Review of the Explore Program at Trois-Rivières, Quebec
For five weeks in May and June, I was in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, learning French through the Explore Program. Since I just graduated from university, this was the last year that I could do it—unless I do a masters later and become a student again. I was in French immersion before but I basically never spoke French at home in Vancouver, so I wanted to do Explore to improve my speaking skills. Also, it’s a bursary program so why not take advantage of that and have some fun?
What is the Explore Program?
The Explore Program is a 5-week French immersion government bursary program for students in Canada (must be Canadian citizen or permanent resident, and at least in grade 11) to learn French in the spring or summer. It is funded through the Council of Minsters of Education, Canada (CMEC). The $2,200 bursary covers tuition, meals and accommodation, and is for people with varying levels of French—you can do it even if don’t know a single word of French.
There are over 20 institutions across Canada that offer the Explore program; the majority are in Quebec, the French-speaking region of Canada. University students can get credits towards their degree (two courses worth).
The application for Explore is straightforward and the deadline is in February each year. The bursaries are awarded randomly using a lottery draw in March or April, and there’s a waiting list if you don’t get in. I couldn’t find how many people do it each year, but it’s probably in the thousands. In my program at Trois-Rivières, there were 400 people. My friends who have done it at other locations say it ranges from 100-400 people at a location.
For more information on the program and full eligibility details, check out the Explore Program’s website. There is an inverse Explore program for French-speaking people in Canada who want to improve their English.
Trois-Rivières is a small city on the St. Lawrence’s River, right between Montreal and Quebec City—it’s about a two-hour drive each way. It has a population of 114,000 that is predominantly francophone. The city is super cute, with downtown basically being one street with a bunch of shops, bars and restaurants. It also has an interesting history.
Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
Trois-Rivières only has one university: L’Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR). There is one main academic building, a sports centre, two student residences, and a few other buildings. During the Explore Program, I was part of the École internationale de français at UQTR.
Depending on your Explore location, you either stay with a host family or in the student residences. At UQTR, everyone stayed in the student residences, which were apartment-style and a 5-minute walk away from the main academic building. I had three roommates, Emilie, Natasha and Vienna, who eventually became my best friends during the program—salut mes belles! Our apartment was fairly new, with a kitchen, living room, two bathrooms (but only one shower) and four separate rooms. I was surprised at how nice and clean the rooms were, since accommodation was provided as part of the program.
On the first day of the program, all students took a placement test. We were split into 20 classes, with levels ranging from beginner to advanced. I was placed in an advanced class with 20 other students. We had class Monday to Friday, from 8:30 AM to 12:06 PM. Course evaluation was based on participation, homework, two 25-minute presentations and two exams.
Because you can get two courses worth of university credits from Explore, class was quite intense and grammar heavy. Class material focused on grammar, vocabulary, reading comprehension, writing and Quebecois/French culture. Although the material was sometimes dry—like learning all the rules for subjonctif or l’accord du participe passé—our professor Lucie made it fun with activities like skits. We did random things like karaoke too.
We also learned vocabulary and phrases from several themes. The most memorable was the “physical appearance” lesson, during which we got into groups and acted out a short skit. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the phrase “il/elle ne passe pas inaperçu(e)” (he/she doesn’t pass unnoticed).
When you spend almost four hours with the same 20 people each day, there’s no doubt you become good friends. I got to know most of the people in “classe X” and I have to say, you guys made class funny and enjoyable every single day. Thank you all!
Our professor, Lucie, was so sweet and energetic. Being in her class was such a pleasure and I’m certain everyone else in my class would agree so. She was even so kind as to invite everyone to her home for a dinner potluck; it turned out to be wonderful and memorable.
From Monday to Thursday, we had mandatory afternoon workshops that were 1.5 hours each. Conversation workshops took place twice a week and they were less structured than morning class. You get put into a conversation workshop based on your level of French. There were about 15 people in my workshop. We discussed a variety of topics and played games.
For the other two days, you got to choose whatever interested you the most out of the following: theater, music, art, diction or environment. I chose theater because it sounded like fun and I wanted to practice my oral French. Our theater instructor, Joliane, was so animated and hilarious. We played games, made skits, sang karaoke, chatted, filmed a lipdub and learned phrases like “ça m’énerve lorsque…” (It irritates me when…). Joliane made this workshop incredibly fun and it completely exceeded my expectations.
We were given $500 for food for the five weeks as part of the program. Since my roommates and I had a kitchen in the apartment, we bought groceries and cooked most of the time. I tracked my food expenditures and I spent $425 on food during the five weeks, including eating at restaurants 3-4 times a week, but excluding alcohol (mainly red wine because we’re classy haha). Not bad!
Outside of class and workshops, there were many optional activities like sports, mini field trips, cultural experiences and evening parties (soirées) that you could take part in. Some costed a little money. My most memorable experiences were eating everything-covered-in-maple-syrup at a sugar shack, getting my ass kicked at a cardio box workout with my roommate Vienna, watching some amazing performances at the Explore students’ talent show, and celebrating with everyone at the end-of-program soirée.
Every Saturday, there were planned excursions for all students as part of the program. Transportation to and from the location was free, and there was a selection of activities that you could chose from at each location, some free, some with a charge. For the Quebec City and Montreal trip, you had the option of staying overnight, but you had to find your own accommodation and pay $20 for a bus back to Trois-Rivières the next day.
