Thoughts in advance

August 12th, 2010 by abaker24

May 28th 2010

            In a little over five weeks I will be leaving for my second study abroad to Quebec. I have a lot of mixed feelings about my trip this time. Last year during my first experience my stress level was very high and that created a lot of insecurities on my part which caused me to hold back on speaking and fully participating in activities and the classroom. This was not the most positive behavior due to the fact that participating allows me to learn more quickly. It was also an opportunity to grow as an individual as it challenged me personally as well. This I find is very important for future job prospects because the ability to overcome new obstacles will determine how far you can go and what positions you will be eligible for. With my second experience I will be able to set aside my insecurities and have higher expectations for myself this year. I plan to take advantage of every learning opportunity regardless of my fears. I think I will learn even more this time around and those benefits totally outweigh any cons. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of the knowledge I possess this time around and using it for my benefit.

             Some of the pros to going a second time are having the knowledge of what will happen and the familiarity of the area. I will not have the same stress level as I know what to expect the second time around.  I am also familiar with the area and will be able to explore even further areas this year. This is very exciting because it wasn’t until late into my last visit that I discovered the homemade family chocolate store and a neat little coffee shop where many students hung out. These places are truly hidden treasures and are so different from the places we have here in the states. They allow me to truly see the wonderful difference between our countries and enjoy delicious treats from new cultures.  

             The cons are losing the initial excitement for a new journey and the unexpected elements it has to offer. Although I will enjoy the excursions the second time around it is not quite the same as the first time I experienced it. I also made a lot of friends the first time who were going through these new experiences with me. I will miss their company and the fun of discovering these new things together. Although I’m looking forward to being more of a leader this time around and helping new students who may need some support. Having already been through this I’m am better prepared to help others and find it just as rewarding to do so. I actually loved surrounding myself with students in a lower level last year. I tried out all the new phrases I learned on them. This helped me to remember the new things I learned and made me feel good when other students looked up to me the same way I looked up to the levels ahead of me. It truly was motivational and rewarding to try and teach someone else and a great way to make new friends.

Welcome back to Chicoutimi!

August 12th, 2010 by abaker24

July 4th 2010        

            Coming back to Chicoutimi today was very exciting. Aside from the long trip the experience so far has been great! There is something wonderful about reuniting with old acquaintances. As soon as I arrived in the small airport at Bagotville I recognized familiar faces. The school had sent a small van to pick up students. They were calling out for the students for Chicoutimi and I looked over and seen Guillaume and Sebastian two animators from last year. I thought I had to take a taxi to the school so was pleasantly surprised. What was even better was the look on their face as they remembered me and called out my name. There really is no better place to study French as fulfilling as Chicoutimi. Everyone is so friendly and they go out of their way to make you feel at home. With each new face there was a memory of the year past and all the fun things we did. These people were so talented and creative it’s hard to believe there could be so many unique people joined together in one place all there for the sole purpose to teach us French. I don’t know how they found all of these interesting people to entertain us but here they were again this year it was such a comfort.

            When I reached the school we were give folders with information to help us for the five weeks. They took our pictures and gave us an identification card that also serves as your cafeteria card. After they finished with the check in process all in French of course, they contacted our host families to pick us up. I sat there very nervous, I had requested my mom from the last year and she also requested me. I was pretty sure they would arrange for us to be together but hadn’t heard anything. We finally realized that there were cards with our addresses on them and a map that they gave each of us of the town and when I looked down it had my mom’s address on it. I was so excited so I would have the same mom this year. As soon as she came down the stairs I ran over to her and we started laughing and hugging and we created quite a spectacle. People must of thought it was very strange to be so excited not realizing I had been here the year before and received the same mom. As usual when I arrived home there was a delicious meal waiting for me and her two cats Billy and Cindy. We sat around the table for hours catching up as she listened to my rusty broken French just as patient as ever. I am always so great full for all her help and kindness. It really takes a special kind of person to welcome a stranger into their home for five weeks. I was so satisfied with her last year I couldn’t resist coming back and am so great full they allowed me to be reunited with Diane again. Besides I have my own bedroom on the bottom floor and my own personal bathroom.

