Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Explore Day 18

(NOTE: I wrote this post yesterday, but I couldn't get it up until now due to technical issues with the photos)

I'm blogging this from an adorable little cafe in Old Quebec. A friend recommended it to me, and it took me awhile to find since I didn't have a proper map, but now I'm here, and I'm just waiting on food. Not sure if the waitress knows I'm Anglophone yet... If she doesn't, then she will soon enough, but that's okay. She hasn't started talking to me in English yet, so that's a good sign. Normally most of my conversations with Francophones involve me giving them a blank stare relatively early on, following which they start talking in English.

The cafe I'm in is called Chez Temporel, and it's tiny. By tiny, I mean there are eight small tables and a few stools. It's probably about the size of my living room back home. According to the google reviews, it's frequented by artiste figures... which is why I decided to blog here. If I'm gonna be here all by myself, I should do something remotely artsy, right?

It's a little weird exploring the city all by myself.  I was with a friend earlier, but she had to go back to her host family for supper, and since my bus transfer ticket lasted for another two hours I thought I might as well explore and search for this restaurant.

(The waitress now knows I'm not French, because I asked her what 'doggy bag' was, since I wanted to take my pizza back with me, but she's still speaking French to me, which means that my French is good enough so she doesn't feel the need to speak English, which I know she can, because I heard her talking to some other customers in English earlier.)

As I was saying, it's weird being here all alone, because I constantly have to be on my guard. Even in broad daylight, it might not be a good idea to go down a back street. It sucks being a female traveller, not so much even because it's unsafe, but because I've been told it's unsafe so many times that I've started to believe it. If I see a man smoking pot on a bench, or riffling through the garbage can for empty beer bottles, I automatically classify him as a danger.

I don't like having to be so careful. It's hard to fully enjoy a place, to sort of 'give myself' to it, if you will, when I'm constantly feeling threatened. And I shouldn't even feel threatened! Quebec isn't a dangerous city, especially in the touristy part in broad daylight. I'm not going to get hurt. I shouldn't be thinking that way. But because I'm a female, in a city I'm not familiar with, I am, just a little bit, afraid.

I suppose I should have a point to this blog post, like arguing how cities should become even safer, so that no woman ever gets assaulted or raped. Or maybe I should protest the gender stereotypes that make me believe that, as a female, I am weak.

I'm not going to say anything of the sort. I think Canada does a pretty good job of keeping its cities safe. And I know that 'weak female' isn't just a gender stereotype when it comes to a fight between 5’3", 95lb me and a 6'2" 220lb male.

This isn't a blog post about social change; it's a call for me to change. I don't need to be stronger, or for cities to be safer. I just need to realize that something doesn’t have to be 100% safe for me to enjoy it. I don’t need to be in a secure little bubble all the time. As a control freak, I need to learn to let go a little and relax. Yes, I need to be careful. But I don’t let the remote chance of danger spoil this beautiful city.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Explore Day 16

Day 16. Three weekends gone. It’s a little weird to think that I’ve actually spent more weekends here than I have left. On Tuesday, I’ll be officially half-way through.

I had a great weekend doing some fun things, and I'll blog about that tomorrow (well, hopefully...) Right now, though, I need to rant about French. 

On a positive note, I spent today virtually immersed in French, and it went relatively well. I go to a French-speaking church here, and, while I don’t understand as much of the sermon as I would like, I can read along with the Bible fairly well and sing the songs. After church, I talked to several people and actually had a couple lengthy conversations all in French. The people in the church are lovely, and so eager to help me learn French. One family even invited me over for lunch and then took me on a whirlwind tour of Old Quebec. My ‘tour guide’ didn’t speak much English, but whenever I was unsure of a French word she used, she was great at explaining the meaning.

In short, my spoken French skills are definitely improving, which is what I care about most. There’s still a lot that I don’t know how to say (and it’s so frustrating when I forget basic words like ‘older’ or ‘maybe’) but I can carry on a basic conversation. Whenever I get back to ‘normal life’ on PEI and meet French tourists, I’ll hopefully be able to make them feel welcome.

Negatively, though, I’ll be insanely busy this week, with a little test Tuesday, two oral exams on Thursday, and a grammar exam on Friday. Since my last post I’ve been working away, and the various tenses are starting to make sense, but still… there’s a lot left to learn. When I studied French during homeschooling, we really concentrated on oral skills rather than grammar; French class was watching The Lord of the Rings in French. So, I can talk to a francophone, but I have no idea how to conjugate etre in the infinitif.

