Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Today marks the halfway point of the program already. Crazy. I'm trying to upload photos but blogger isn't cooperating so for now I'm just going to type. I left off on the morning of our first Saturday here. That afternoon my roommates, Ashley, Museb and myself went downtown to explore a bit. We ran into Steve (who lives across the street) and his girlfriend Courtney just after we arrived and together we all headed down to a chocolate/ice cream shop that had been recommended to us. We got our ice cream (vanilla soft serve dipped in milk chocolate for me) and Steve and Courtney headed home for dinner. Ashley, Museb and I took advantage of the beautiful day and went for a walk along the river front and about 3/4ths of the way over the foot bridge that connects Chicoutimi to North Chicoutimi. (there is a car bridge that runs parallel) When we came back to the Chicoutimi side we decided we were ready for our first Chicoutimi poutine so we got some at a place by the water. By the time we got back to the shops in downtown most of them were closed so we just came home and worked on homework.

Sunday was a school sponsored trip to Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay. It was a beautiful day for a hike. Clear but not too hot with a nice breeze to keep it cool. Here is where the description would be better with pictures. Anyways, suffice to say it was a lovely day. My new hiking boots were great. I didn't get any blisters but I was VERY tired by the end of the day. We had an early night again.

Monday was a statutory holiday. Victoria Day in the rest of Canada, "Journee national des patriotes" here. I was just happy to have the day off. We ended up having a girls day. Ashley, Victoria and another girl, Beth, who lives one street over, and I went exploring. It was a miserable grey day. Our goal was to drive the 256kms around Lac-St-Jean but we only made it less than a quarter of the way. We stopped when we felt like it at places like a micro-brewery that was actually closed but that we got a brief tour of anyways. At a "fromagerie", a cute little town with a waterfall, and whenever Ashely wanted to take pictures. Just before we got back home we stopped for ice-cream again (you'll notice a recurring theme in these posts: cheese, ice-cream and beer for Ashley and Victoria. We've consumed beaucoup de each.) That evening Ashley and I again met up with a few people at La Tour. We were celebrating our "one week of being in Chicoutimi anniversary" :)

Tuesday morning were classes and in the afternoon my group (4) had our first introduction to "Danse folklorique et chanson Quebecois" The dancing was a lot of fun (it makes me miss square dancing even though it's quite different). The "chanson" unfortunately put me to sleep. It's a lot of really interesting history about the Quebecois music scene presented by the extremely dynamic music "teacher" but it's right after lunch in a dark room and I nodded off a few times.

Wednesday was classes but our teacher was absent. I'm not sure what was going on that week, something personal I think because she seemed close to tears a few times. Wednesday it got the better of her and we had a sub for the day. It was good. We focused on oral activities which I need. That afternoon we had other activities. Everyone is assigned to different things. We were given all the options, asked to rank them according to our preference and then we were placed according to availability. I'm not totally sure how it all works bust some of the choices are: rock climbing, canoeing, gigue and/or gumboot (both forms of Quebecois dance), general sports, media, improve, etc. I'm in gigue, "losir creatif" which is essentially arts and crafts and the choir. Wednesday I had choir and losir creatif. We made cards. Something I'm familiar with but I realized quickly that I didn't know how to say "may I borrow your scissors" in French so it was good for my vocab :)

Wednesday night we had dinner at school again and then the two upper level classes did improve. It didn't contain as much talking as when the animateurs did it the week before but it was still hilariously funny. One of my favourite moments was when they were pretending to give a safari at a "bilingual zoo". One of the people was a cow and on cue she mooed in English "Mooooo" and in French "le mooooo" LOL

Thursday was the full day of classes. In the afternoon for the Quebcois culture part my class had cards with significant events in Quebec history. The teacher read out the year "mille-neuf-cent-quatre-vignt-quinze" or 1995 for example and whoever correctly identified the card first got to read out the event. That one was the latest referendum regarding Quebec soverienty. That night Ashley and I ended up back at La Tour for a bit. She wasn't in to whatever we were served for supper so she wanted a snack. Of course the restaurant in the pub was closed by the time we got there :P

Friday after class instead of taking the mini-bus home, Museb and I joined Steve, Courtney and a bunch of others for lunch at a coffee shop downtown called "Cafe Cambrio". Then Museb and I walked to the car rental place where he picked up a car so he could go back to Montreal for the weekend for a conference. The rest of the weekend was free with no scheduled activities. Friday night along with a bunch of people from school, Ashley and I went back to Cafe Cambrio to the "bar" they have in the basement. I put bar in quotes because while they did have a bar, that wasn't really the feel of the place. They had live music that night, a blues cover band called "ExcaliBlues". They were really good. French guys who mostly sang in English but it was really fun.