Day one at school

August 12th, 2010 by abaker24

July 5th 2010   

            The first day at the school consisted of a tour of the school and its facilities. This way we can find our way around and become familiar with what the University has to offer. They walked us around campus explaining what each room was for and what we would be doing in the next five weeks. There is a gym right next to the school and for a very small fee you can use it for the whole five weeks. They also took us for a walk from the campus into the town. The school is in such a great location everything is within walking distance so you really have a lot of freedom to come and go when there is free time or if you’d rather have lunch with friends off campus for a change. On our walk they took us past a homemade chocolate and ice cream store. They dip the ice cream in real hot chocolate not that waxy stuff like we have here in the states. I can’t wait to go back and have a cone. We also went into a market that has fresh fruit, vegetables, and baked goods. I had quite a few things from this market last year. I mean this stuff is fresh not like the junk we get in the supermarket. This stuff doesn’t have all that junk to make it look like a perfect fruit and taste like water. This is the real deal the strawberries and blueberries will knock your socks off. Yum, so sweet and wonderful self control is needed. I plan on sharing so I don’t eat them all myself and get sick. We also went by a neat little coffee shop where a lot of students gather to help each other with homework and study. It’s a nice change from sitting in a library and they often have special speakers and artists they come in and play music or do readings. There is always strength in numbers and it’s a great way to make new friends. Last year I met a photographer, artist, chef, businessman, architect, and singer. Each of these people was very serious about their studies and I believe will go far with their talent. I look forward to seeing where they might end up years from now. It’s amazing to think of where a new language can take you and the diversity of people that come together with one interest in common. Our walk also took us along the Saguenay River. There is a beautiful park where you can sit and study or have a picnic with friends. I like to watch the kids play and listen to them talk. There was a neat water pad there where you can cool off and an awesome whale water fountain. Next weekend there is a wine festival and a few weeks later a music festival where people from all over the world come to play and most of it is free to the public. It was a nice tour and very informative.

            Last year the day had been very stressful for me because I couldn’t understand what was going on. I remembered thinking why did I come here and that I had made a big mistake and that I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t expected them to speak French until after we signed our agreements. I looked around this year and wondered how many people felt the same way I did last year. I enjoyed the fact that I already knew where everything was and that I wasn’t afraid this year. I tried to keep my eye out for anyone who looked like they might need some support but everyone seemed to be handling themselves fine. The animators went right into their roles of getting as many laughs out of people as they could. I never thought that these people were here to entertain us. I had heard that there were people to kind of help us through our experience like mentors.  I didn’t know it would be like having comedians around and skilled actors. I hadn’t realized they were also going to become our friends.

First day of class

August 12th, 2010 by abaker24

July 6th 2010   

            Today was the first day of class and a difficult day for me. Yesterday we took the Laval test to see what level we would be at and be placed into groups accordingly. I didn’t worry at all because last year I was very comfortable with my level. I was new to the language and expected to be at the lowest level and was placed just so. I know its normal to not understand a lot the first couple of days but, I have to admit it was discouraging to be placed at a higher level. My teacher seems to speak very fast. I also know that her rate is normal and it’s my lack of understanding which makes it seems so fast. All the same I felt lost and doubted that I should be at my level and wished it was one number lower. The good thing about my situation is I had the same problem last year and know that this too shall pass. They say that it’s natural to feel disoriented the first few days and not understand what’s going on. I often feel alone in my ignorance of the language and find it helpful to ask others their feelings and opinions. I find that they too feel the same way and it’s comforting to know. Although I felt unsure of myself, I forced myself to volunteer and go first for activities even though my mind was screaming don’t you dare. It was a very nerve wracking day in the classroom.

