For my STEP Project, I studied abroad in Québec, Canada for 5 weeks. I was in the classroom every weekday learning French and explored Québec City at night and during the weekends. I was able to sight see in historical Old Québec, hike and view beautiful parks and waterfalls, try new and different foods, and speak the native French language daily.
During my STEP Signature Project, I realized I did not know very much about Canadian and Québec culture. I found this surprising because I have been studying French culture for many years, but it was still much different than what I had learn in my classes. I always thought of myself as someone who was aware of the world and how different some countries could be; however, this was not true. I barely knew anything about the closest country to me! This realization humbled me and allowed me to respect those differences and also made me curious about other countries and their cultures.
In Québec, I found it very difficult to speak French fluently and to interact with the native people. This made me very uncomfortable, but it forced me to learn and truly immerse myself in the language and culture. This made me gained a great respect to those who have learned English as a second language. I never realized how hard it can be to adjust to living in a new place that speaks a different and difficult language.
Although they are small, the differences in the way I talked about weather, prices, and directions was interesting. I had to adjust and talk about weather in Celsius rather than Fahrenheit. I had to talk about prices in Canadian dollars not US dollars. I also had to change how I talked about directions from miles to kilometers. I was expecting the culture to be different, but I never thought about how many little things were different.
During the program, I met a lot of new people and we did basic introductions asking questions like “Where are you from?” After a couple introductions, I realized I knew nothing about Canada geography. I knew where Toronto was along with Vancouver. I did not even know their different areas were called provinces. I found it really interesting that many of the people I talked too knew where Ohio was. This was a prime example of ignorance that I did not realize I had.
As I explored Québec, I tried my best to speak French. Many times, a native person would talk French back to me and I could not understand it. They were either speaking too fast or using vocabulary that I did not know. After they realized I could not understand them, they instantly switch to speaking English. It was so bizarre to me that everyone in Québec knew English but many people visiting there could not speak enough French to interact with them. I thought this was disappointing and I realized this is how it is around popular tourist spots around the world.
There are so many more things I learned when I was studying aboard in Québec, but overall the things I learned humbled me to realize I do not know much about different countries and cultures but it is something I want to invest my time and money into discovering more.
Although speaking French does not directly relate to my future plans to be a dentist, this program changed the way I will see people. Many people in the United States have learned English as a second language. These people have struggled to learn the difficult language but still try their best. I feel as though many people get frustrated when someone cannot speak good English or speak with a very heavy accent. When I had difficulties in Canada to speak French, I felt like I understood this struggle. I feel more empathetic to people who struggle with English. I feel like this a great life lesson and one that I can apply to my future plans to be a dentist. I will be communicating about very important topics with my patients and I must have the patience to explain things that people do not understand.