Bonjour, Je m’appelle Sydney. Part of my stretch experience was taking an intensive French program and living in Montreal for five weeks. Why French and Montreal? I have been considering going to McGill for graduate school so I wanted to learn some French, get a taste of Montreal and be immersed in Quebec culture!
The experience of learning French.
Everyone says learning a language is challenging, but I must say that it was much more difficult than I had anticipated. I took French in elementary and secondary school, however much of the French I learned was all written and there was very little emphasis on actually speaking. So while I knew how to conjugate verbs, putting together sentences and talking with others was quite a challenge. Over time it got easier, but I know I have a long way to go until I am bilingual. Nevertheless, I am going to continue to pursue learning French so hopefully, I will be bilingual in the near future.
For anyone who has visited Montreal before knows that there is always something going on! Whether it be a festival, play, market, or what have you, there is no lack of entertainment. During my time in Montreal, there was a French music festival called the Francofolies, a mural festival where many of the murals on one of the main streets, St. Laurent, are repainted, an outdoor electronic music festival, free museum day among many other events.
It was difficult to keep up with them all, but it made for great experiences. Along with the vast entertainment options, there is no short supply of delicious food either. From poutine to pho, to vegan and vegetarian restaurants, the delicious cuisine was also a highlight. After spending five weeks in Montreal it was very difficult to leave. I loved every aspect of it, and I know I will be back very soon!
I found the culture in Quebec to be quite different than other parts of Canada. The architecture, food, lifestyle, fashion, and art make it have a very European feel. Some of the differences have to do with age, for example, Montreal is 375 this year, while I think that many of the cultural differences arise from the French language divide that exists in Canada. In fact, the Francophone-Anglophone tensions can be found all over, there is even a sculpture in Old Montreal which is formally named ‘The English Pug and The French Poodle” but it is better known as ‘The Two Snobs”. The sculpture portrays the clashing and distanced culture between the French and the English. Experiencing some of these language tensions really outlined to me the importance of people outside Quebec being bilingual, especially leaders.
This opportunity did not only stretch me by learning another language, but it taught me a lot about myself, my limits and the importance of rest and self-care. Picking up and moving somewhere for five-weeks where you don’t know anyone is difficult in and of itself. Not to mention living with 7 other people and going to a different university. It took some time to adjust, but once I made some friends and got my bearings I felt more comfortable, perhaps a bit too comfortable as I didn’t slow down due to fear of missing out. After five weeks of at least 6 hours of classes per day and hours of exploring, I became burnt out and quite sick. While that type of lifestyle works perfectly well for some people, it caught up with me. However, if I were to go back in time and do it over again, I would not change a thing. I am grateful for the experience and stretching myself beyond my limits, and what I have learned as a result.