Okay, I'm fading. That's another week. I'll fill you in on the rest of the weekend and our other adventures another time. Hopefully with pictures!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Week One

Hard to believe that a whole week is already done. This post won't have many pictures because I haven't really taken very many yet.

I arrived Sunday around 6:30pm after a fairly uneventful drive. It never fails to amaze me that little towns exist in all sorts of random spots and that people actually live there. When I got to the school, University of Quebec at Chicoutimi or "UQAC" (pronounced you-kack) I was ushered into the "Centre Sociale", the big area on the bottom floor where we start and finish most days. I was given my welcome pack and had my picture taken for my student ID which they printed off right there. Then I waited while my host family was contacted and came to meet me. I spoke with a few other students and some "Animateurs/Animatrices" aka, the hosts.

My host family, Gilles and Nicole, are an older couple. They have three grown children who have six grandkids between them. Nicole babysits two of them, Mayson and Shawna on a regular basis. Shawna is 8 months and adorable. Mayson is three and a little stinker. Cute as anything but really rotten. The frustrating thing is he has a better French vocabulary than I do!!! It's hard to get him to stop doing something stupid (like climbing on the bookshelf) when you don't really have the words to communicate. I think he understands, he just likes to pretend that he doesn't :P

I wasn't expecting it but it turns out I have two colocataires (roommates) from the program. Ashley is my age and Museb is 22. We're a bit of an odd combination but we've totally bonded. We each (obviously) have our own bedrooms and we share a bathroom. We eat breakfast and supper with the family and lunch at school at the cafeteria.

Another student, Steve, lives across the street and Beth lives one street over. The school sends a "minibus" (15 seater passenger van) to pick us up each day along with the other people on our route. Even though I have my car (Ashley and Museb took the bus up here so I'm the only one with a vehicle) I take the minibus as well because it's a great time to chat with the students and animateurs (in of course). Having the car is great though because we're up on a hill and kind of far from anything.

Someone coined the term "Chicouti-mere" and "Chicouti-pere" for our host families. I refer to Ashley as my "Chicouti-soeur" and Museb as my "Chicouti-frere". Since Steve is the only student in his house along with a dog we refer to that as his "Chiciouti-chien" LOL. Basically it's to distinguish from our real parents.

Monday morning we wrote our placement tests at school. Both written and verbal. There are six levels with two or three classes each. Six is for people who haven't been exposed to any French. One is for those who are "advanced" or basically fluent. I'm in 4A. Museb's in 4B (we're still trying to figure out how much of a difference there is, it appears that A might be slightly more advanced than B but I might just like to think that :P) and Ashley's in 5A. She's fluent in Spanish as well as English so a lot of her words (especially the numbers) have Spanish pronunciation but she's awesome and really confident at just trying to speak. It's great. Museb actually lives in Montreal (he's from Toronto) so he's just learned French from hearing it. He's the best at communicating with and understanding our host family.

Monday afternoon we had a walking tour of downtown Chicoutimi, in the cold and the rain. It was a horrible day. Since then it's thankfully cleared up which has been great. For that evening we heard that people were going to a pub called "La Tour a Biere" it turned out that close to 50 students were there and we had a great time getting to know people from all over the country and celebrating our last night of speaking French.

Tuesday we were assigned to our classes and met our teachers. We had the afternoon free so Ashley, Museb and I picked up Victoria, another girl on our minibus route, and went to the mall. I forgot my hiking shoes at home so I had to buy a new pair. Tuesday night we went to bed pretty early which we needed after our late night on Monday and trying to speak French all day on Tuesday.

Wednesday was our first full day of class. My teacher is great. She's Quebecois and really big on proper pronunciation but we have a lot of fun with it. This week has been a lot of review but somehow I feel like this time around it's actually sinking in. It's great. We've had people leave our class to go down a level and to go up but I feel like I'm really in the right place. I understand the teacher for the most part but I still feel challenged by the coursework.

Wednesday night the Canucks played the Sharks so we went out to the "Bistro" across from the school. It was $2 beer night so the place was pretty packed. They have a project screen so it was a great way to watch the game, and again talk to people. Pretty much everyone is a student back home so we all have a lot in common and lots to talk about.