            On another note the animators won me over again today. Guillaume, one of my favorite staff members memorized tons of names today. He kept repeating each student’s names and making jokes to help him remember. He would walk up to someone and stare into their eyes and say there name over and over Sara, Sara, Saaaaaaaarraaa which of course would make everyone laugh. In less than a hour he must had remembered close to thirty names. I was so fascinated that I tried to remember their names too thinking it was a good idea to know but I failed miserably. Guillum and another animator acted out the choices of our activities. Since a lot of people don’t know what is being said they act things out. This is always quite entertaining and relieves a lot of stress. This way if you don’t understand it’s made clear to you in such a way that you end up remembering the words after because you have a humors image in your head with the word. Watching two grow men dance horribly would break any tension. The whole room was filled with laughter.

            Another highlight of my day was meeting up with Jason, Sara, and Beth. We had lunch together and it was comforting to see a familiar face from school. We were very relaxed and found it easy to laugh at our efforts to communicate in French. We had all signed the paper the night before to speak only French. Jason pointed out to us that we all spoke with our hands and put on a show to prove his point. It was a hoot to be around him and everyone had a positive experience on me.

            The best part of my day was coming home to my mom Diane for the night. She has got to be one of the best cooks in Chicoutimi. Tonight we had a traditional Quebecois dish. It was a flaky biscuit or type of pastry covered in a mushroom sauce or gravy. It contained chicken and vegetables. The chicken was so tender and moist. We talked for quite some time. She is so patient and kind. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to listen to broken French for so long. She never rushes me and always seems to know just when to assist me. Diane’s a pro she’s been taken students into her home for years. I’m so glad I got to stay with her again; she is a friend for life.

A good Day

August 12th, 2010 by abaker24

July 7th 2010

            Today was a long day but a good one. We arrived home at six thirty. There was an improvisation show similar to the show “Whose line is it anyway”. The animators were split into groups and acted out certain skits. They show us what to do because in the weeks to follow our groups will be the one performing. I participated in this last year and still not sure if I will do it this year. Because of the show we ate dinner at school tonight. I love the food they serve. There are several dishes to choose from and you can mix things up if you like. I had a pork dish prepared traditionally with maple syrup. It came with a small salad and mashed potatoes. You would think maple syrup was a strange ingredient but it’s not different than using brown sugar. Like when you add it to barbeque sauce or baked beans. I think this is actually better because its different and new foods are always fun to try. I loved it! Which also reminds me, my mom here serves me maple syrup on my grapefruit and its better than regular sugar. So far all the dishes that I’ve tried here in which they used maple syrup I’ve liked.

            On another note I bought myself a gift for my birthday. It’s not for a few days but I bought it early. It’s a bike jersey that I really wanted to purchase last year. I can’t wait to wear it with my bike group back home in Tennessee. My goal for this week is to join the gym here and rent a bike. The gym is open from six in the morning to ten at night and only costs about thirty five dollars. That’s for the whole five weeks which is a awesome deal. I also heard that it’s only fifty dollars to rent a bike. I hope they don’t run out of bikes. I think I’ll have more opportunities to explore down town if I can use a bike.

            I almost forgot to mention that I had a great day in class today. We are doing some review and played a lot of games which made it real fun. I think maybe my placement is ok after all. The more I relax, the more my brain understands. I’m relieved because it’s a lot easier to learn when your stress level is low. I’m excited for tomorrow because we have a full day of class and I’m eager to see how much I can retain studying tonight. I was hoping to make a good impression on the teacher and show her how serious I am about being here.

Where does the time go?

