walked into reception to pick up my name tag. One of the students helping facilitate the program instantly started speaking to me in French, and I was definitely not ready to be having conversations in French yet. His name was Mathieu, and he reassured me that it was okay and that we are all here to learn. He also told me that by the end of the program I would be much more confident and much better in speaking French, and I’m so glad he was not wrong.
I remember being super nervous when I found out that English was not allowed to be spoken, except on the first day. After that, if anybody was caught speaking in English, there would be a warning (or a ‘strike’) given. After the third strike, it was strikeout and the individual would be sent back home, unable to continue in the program any longer. The program began with an icebreaker activity that was designed to help the students meet each other and start knowing some familiar faces. In my opinion, it was very beneficial, even for someone like me who can be introverted at times. Students were also split up into their respective class levels; these classes were decided based on the placement test scores that were taken prior to the program. I was in class 3C, which was considered an intermediate level of French speaking skills. My teacher was really kind and very encouraging. I also thought my class was one of the best classes I have had based on the humor, teamwork and friendship. I loved them all and they did not hesitate to help one another. The class was entertaining and exactly the kind of class I would not mind waking up at 8 am for. Playing games and doing activities to learn is the best way to learn a language!
What terrified me was what came after class. Lunch time was a time we all had to wait in line and make orders for our food in French. How I was going to order my lunch in the cafeteria ? How would I explain that I am a vegetarian? The number of times I got the French words for vegetarian and vegan mixed up is hilarious. “Vegetarienne” sounds too close to “vegetalienne”. I am pretty sure they gave me vegan food a few times thanks to my mispronunciations. However, the fact that I was motivated enough to want to be able to give my lunch order with perfect grammar, contributed to my fluency of speaking the language. It started off with trying to find different ways to order my lunch at the cafeteria everyday, but sooner or later I started feeling more comfortable speaking in French with my classmates. It wasn’t just having class every morning followed by lunch and activities for the day that made my French better, but the immersive environment that I was in that also allowed my French to grow.
I remember walking down the streets of downtown Chicoutimi and walking into a ballet store where I spoke to a lady in French about looking for a new leotard to wear for my ballet classes back at home. There was also a small cafe in the same building where they served amazing local crepes! The cafe was called Le Petit Breton Cafe Croissant. I didn’t even realize I was speaking in French with the server there. Something about speaking in French with the locals was very invigorating, because not only did they understand what I was saying but the conversations would also contribute to helping me speak a little better. My favorite incident occurred when I spoke to the host parents of a new friend that I met during my program. I was complimented by the host parents on my decent grammar and because they were able to understand me. It was then that I realized my French really was growing, and my confidence was rising as well.
I will have to say though, my most unforgettable experience at Chicoutimi was when I signed up for improvisation for my Tuesday activity. First, I put myself on the spot, given that I have a fear of speaking in front of an audience. Improvisation was definitely not something I could do even in English, let alone in French. I purposely signed up for it because I really wanted to take full advantage of taking risks in this new city and trying to grow as an individual. I learned not only how to make jokes in French, but I could feel my fear of public embarrassment slowly inch away as if it was never there. My improv professor, Fred, was really a great influence by assuring us that making mistakes are very common and everybody has to go through them, otherwise you cannot learn. We made mistakes together as a team, not only in speaking French, but in acting as well which made the improv show all the more hilarious. What really stood out to me was the fact that nobody was laughing at anyone. We were all laughing together. It was an unforgettable moment.
Three weeks flew by quicker than ever, and after many activities, including badminton, field trips with the class, and of course making so many new friends, changed me a lot this summer. I lived in an environment where everyone was motivated to help each other out to improve each other’s French. Everyone was not only friendly but we all became a giant family. Even today, I am still in contact with many the friends I made while staying in Quebec and I will never forget them and their aide in my French acquisition. I wish that the program had never ended, and that we were all still there living together. This summer of 2017 is a summer I will never forget and I could confidently claim to be one of the best decisions of my life.
I would like to thank the French director, Maureen Jameson, for recommending me the program. Had she not recommended it, I would not have grown so much as an individual. I would also like to thank the ELFCQ Program, in University of Quebec at Chicoutimi, and Chicoutimi itself, for allowing me to, and encouraging me to, take as many risks as I could. I told you Mathieu was right!
– Rachana Joshi