Thursday was class all day. Usually we just have class in the mornings and activities in the afternoon but Thursday's we have "culture" classes in the afternoons. This week in my class we made posters advertising a local tourist attraction. My group did one for a bike trek around Lac St. Jean. Others in our class did Nouvelle France and La Pulperie de Chicoutimi both of which we'ell be visiting in the next few weeks. La Pulperie is at the bottom of the hill that we live on as well and we pass it every day. I'm looking forward to visiting.

Thursday was another relatively early night. Ashley and Museb actually went over to Steve's (he has a pool table and a hot tub) but I was having an allergy attack so I just stayed home.

Friday was class in the morning and activities in the afternoon. Group 4 actually had a free afternoon so I just worked on homework and there is a LOT of it. It's great exercise but it takes awhile. I want to make sure that I stay on top of it so I get the best experience out of this.

Friday night was our "Soiree Bienvenue" at the school. They transformed the "Centre Sociale" into a night club complete with a bar and we partied there till about midnight when we moved over to La Tour again. I was home around 1am and slept in today.

Tomorrow we go for a day trip to Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay. And now you're up to date! It's been really busy but really fun.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My day in Ottawa

What a wet miserable day!!! Yesterday was muggy and hot. During the night it finally started raining and today it didn't stop. It was warm though so I didn't have to dress up and I just made do with wet feet. Despite the rain I managed to cover a fair bit of ground. My main stops were the Parliament Building and the Canadian Museum of War. I also went over to the Museum of Civilization (which is across the river in Gatineau, Quebec) but only to watch an IMAX show. I finished my wanderings at Chapters where I picked up a better French dictionary (I bought one in Quebec City in January but it's intended for French speaking people so it's hard to use) and a verb book.

I called my parents when I got back to the hostel and Dad asked if Ottawa is what I expected. It's an interesting question. I found when I was in Washington, DC that, while I didn't know where things were located, I recognized most of the buildings and monuments. Here (in my own country, ironically) I really only recognize the Parliament Building, and only the Centre Block at that. Everything else has been all new.

Spring is here so there are lots of pretty flowers around to enjoy and since Ottawa is right on the river, it's a very pretty city. Even if it is overcast. There is so much to see here and it was a nice break before starting school on Monday (I have to keep saying that so I don't forget that's what this is all about!) It's been interesting to be right on the border of Ontario and Quebec as well. Most of the tour guides here are bilingual and many of the people in the shops. I keep rehearsing French in my head but when I talk it's all English. It's very annoying. I suppose it's a confidence issue. And the fact that I'm obviously Anglophone. Hopefully when I'm in a community where they don't SPEAK English, I'll use more French. That's the goal anyways.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday the 13th Road Trips

April 13, 2007 I was dodging tornadoes on my way between San Antonio and Dallas, Texas.
May 13, 2011 on a beautiful day I drove from Waterloo to Ottawa, Ontario.
Gotta love Friday the 13th road trips!!!

The drive itself was rather uneventful. I drank a lot, I stopped for a lot of bathroom breaks. I listened to music and day dreamed. I took a twenty minute nap in a parking lot in a town called Smith Falls and woke up so sweaty that it took me an hour to cool down properly. I still felt gross when I arrived in Ottawa and after climbing the six flights of stairs up to my room I had a sponge bath too cool down. I was going to take a full shower but I didn't really have the time.

My hostel was recommended by the trip coordinator from the History Students Association. The same guy who planned our Quebec City trip in January. The HSA has stayed here in previous years and enjoyed it so I knew it would be good. It took a different route up than what is typically suggested by Google Maps and it wound through the country. Rather unspectacular scenery but pretty in the fresh springness. There was very little traffic that way as well which was nice.

Arriving in Ottawa I hit rush hour/construction so by the time I finally found the hostel and parked I admit I was a bit rattled. After being lulled by quiet country roads all day the bustle of the city was a bit nuts. After my aforementioned sponge bath, I took a quick walk over to the Parliament Buildings just to check them out. I intend to take a full tour tomorrow. I wanted to be back at the hostel for 7pm when the tour started here.

