Montreal, admittedly, does not seem that foreign. Just less than fifty miles separates the city from the border of the United States. I won’t have to reset my watch when I arrive. The length of my flights to the city do not warrant even a meal, so given the short lengths of my layovers, I will in all likelihood arrive exhausted and hungry.
For being so close, however, Montreal represents almost an entirely different world. Only Paris has a greater francophone population than Montreal. The Québécois, however, speak a distinctive dialect of French rife with peculiarities unique to French Canada. Though I have studied some French in the past, many years have passed since I have actively spoken the language with any regularity. Over the past few months, I have read in French to familiarize myself with the language, as well as listened to news reports from Montreal and presentations in French to get an ear for the language, but I know that I still have much progress to make.
In truth, knowing what to expect from my experience in Montreal poses a challenge, since I have no idea how much confidence I should have in my language skills. While I find the structure of my program encouraging, the placement test that I took in preparation for my placement in the curriculum will either boost my morale or disappoint me. Part of me hopes that the assessment of my skills will fall below my own estimation, as this will provide incentive for me to improve, if only to prove to myself that I can do it. But in any case, I know that I can look forward to having better language skills at the end of the summer.
But as excited as that prospect makes me, I am more so for the opportunity to learn more about the culture of Quebec. Growing up in the United States, we learn very little about Canada, much less French Canada. I have always had a passing interest in the country, but until now I had few opportunities to seriously study it. Now that my academic interests have turned northward as well, I have read a good deal about the province of Quebec’s history, but have had almost no opportunities to experience it firsthand. Now, only a few days before I depart for Montreal for six weeks, I am beyond enthusiastic to take everything I can in about the culture and the people; even more so because I will have the ability to do it firsthand, and in their own language. I expect this will represent one of the greatest learning opportunities I have ever experienced.
I anticipate learning a great deal about Canada, Quebec, and their cultures, but also about the United States and my own country. As our neighbors, the people I will interact with while abroad possess unique insight into our own culture and politics, as they have many opportunities for exposure. Being originally from Louisiana, the idea of living so close to the United States, while outside of it both in terms of international boundaries as well as cultural boundaries, fascinates me, and I cannot wait to see what I will learn through the conversations I will have, about what brings both the United States and Canada together as well as separates them.
In any case, as I make my final preparations before departure, I am excited and curious, but not terribly nervous. I am excited to explore this quiet and unobtrusive corner of le monde francophone, and anxious to begin my novel experience of learning French so close to home, yet so far away!