August 12th, 2010 by abaker24

July 8th 2010

            I feel like I learned a lot today in class. We were separated into groups and had to research a region or area of special interest in the providence of Quebec. My group chose a bike path that circled Lake St. Jean. I love cycling so thought it would be interesting. This bike trail is amazing and spans over two hundred and fifty kilometers. On the route you could see waterfalls, a zoo, National park, an American Indian museum, six different cheese factories, several boutiques and restaurants. There are also places where you can go horseback riding, kayaking, canoeing, camping, swimming, even white water rafting. These are just a few of the things the list goes on and on. There are so many possibilities for different needs or likes. I’m seriously thinking about trying to round up some people and see if they would like to go with me. We have a free weekend and we could see how far we could make it around the lake. I might even try and go alone because unless you’re a bike rider you might not make it. I’m not sure about the conversion but I think it’s about one hundred and fifty miles. If I started early at about five in the morning that would give me sixteen hours of daylight. I’m real excited just thinking about doing this route. I can wear my new outfit that I bought. I’d have to plan for food stops, water refills, and potential breakdowns. I would love to see the sites and think it would be a great adventure in this country. I’ll have to talk to the professors and see what they think. As of right now it’s more of a idea and more like a dream. But I am in the habit of making my dreams come true lately. I mean look at me I’m here again in Chicoutimi for the second time. I remember when people told me it would be too hard for me to go. Especially because I’m married and my husband is always deploying and I have two kids. I don’t know I’d like to think that a person can do anything if they really seek out the way to make it happen. It’s funny because I had my own doubts about making it all work out but I’m here. So it just goes to show that if you want something bad enough and you’re willing to work hard you can make it happen. I’m not saying that is always been easy to figure it out or anything. There have been a lot of sacrifices made, but it’s all worked out and it’s all worth it.

Chocolate Dipped Cone

August 12th, 2010 by abaker24

July 9th 2010

            Today was another productive day in class. I’m not sure about how I did on the test we had today. I know I got some wrong and misspelled a few words. We were given a oral assignment to present to the class. We can choose what we would like to present but I’m not sure what to do. Last year I worked with a group and we prepared a traditional dish and demonstrated how to prepare it to the class. I wish I could think of something real clever and creative, but I’m not full of ideas and I need something realistic that can be done if five days. This is a lot harder for me to do than it seems. Tonight is the welcome party at the school, Sunday is the excursion to Saguenay Park, Monday is a late night with a trip to the museum, a activity, and movie. I think that pretty much leaves all day Saturday and Tuesday afternoon. The same thing happened to me last year, all my free days end up being used for homework. I really hope I can find the time to explore the town more and ride my bike around the lake. If not I guess that’s ok because I’m here to learn not to go site seeing. If giving up my spare time means learning more French and speaking better it will be a fair trade. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the beauty that surrounds this area. It’s so unbelievable beautiful with many things to do. When I’m in the culture class I find out about so many unique places there are to see. I can’t help but want to push my work aside and go off on a adventure.

            Yesterday I met up with the group from Tennessee. We went down town for pizza at a popular chain restaurant called Mikes. We all sat around talking in French of course and enjoyed each other’s company. Afterwards we split up and I went with a few others for some of that wonderful ice cream dipped in chocolate. I almost finished the whole thing this time. Ordering in French was a bit tricky, I accidently ordered dark chocolate. Jason was kind enough to trade with me so it all worked out in the end. I returned home and my dreams were filled with French for the first time. They weren’t joking when they said you would dream in French. The funny thing about it was that my French was just as bad in my dream as when I was awake. I would have thought that it would have improved. The same thing happened last year.

The French Kiss

August 12th, 2010 by abaker24

July 10th 2010

            Today I did a lot more research on the bike route “Véloroute Des Bleuetes”. The more I read the more I want to complete the ride. The only problem is I rented my bike today and I’m not so sure it’s the best for a one hundred and sixty mile ride. I did the math and the kilometers are about that much. I think I want to chance it though because it’s such a great opportunity. I talked to Jason about it and he said he wanted to go with me. I really didn’t think he would want to go because he doesn’t ride bikes and isn’t the active type. So were just going to take our changes and see what we can do.

            Today there was a wine festival in town. There were people all over the streets who gathered to taste the wine. I’m not a big drinker myself but I met up with the rest of the Tennessee group to have dinner and enjoy the gathering. We ate at a popular place down town and went to that awesome chocolate store where they have the best chocolate dipped ice cream. It was a perfect way to end the night as we walked down to the river walk to listen to a live band. Afterwards I rode my bike back to the house. 

