“Five… four… trois… deux…un… Français!” With this little countdown a sort of cloud descended on thirty students. “Français obligitoire” rang in our ears. No longer did we have the ability to communicate with each other, but over the next thirty days we were to learn a language which would lift that cloud and allow us to speak with each other again.
This was the Explore program in Gaspé. J’Explore is a French immersion program put on by the Canadian government for all students aged 17 to 25. The basic idea is you are given a $2000 bursary to attend a French speaking city anywhere in Canada, then you spend thirty days attending morning classes and taking afternoon activities which are all in French. I remember wanting to attend this program for a few reasons: 1.to improve my French speaking skills 2. to improve my understanding of the Francophone part of our country (namely Quebec) and 3. to drastically improve my French accent which over the years has received much critique and complaint from listeners. The Explore program did improve my French, and my understanding of Quebec culture ( I won’t mention the accent as it still sounds like a drunken growl), but also it gave much more than that. It was a chance to see some of Canada’s most beautiful places, meet the people of small town Gaspé, and a chance to make friends from across Canada.
So, what was it like exactly? Ill begin with the classes. 8:30 sharp we were under the tutelage of a French professor. For 3 hours every morning we were instructed in the details of the language. Then we ate lunch… a colourful process seeing as our chef was rather excitable, and got very angry at us in French (or English depending on how mad he got) if we chose the wrong combination of food options. Following lunch we had a 3 hour activity period where we could practice our French speaking skills. Then we ate supper, attended another activity, then went to bed.
The activities were what put that “je ne sais pas” in the whole experience. We went kayaking, hiking, sailing, and biking. We saw rock concerts, which were great, and some other concerts that the Quebec folks seemed to like (personally I thought they were pretty cool, but the other explore kids had differing opinions). My favorite activity was the climbing of a mountain called Mt. Albert. The mountain is so tall (1km) that you walk from the ground right up into the clouds. It is amazing to stand so high on the world and feel the clouds wisping by your face as you gaze over miles stunning mountain ranges and forests. The best part of it all was descending. The route descends through a rugged path of boulders into a deep mountain canyon. The mountains which flank the path are capped with an eternal snow that creates numerous streams which cascade down the mountains into a river following the path. Of all the landscapes I have seen, this was the most beautiful.
Aside from our ventures in Mt. Albert we took a trip to Percé Rock, went whale watching (saw a hump of a few), and attended circus school where we learned to juggle, jump and flip (actually the town of Gaspé was crawling with circus freaks. By day they would wander the streets in pink spandex handing out fliers or messing around at crosswalks, and by night they would gather together to juggle fire in the street).
All in all it was a wonderful experience, but I was not the only one who flirted with French in the summer, numerous NTCI students attended J’Explore not only in Gaspé but also Riviere de Loup, and other towns and cities in Quebec. If you have an desire to learn French, or are looking for an extremely enriching experience talk to our French teachers, or visit the J’Explore website (just Google it). It is a wonderful experience, it’s free, and what you learn from it will benefit you for years.
My last memory is of leaving Gaspé. It was still a bit cloudy, but the fog which seem to linger endlessly over our heads had cleared significantly. Somewhat similar was that French cloud that once enveloped those thirty French students. It was much lighter now than it was before. In its place were memories we will never forget, and a language with which we can explore.