On the last day of July, just before the crack of dawn, a group of teenagers gets suited up in their sweatpants and sweaters to brace themselves for the morning chill. We take the same route we have taken the past five weeks to downtown Trois-Rivières to watch the sunrise. We have stayed up all night long, trying to hold on to the last few hours we have together. We sing on the empty streets to keep ourselves awake and we pause once in a while to hold back the tears. This is our last walk downtown, the last sunrise we will see in Trois-Rivières, one of the last moments we will spend together in a long while.
I had a summer mission. It was to immerse myself in all-around French-ness. Long before summer started, I signed up for a government bursary French Immersion program at Trois-Rivières. I would be spending five weeks of my precious two-month break in an unfamiliar place with a group of strangers trying to improve my grasp of a mysterious language. How much fun could that really be?
When we arrived at the Cégep, a group of counselors greeted us. They handed us a bunch of maps and schedules, and our keys. Sadly, my first major dilemma wasn’t speaking in French; it was learning how to unlock my room. We were told that a typical weekday at the Cégep consisted of four-hour classes in the morning; ateliers (art, fashion, and sports) in the afternoon, and homework in the evening. By the sound of it, we were to be spending five miserable weeks in an intense French boot-camp. To make matters worse, most of us were still homesick, and we could not stop complaining about the cafeteria food, the hard plastic beds, and the lack of familiarity that we were used to back home.
Without a doubt, it was a huge culture shock. French, not English, was the official language on campus. Also, where we would normally expect the boy to girl ratio to be about 1:1, at the program, it was an unfortunate 1:6. Additionally, there weren’t many tall buildings, crowded streets, or Asian people in Trois-Rivières. No wonder a lot of people thought I was related to Yao Ming. I guess they haven’t seen a lot of 6 foot Asians before.
However, by the third or fourth day, I began to understand why there was such high praise for this program. Although the beds did not get any softer, our opinions began to brighten. Everyday became a day to look forward to because there was always something new and exciting to do. There were Saturday trips to Quebec City, the Valcartier Water Park, and Montreal. There were beach parties and Friday dances. Friends gathered in dorms and laughed until curfew. No special giggling formula, just some junk food, music, and good company. As days turned into weeks, sometime between the first meeting and the farewell hug, we realized how hard it would be to say goodbye. Hard to leave a place we have begun to call home. Hard to leave the people we have begun to love.
Before going into this, I thought that I would leave with a ton of French and that would be the end of it. But I was completely wrong. I gained so much more than just the knowledge of a language. By far, the greatest part of this experience was the friends I made from all across Canada.
Truly, summer 2008 was a summer of love, laughter, friendship, and memories. For the beautiful city I got to call home, and for the group of wonderful people I got to spend the best five weeks of my life with, I will forever be grateful. If you would like to experience the extraordinary, sign up now for an amazing summer!