I haven’t met anyone else with this problem. In most of my classes people have no difficulty in thinking of an IR verb which ends in U in the passé compose. However, when the prof describes pronominal verbs, they get all confused. I understand pronominals, but I don’t know how to use avoir or etre properly when forming the sentence.

It’s frustrating. I know I’m learning, but there’s so much I don’t know, and likely will never know. The Explore program will not make me bilingual.

At the end of the day, though, it’s okay. It’s okay that I don’t know how to correctly use the infinitive. It’s okay that the course is difficult. It’s okay that I probably won’t get an A on the course. Because I am learning. I’m speaking French, and understanding French, and even learning French grammar, no matter how slowly.  And, frankly, a 60% on a grammar test won’t matter if I’ve learned how to speak the language.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Explore Day 14

Sub-campus tunnels

Day 14. Three weeks remaining.

I’m basically 2/5th of my way through the Explore program now, with two weeks down and three more to go. This means that I’m pretty settled in, with a great group of friends (who apparently read my blog… so I won’t be saying anything nasty about them) and a reasonable routine. However, it also means that the workload is dramatically increasing. Not that it was much before, with maybe an hour of devoir (homework) a day, but next week I have at least three major tests. So, right now my life is split between impromptu socials (like spending two hours having supper because we chat so much) and headache-causing school (trying to sort out the difference between the imperfect and the passé compose).
Laval's concert hall

I’ve been to a couple cultural activities in the past week. On Monday, my Quebecois friend had a clarinet recital for her CEGEP (the Quebec version of a sort of highschool/college transition) exam. It was lovely to hear my friend, and also to support the other young musicians. I miss the music scene on PEI.

Parliament (with a lovely stained glass
window depicting Samuel de Champlain)
On Wednesday, Explore ran a tour of the Quebec parliament buildings. It was fascinating because the clash of English/French cultures is so evident in parliament, from the architecture of the building to the way they run their government. Since the tour was conducted entirely in French I missed a lot of the details, but the building itself was beautiful and we got to see part of a session.

Salad. :)
This week I had my first “petit test de conjugation” on irregular subjunctive verbs. Since I had over-studied on Monday, I was pleased to find that I got 100% on my test. The mark barely matters, since the test was worth only 2% of my course grade, but it does mean that I understand subjunctives. Unfortunately, we’ve moved on to other tenses, like the imparfait or passé composé, and I find those much more difficult. We did some exercises today in lab, and I failed a bunch of them. Oh, well. I’ve been doing more research today after class, and it’s starting to make sense to me. Hopefully I have a good grasp of these concepts before next Friday…
New outfit, and a smiley on my conjugation test!

At this point, with the weekend finally here, I’m trying to get all my devoir done so I can enjoy some activities. Tonight some friends and I might go to the campus pub, and tomorrow I’ve signed up for hiking at Cap Tourmente. Judging from the information pamphlet, we’ll also be visiting a basilique, which likely means Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, one of the biggest cathedrals in Quebec. I hope I’m not misreading the pamphlet, because that church is on my Quebec bucket list.

And now I should probably get cracking on that homework…

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Explore Day 9

Shameless selfie: New dress for the wedding
Day 9. One week, two weekends. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been here forever, other times it seems like I just got here.

The second half of this week has been far better than the first half. While certain things haven’t changed—such as my prof’s opinion of me—other aspects of life here have definitely improved. For instance, a bunch of my tea-making friends and I have decided that we’re gonna start cooking together, and sometimes making big dinners with cuisine from different cultures. Is it sad that I’m most excited that a girl from Nova Scotia is planning on making lobster?

Explore kids by this gorgeous lake before the ropes course
Student life here has been great over the past few days, as I’ve participated in some fun activities and made a bunch of new friends. I’ve been shopping (there’s a great mall right next to Laval), had lunch in Old Quebec, and spent the day at a ropes course in Duchesnay. The ropes course was great fun, even though I stupidly decided to take the ‘extreme’ lap. Apparently my friend and I were the only girls who did the extreme section, and my muscles are definitely paying for it today!