I've uploaded all the photos to Facebook. Is anyone here not a friend of mine there? Because frankly I'm tired right now :P I may double up some posts (like the ones from last weekend) but to me the blog is for the narrative of my activities. Posting pictures is separate. I have a lot of people on Facebook who don't read my blog. Or I don't know if they do. I'm okay with that. I've said all along, I blog for me...and for scrapbooking. I've chosen not to tell people about my blog so I can be more open with what I put here. What I upload to Facebook I know everyone and their dog (yes I have dogs as friends :P) will see it and that's okay too. Anyways, I guess I'm ending this post on a bit of a philosophical note. I want to try and do more blogging because I like having the record and Facebook doesn't always cut it. I need to find a balance so I'm not spending hours on both though. If you have any comments or suggestions please let me know :)

Grand Haven

Sunday was a beautiful day so we decided to drive out to Lake Michigan. It's on my list to see all five great lakes and since we were only about 45 minutes away, this was a good time to see Michigan.

First though we started the day with my first visit to Panera Bread. There are rumours that it is coming to Canada. We'll see. I hope it does. It was delicious! Speaking of firsts, I also got my first piece of Vera Bradley! Diane gave me the ID case in Mediterranean Blue which just happens to fit my BlackBerry perfectly. I love it!

We weren't at the lake all that long. Just enough time to walk along the waters edge to the pier down to the end and back. Still, in that time we both came home sporting rosy arms and cheeks.

It was a perfect day. The sun was shining warmly and the sand was almost hot but the breeze kept us cool. We took our time walking and chatting and just being together again. It's been too long!

We stopped at Starbucks for Frappy Hour on the way out of town and then at the grocery store. When we got back to the house Jim bar-b-qued hamburgers and we had a lovely dinner.

Monday Diane had to work so I slept in a bit and left around 9. I hit Target on my way out of town and found a really cute pair of sandals. All in all a successful weekend :)

Kenny Chesney 2011

I could have sworn I posted this but it's not showing up so I'm going to try again. Sorry if it's a repost.

This weekend I finally made it over to Michigan to see Diane. Being able to do this of course is one of the reasons I moved to Ontario. I feel like now that school is over, I can do the things on my list! Diane and I have always wanted to attend a Kenny Chesney concert together...after all, he's the reason we're friends. Kenny played Grand Rapids on Saturday night (his first show here since 2008) and we went together. Uncle Cracker opened the show and I really enjoyed his set. I don't know very many of his songs but it was fun to listen to him sing in his home state. Of course he did do "Smile" which I love so that was enough for me :) He also did a fun cover of Kenny Roger's "The Gambler" which he prefaced with a story about how when he was eight or so, you couldn't tell him that he WASN'T Rogers :) And then how a few years ago he actually got a call from Rogers himself, but he hung up on him LOL. This was my first time seeing Billy Currington in concert. It was alright. He's not my favourite singer by far but he is easy on the eyes ;) He sang most of his singles and a few new tracks. For "People Are Crazy" he changed the line to "women are crazy" which got a big cheer from the crowd. He sang Must Be Doin' Something Right, That's how Country Boys Roll, Pretty Good at Drinking Beer, Good Directions (my personal favourite of his) and a few others including a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" We had floor seats in the third section back so it was easy to go up closer to the stage to get a closer shot. Between sets we had a lady behind us take this picture of Diane and I. At one point Kenny said “I believe music is the most powerful thing in the world. It can take you back to a certain place in your life like nothing else.” That is a theme he often visits with his music but I have to admit, I wasn't prepared for the emotional roller coaster that this concert took me on. I was telling Diane afterwards that I've been a fan of Kenny's for awhile, starting in earnest after she and I started talking. Each of his songs literally took me "back". Back to Pennsylvania in 2005 when we were riding around through Amish country in The Barge and all I wanted was Starbucks and a Walmart where I could pick up "The Road and the Radio". Back to that night in December 2005 when Diane and I met for the first time and got lost in Seattle. Back to 2006 when Erin picked me up from Dulles airport and our first stop was Target for LIVE. Back to working in various offices. Back to certain times, people and situations. To my trip out here and looking forward. It was amazing. Very emotional. The rather drunk guy beside me was a little worried when I sat down during a few of the slow songs but I needed to collect myself!!! As I had predicted, he opened with "Live a Little" and then worked through Hemingway's Whiskey, Somewhere with You, Never Wanted Nothing More, Everybody Wants to go to Heaven, Out Last Night, Beer in Mexico, Anything But Mine, Young, Big Star and more. During "Living in Fast Forward" I reached over and gave Diane a big hug when he sang the verse: My friends all grew up and they settled down Nice little houses on the outskirts o’ town They work in their office And drive SUVs They pray for their babies And they worry ‘bout me He ended with "Summertime" which he brought Uncle Kracker back to duet on and then they did a cover of David Allen Coe's "You Never Even Called Me By My Name". The final song was "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" which Billy Currington came out to help him with. The encore was "Boys of Fall" and clips of the documentary were playing while he signed things from the stage.

