BY CLAIRE WOOL
For the UAS Whalesong
Last semester, I had the opportunity to study abroad. The fact that UAS has a study abroad program and one that is run by a supportive and passionate person is such a gift. I encourage all students to take advantage of it. There are a few different study abroad organizations within the program offerings, and students are certain to find one that works well for them. I travelled to and studied at the University of Sherbrooke (UdeS) in Canada through the National Student Exchange (NSE) and it was logistically painless. I chose to go for a single semester during which time I got to practice French with people from all over, participate in local activities, and gain valuable insight about myself.
Where in the World?
Sherbrooke is a small city located 30 or so miles from the border of Vermont in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec. There exists an abundance of maple trees on the rolling hills of the Cantons de l’Est (Eastern Townships). The colors these trees exhibit in the fall paired with the reflective surfaces of the Magog and St. Francois Rivers make for an aesthetically pleasing paysage. The people of Sherbrooke are very friendly. I could ask strangers for directions and they would respond thoughtfully and unhurriedly to ensure I would leave them with the information I needed. The University of Sherbrooke attracts locals as well as French-speakers from across the globe. There is a particularly large African student demographic since many African countries were colonized by France and have retained French as their primary language. I lived and socialized with people from Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Benin, Senegal, Morocco, Algeria, Congo, Tunisia, and Cameroon. I made a point to reside in the dormitories in the middle of campus so that I could be right at the heart of everything. Little did I know that dorm life would be so culturally rich and satisfying. There was a mixture of undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students in my residence and there was always much energy and activity going on. I was enrolled in the French as a Second Language microprogram at the University which enabled me to become acquainted with non-French speakers, as well, who were coming to Quebec to start new lives with their families. I got to practice French daily with folks from Colombia, Iran, and Russia, among other places. Learning about the world through interactions with people from countries I know little about and practicing seeing things through their eyes was one of the most gratifying and educational aspects of my study abroad experience.
Catnip, Bike Spokes, and Karate
I made a conscious effort to engage in as many activities as I was able while attending the University of Sherbrooke. One day, I heard voices beneath my open window when I was in my room and I discovered that, beyond the cover of some trees, there was a garden very close by that people were tending to. I shouted down my interest in joining them and they invited me to come harvest food. From hence forth I became a member of the Jardin Collectif and got to eat fresh grapes, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots, as well as marshmallow root, catnip, and other herbs all fall.
There was a formidable Centre Sportif, or gymnasium, on campus that I frequented. On one of my trips there, I saw a group of people dressed up to do karate. I grew up practicing karate and it is something I miss doing. I introduced myself to the Sensei and expressed my interest. He told me that if I ran down to the reception, I could borrow a karate gi (uniform) and participate in the class that was due to start in 5 minutes! I did so and was pleased to find that the instruction was good and the dojo was neither too rigid nor too relaxed. The time to sign up for the autumn session was technically over, but the instructor gave me permission to join the group twice a week just the same. They were welcoming and I learned a whole lot.
A bicycle repair shop rented a space on campus called Coop LaDéraille (The Derailer Co-op). I discovered it because, one dark evening, I saw a group of people clustered around a man with a bike. He was giving a kind of instructional seminar for the volunteers of the shop. I decided that volunteering to run a bike shop would be a great opportunity to practice French as well as learn more about bikes. During my time helping out at LaDéraille, I learned how to true a wheel and thread spokes.
The highlight of my time in Sherbrooke, however, was when my parents paid me a visit. My father and I had long talked about going on a bike trip together and last fall in Sherbrooke turned out to be the perfect opportunity for one. My mom visited with her sister while the he and I set out on a 5 day biking and camping trip from St-Roch-des-Aulnaies to Cabano and back. We had a blast and are now in the habit of going on a bike adventure every year.
Being elsewhere gives you a new perspective and can be highly enlightening. I was taken with UdeS and the people I met in Sherbrooke and I was tempted to remain there for a second semester. Hard as it was to return and continue on in the Outdoor Studies program here at UAS, I am happy. We are fortunate to live in such a beautiful area and to attend a caring institution that invites us to explore, to study abroad.