Birthday party bonfire
Off-campus, I’ve been getting more involved with the church community. On Friday night I went to a wedding, Saturday night to a birthday party, and two church services today. It’s been lovely getting to know some of the people in the church. Many of them speak English quite well, but I also enjoy talking to the ones who barely know English, because it forces me to speak French. Also, it’s helpful for me to listen to actual Francophones speaking French, since most of the time on campus I just hear Anglophones like me butchering the language… :)  

Throwing rice at the new couple
I think this next week will be a turning point, since I have my first test on Tuesday, and a bunch of other assignments coming up. If I do well on the test, the academic side of life here could improve drastically. Right now, I kind of dread sitting in class for 3-4 hours every morning. Then again, it is just the morning, and I have the rest of the day to enjoy Quebec City.
Tulips along the walk to church

Also, it could really stand to get warmer. I’m ready to ditch the jeans and sweaters in favour of sundresses. But this is Canada, after all…

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Quebec City: Day 6

Quebec City. 6 days down, 30 to go.

I’ll admit, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. My safe arrival was a miracle in itself, since I managed to navigate Montreal and the closure of my Quebec City exit without any problems. It took a little while, but I eventually found my residence, dragged most of my stuff out of my car, and got settled in.

The most important part of Explore is the French Immersion. The ‘animators’ who run the activities, the professors, and the university admins speak only French—at least to us. Classes are conducted exclusively in French, and all important information is also delivered in French. That means that students who know only a little French (like me) have a pretty steep learning curve for the first few days!

Fortunately, adjusting to speaking French was actually easier than I expected. On Day One of the program I was already having basic conversations with my classmates, and by today (class 4) I was able to have a basically normal conversation. My grammar is horrible, of course, and I’m often scrambling for vocabulary, but I can get my point across.

Being able to speak and understand French is pretty exciting, but the difficulty is that my writing and grammar aren’t as advanced as my oral and comprehension skills. This means that I’m at a distinct disadvantage in my grammar class, especially since the professor thinks that my oral/comprehension skills are as poor as my writing. It’s difficult to succeed in a class where the professor thinks you’re stupid, especially since every time she calls on me for an answer I manage to mess up somehow. At this point, I’m just hoping that the first test (next week already!) goes well, so that I can prove that I actually belong in this level.

The other low point in my week has been adjusting to residence. I’ve never lived in residence before, and I must admit that I’m not really a fan. I dislike going down the hall to the bathroom or showers (although my room does have a sink), and the impersonal feel of the endless hallways is anything but homey. The main problem, though, is my inability to cook. There is a huge kitchen in the basement, but I have no cooking implements, and, most importantly, no fridge. This means that I can’t buy meat, milk, yogurt, vegetables, frozen deserts… anything that needs to be kept cold. My meals, then, are limited to cafeteria/restaurant food, or little fresh-made microwave meals from the grocery store. For someone used to following the sales and cooking healthy meals on just $2 a day, going to the cafeteria every day is painful.

As a pleasant note to end today’s blog: I have bought a kettle. This may seem like such a little thing, but once you’ve had to go down three flights of stairs to microwave water to make tea, having a kettle in your room is a big deal. I also met a bunch of lovely tea-lovers in the kitchen last night, and we’ve decided to enjoy evening tea parties more often. There’s no better way to end the day. :)

That’s all for now! I’ll try to post a little more often and get into the specifics of what’s going on here, rather than just general summary. But now… over to you! Have any of you done an immersion program, and, if so, what was your experience like?

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Little Switcheroo

Once again, I interrupt this blog's regularly scheduled programming of (well) nothing, to bring you an announcement. I intend to start blogging a little more often.

Yes, I've said that before, and it hasn't happened. But this time I actually have something to blog about, rather than simply clogging up your blogger feeds with more posts on  how to 'Show, not Tell' or 'create great characters.' I'm currently at Laval University in Quebec City, (Quebec, Canada) as party of the Explore French Immersion program. This means that I'll be spending five weeks in a French city, speaking nothing but French (supposedly....). 

I realize that my experience learning French doesn't seem to have much to do with writing, so it doesn't quite fit on a blog mainly meant for YA authors. However, the experiences I'm having are so relevant to writers. I'm living in a new culture, being thrown into a new language, and meeting tons of new people. I'm navigating residence life for the first time, and adjusting to being almost completely on my own in a new city.

As writers, we describe characters in extraordinary circumstances. To do that, we have to step out of our comfort zones ourselves, leaving our cozy little writing nooks and getting out into the world. This blog, for the next five weeks, will be the story of a little English major thrown into a world of French. Enjoy! :)