My STEP signature project was an education abroad program in Québec City, Québec. I studied through the Français Langue Étrangère program at Université Laval, intended to complete my French minor credits and, at STEP dictates, expand my horizons and my personal comfort zone. During my five-week stay in Canada, I attended classes and other program-related activities, but also found new friends and explored beautiful Vieux Québec in my free time.
As a direct result of this program, I am more independent, less self-critical, and a more forgiving person. My language skills are vastly, stunningly improved. Five weeks navigating a new city brought me farther out of my shell than I thought possible. While I was previously concerned about looking out of state for grad school, this program (although this wasn’t even remotely the intent) showed me that I am capable of living and even thriving in a strange place.
Those five weeks were the longest period I had ever spent away from home. At first, I was FaceTiming my family every night, nearly in tears with homesickness. I had made very few friends the first week, and I was missing home dearly. Eventually, I found quite a few wonderful new friends, but the first two weeks were difficult. The biggest change came when I fell ill early in the third week and had to navigate the ER and medical care in French. My brand-new friends came together and welcomed me back to class, and I finally realized that I was loved just as much in Canada. As the program continued, we went on adventures together and learned as much as possible about our temporary home.
I feel comfortable now describing myself as bilingual, because I have a fundamental grasp on this beautiful language that I dedicated 10 years to learning. The immersion experience catapulted my French abilities into high gear, and the out-of-class activities gave us a chance to practice those skills in new, welcoming settings. Despite the challenges we faced adjusting to Francophone classes at first, it was a phenomenal exercise in flexibility and personal boundaries. We could choose to enforce a strict “French at all times” attitude or give ourselves a break occasionally and speak English with our friends. It required a deeper understanding of our own ability to understand and process conversations in French if we truly wanted to improve.
Being separated from my family by sheer distance rather than time zones made this trip especially difficult. In the past, on trips to Europe, the 6-7-hour time difference kept me from missing home too much since we had a very short period of overlap. In Canada, I could stay in contact all day but never went home to them at night like I was accustomed to. I learned how to become independent while keeping in touch just enough, since they came to expect regular updates. By the end of the trip, I was a confident, fearless traveler with a few more language skills than I came in with.
Although I currently have no plans to use French in my career, it is very much within the realm of possibility that I find a job in a Francophone country or in a plant that employs French-speakers. Beyond the vast contribution to my language level, this program taught me independence, flexibility, and an uncanny ability to find bus stops in downtown Québec. Merci pour tous, ULaval, et à la prochaine!