Weekend Trip 1: Trois-Rivières
On the first Saturday, we all went to downtown Trois-Rivières, which is about a 15 minute drive from the university. For the morning activity, I chose the guided tour of downtown; for the afternoon activity, I visited the Musée québécois de culture populaire (a museum) and the Old Prison of Trois-Rivières. Our tour guide at the prison was a former prisoner who had stayed in the prison for two months before it shut down in 1986. He had a thick Quebecois accent that was a bit hard to understand. It was definitely an interesting experience to hear about the conditions of the prison from an actual prisoner.
Weekend Trip 2: Quebec City
The two hour ride to Quebec City felt long because I was so excited to finally see Quebec City (In grade seven, my best friend in French Immersion visited Quebec City and I’ve been dying to go ever since). I opted to stay not one but two nights until Monday afternoon (special shoutout to Emilie for the ride back to Trois-Rivières!). During my three days in Quebec City, I went on a guided tour of Old Quebec, saw the amazing Montmorency Falls, strolled along the Plains of Abraham, got spoken back to in English when I spoke French, ate some fancy food, and chilled with cool people around the city. Quebec City’s so adorable. I had a blast!
Weekend Trip 3: Parc national de la Mauricie
La Mauricie National Park is about a one hour drive from Trois-Rivières. It’s a beautiful park that reminds me of home (beautiful British Columbia). We hiked for about two hours, had a picnic lunch, and then relaxed in the sun, which was incredibly comfortable. The bad part was that I took a 90 minute nap in the sun with yoga pants on and got the most horrendous tan line ever.
Weekend Trip 4: Montreal
The last weekend trip was Montreal. My roommates and I decided to stay overnight so we could see more of the city. I went on a guided tour, visited the Musée des Beaux Arts, shopped at the Eaton Centre, climbed Mont Royal, saw Saint Joseph’s Oratory, got a tour of McGill University from my Vancouver friend Sean, and walked around downtown Montreal with my Explore roommates until my feet died. A packed two days but so awesome.
Recommendations for the Explore Program at UQTR
Overall, my experience on the Explore was great. There were, however, a couple of things I thought could be improved at UQTR. Here are some of my recommendations:
1. Tell students to bring a Bescherelle and dictionary. In my class, a Bescherelle (verb conjugation book) was required for all students; dictionaries were optional. It would have been nice if the university sent an email telling students to bring their Bescherelles/dictionaries (as well as a list of suggested items, such as lined paper, notebook, etc). I had to buy a Bescherelle during the Explore Program; now I have two Bescherelles at home.
2. Provide instructions on how to log in to computers in the library and how to use the printer. I had the hardest time trying to set up my account on the library computers because I needed to print something. I had to ask for help at the library and the person helping me went through a long and complicated process to connect my account to the printer.
3. Have a better system for giving out the $200 cheques. You get $500 in total for food: $100 in cash during your first week, a $200 cheque during the second week, and a $200 cheque during the fourth week. To get the $200, there would be a two-hour period on a set day where all Explore students (400 people) lined up to get their cheque. Students would line up in a single line, and then break off into three smaller lines based on last name. It was highly disorganized and the waits were long, up to one hour. A suggestion would be to distribute the cheques in a bigger space (the gym instead of the hallway) and to have 5-8 tables instead of 3.
4. Have a better procedure for borrowing cleaning supplies and inspecting dorms. Borrowing cleaning supplies, mops and vacuums was disorganized and highly stressful for many of the people I talked to. There were only two days, as I recall, where you could borrow cleaning supplies; on those two days, there was only a two hour window where you sign in and out the supplies. On inspection: Students should be notified sooner than a few days before the end of the program that their dorms need to be meticulously clean for inspection so they can get their deposit back. Inspections were mostly done on the day you were expected to leave the school, with some being done the previous day for special cases. We got notified of our inspection time slot only a few days before the end of the program. I know people who had booked buses or were going to leave early, and I heard that the rescheduling process was stressful. My recommendation is to make cleaning supplies available for a week and to do the inspections during the last three days of the program.
Recommendations for the Explore Program in General
1. Do the lottery draw earlier. The application for the program was due mid-Febraury; the lottery draw took place on April 7, 2017, just a month before the earliest spring session was about to start (May 7). Many of the people I met on Explore told me that they could not finalize their summer plans (summer school, travel, jobs, internships) because they were waiting for the lottery draw. I was planning to travel this summer and I was getting anxious because I knew that if I booked flights a month before departure, prices would be higher than if I had booked two or three months in advance. For people who don’t know if they will be in the Explore Program or taking summer school, academic planning for the rest of their degree could pose a challenge. To be in April and not know what your plans are for May is nerve-wracking. If it’s not possible to do the draw earlier because of processing times, the application deadline should be moved earlier to allow for 2-3 months of notice before the spring session starts.
2. Do better marketing to high schools and universities. I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I tell people about the Explore Program, the majority of people have never heard of it. Some people might say, “Oh I think my friend did that… the French thing?” It may be that I live in BC, which is the province that farthest away from Quebec—it’s also the costliest province to get to Quebec from, so naturally less people will have done it. Throughout high school and university, I’ve only heard of this program being promoted once: in my grade 11 French class. I never heard anything about it in university—I didn’t get any emails nor did I hear of any info sessions about it. The Explore Program is pretty awesome and it’s a shame that not a lot of people know about it.
The Final Verdict: 8/10
Did my French improve? Yes (mainly comprehension, speaking, and my accent).
Did I learn more about Quebecois and French culture? Yes.
Did I see more of Canada? Yes.
Did I have fun? Big yes.
Is the program perfect? No.
Would I recommend the Explore Program? Yes!
This review is not sponsored by the Explore Program or L’Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR). All thoughts and views expressed in this post are based on my own experience during the spring session of the Explore Program at UQTR from May 9 – June 9, 2017.