Monday, May 02, 2011


Woohoo! Final French marks are up. I pulled a B- over all. Not bad considering I failed the first midterm [insert blushing smilie here] That makes me feel beter.

Actually I basically improved over all.

First Semester
Latin C
Geography A-
Canadian History B
North American A

Second Semester
French B-
Medieval History B-
Canadian History A-
North American A+ (!)

It should be noted that my second semster North American Studies class was a second year course as well. So not only did I bring up my grade from my first semseter NA class but I got an A+ on a second year course when I am just a first year student. Yeah me!

I'm really, really happy with that. Even with the learning curve of first semester, second seemed harder in a lot of ways and I didn't think I'd do that well. I'm glad to see that I was wrong.

So, French. The course I completed was "Introductory French 102" I was technically over qualified for the course and definitely not allowed into 101 because I have grade 11 high school French. However I contacted the course advisor and explained that grade 11 was over 10 years ago so they let me take 102 this year. As you know I was also part of the French club which helped a lot with my comprehension levels.

(forgive me if I've blogged any of this before. I'm going to launch into my little "30 second commercial" so that anyone who doesn't know, gets a better picture of why I'm doing what I am doing. I feel like I have said this a million times to people but I doubt I've blogged it so here it goes)

My goal after school is to get a job with Parks Canada or a similar organization. I'd like to work in a National Historic Site, or any historic site, preferably as a costumed interpreter...at least to start. Every SINGLE person I have mentioned that goal to always asks "how's your French"? Basically, to work for in tourism for a federal agency in Canada French is a huge bonus. Now I like French and I would love to speak it more fluently so it is something I'd want to do anyway.

Because Canada has two official languages, English and French, the federal government has designed a "Five-Week French-Language Bursary Program". They describe the opportunity as: "Discover another region of Canada while learning French. Enjoy five weeks of learning and adventure, friendship and discovery!" Program is called My Explore or, "Explore" and the official website is here: Explore Sessions run in the spring and summer at a variety of campuses around the country. You select the campus and time frame, apply for three and they see what they can do for you.

I spoke with many people (at historic sites during my trip to ON, fellow students and French Club members and professors) and they ALL suggested being outside the big cities (like Montreal and Quebec City) because they are too used to tourists there and it will be difficult to practice French when out and about. My top three choices were Chicoutimi, QC, Saint Anne's in Nova Scotia (where you also can't practice French but apparently it's beautiful and I really want to go to NS) and Trois-Pistoles, QC. The three I selected also offere university credits, accomodation with a host family and spring sessions (mid-May to mid-June).

As you know, I was awarded my first choice, Chicoutimi! I know of at least four other students at my school who were wait listed for the program (and from what I've heard, haven't been admitted) so I consider myself VERY lucky.

The course is five days a week for five weeks. You're in class every morning as well as Thursday afternoons and doing group cultural activities, in the remaining afternoons and evenings. It will be very busy (and exhausting because it's all in French) but good. There's also a "three strikes and you're out" policy. If you are caught speaking English three times you can be sent home. Now obviously if you're just trying to work out French words and you're giving the English equivilant, that's find but if you're just speaking English instead of French? That's a no-no. It's meant to encourage the use of and development of your lanugage skills. I think it's great.

Chicoutimi is about a 12 hour drive from Waterloo which is doable in one day, but boring. I have to be there on Sunday, May 15th so I decided to leave two days early and spent a bit of time in Ottawa on the way. Ottawa is about halfway and another place I've always wanted to visit. Two nights and one full day won't be nearly enough time but it will help me get a bit of a feel for the city.

So, there, that's what "Quebec" is all about. My goal while I'm there is not only to further my understanding of the language but to also imerse myself in the cultural side of things. The French classes I'll be taking in the coming years at school have a large component of French culture. My Canadian History and North American Studies classes all talk about Quebec-as-a-region-of-Canada extensively and I feel that I'll have a better understanding of what they are teaching after being there for awhile. It's fine to learn from an English Canada - text book point of view, but it's not the full picture.

Next year I will be applying for summer jobs in my chosen field and by listing "Explore" on my resume, I know it will float it higher to the top of the stack.

I'll do my best to keep you updated on my progress when I am there :)