            Jason introduced me to a member of his host family today. It was his Chicoutimi brother, Martin. I received a traditional kiss on both cheeks and of course was not prepared. I was taken back for a second and totally ruined the kiss by making contact with his lips. I was pretty embarrassed as I’m not use to people trying to kiss me. It’s not something they do to greet you when you arrive at Chicoutimi so I’m not experienced with these kisses. At first I thought he had drank too much due to the wine fest and all. I also encountered an animator from the year prior and was excited to say hi to him; due to the fact that he wasn’t working at the school this year. He too greeted me with a kiss which I again messed up. Strike two in French 101 kisses. He was in charge of the climbing and repelling activity I choose. This was a lot of fun. I said hi to him and we went our separate ways. I had some good practice with ordering and enjoyed the learning experience. The weather was perfect that night and I enjoyed riding my bike home that evening.

Park Saguenay and the chipmunk

August 12th, 2010 by abaker24

July 11th 2010

            Today we went to Park Saguenay. I was warned in advance that the hike up would be a long difficult one. We were given the option to walk the full length of the trail or take a shorter route. Being up for any type of challenge I choose the full one of course. It was a beautiful trek up. The trees provided some much needed shade and were so different from the trees in Tennessee. I love the woods here, there dense and full of life. We traveled single file and were pushed to carry on by those who followed behind us. It was a tough climb even for me. I thought spending my days at the gym each week would have made it easy. I huffed and puffed the whole way up and must of sweat off two pounds by the time I reached the top. I made sure to keep on drinking and finished off three bottles of water and one Pepsi. The view was magnificent and well worth the climb. We sat at the top looking out over a cliff and the mountains around us and the river below. It was a perfect place for a picnic. So most of us ate right there on the top of the cliff. I huge statue of the Virgin Mary provided us with some shade. We were joined by some tiny birds who gladly accepted small crumbs of bread. More exciting was the visit from a tiny chipmunk that happily filled his mouth with nuts and crackers and left to store them in his home. He must have returned seven or eight times and allowed us to pet him. He crawled into the hand of the student who had a bag full of nuts and treats. He was a greedy little thing but so gentle. A squirrel stopped by to see what the fuss was but didn’t have the courage to venture away from the coverage of the bushes. It was very peaceful and I enjoyed just listening to the others conversations during lunch. I tried to pick up new words and phrases and paid close attention to pronunciation. After taking the Phonetics class last semester I’ve been trying a lot harder to correct my pronunciation. There are a lot of advanced speakers here to learn from so I try to take advantage of my environment.

            After we descended, we sat in the shade at the bottom of the trail. Some people just talked, others played Frisbee and cards. We all bought some drinks and ice cream and just enjoyed being in such a beautiful park. It was a great day.

Happy Birthday!

August 12th, 2010 by abaker24

July 12th 2010

            Today is my birthday and what could possibly be better than studying French in another county. In class we reviewed the International Phonetic Alphabet and went up to the language lab to practice. I really enjoyed using the lab this year because I understood exactly what to do this time. The days we get to spend in the lab will be very beneficial for me because trying to pronounce the words has always been a challenge for me. In the lab there are a bunch of computers with headphones where we can hear the vowels pronounced and then used in words and sentences. Then you record your voice into a microphone situated on the headsets and practice repeating the sounds. This lesson can be repeated over and over again and the lab is available though out the week. I really enjoyed the change from class because sometimes different methods of learning combined together ensure the best learning experience.

            Today we also began our activities. I choose swimming and was glad for the opportunity to work out. We went to a local hotel and used the pool there. It’s not the best activity for French conversation but it provided some much needed tension release. After our activity we ate supper at school because Monday nights our Cinema or movie night. The movie we watched was called Dèdè. It was a great movie about a band here In Canada and their journey into fame and their misfortunes. Throughout the movie their songs played as the story was told. It went through each stage of their lives. The movie was done real well and was quite interesting. Although the movie ends sadly it was worth watching. I plan to watch it again when I get back home. I missed a lot of the story due to how fast the subtitles went by and my level isn’t that advanced yet. It was a great day and I was happy to notice the difference between how little I understood last year and how much more I understand now. I know I owe a lot of it to the program here. I’m entering a new stage of my college life as it marks the half way point into my degree.