Go First to Quebec

 

Lebanon Valley College students Maya Calderwood and Laura Ciuchta were two of six students who participated in the College’s inaugural Go First! program in Quebec City, Quebec, an international study opportunity for LVC’s incoming first-year students. The 10-day program provided students the opportunity to earn three LVC credits before the start of their freshman year—a distinct advantage for the jam-packed years ahead. 

Before traveling to Quebec, the group spent two days preparing for their journey with Jill Russell, director of global education, and Dr. Rick Chamberlin, associate professor of German and French and the faculty chaperone on the trip. Students honed their cultural competencies as well as basic French skills on LVC’s campus before departing, which they refined in level-appropriate French language and culture classes abroad. 

“During the two days of pre-departure orientation, the group and I spent a lot of time together and were able to bond so we weren’t too shy with each other when we left for Quebec,” recalls Ciuchta.

Along with Chamberlin, LVC student Scott Reagan ’16, a German and international studies major who also speaks French, accompanied the group while facilitating afternoon, evening, and weekend cultural learning activities. 

In Quebec, the students stayed in pairs with a local Quebecois family. The relationship Ciuchta built with her Quebecois family was one of her favorite parts of the trip.

“One of my favorite experiences, among many, from the trip was treating our host mother to a dinner at a restaurant on the top floor of a local hotel,” says Ciuchta. “The restaurant rotated and had large glass windows surrounding it so we had a perfect view of the Quebec City skyline at all times. It was really nice getting to sit down and talk with her, as our time together during the day was limited.”

“Being able to immerse ourselves in a different culture was one of the greatest parts of the trip. Living with host families gave us insight into what the culture of Quebec is really like,” says Calderwood.

Calderwood and Ciuchta agree that out of everything, the immersive nature of the experience was the most helpful, enabling the students to grow in ways that would not have been possible in a traditional classroom setting. 

“Because I was not in a traditional French class setting for most of the day, I was forced to think more quickly of what to say when conversing with native Quebeckers,” illustrates Ciuchta. “Due to this lack of time for thinking, replies to French conversations became more automatic and natural as my trip progressed.”

“Since I did not have any previous experience with French, the French immersion was a little overwhelming at first,” explains Calderwood. “In a typical classroom setting, I would probably have spoken more English than French; however, being in Canada required us to use French out of necessity during everyday activities, which helped our understanding of spoken French improve faster than in a traditional classroom.”

Calderwood says the trip reassured her of her decision to study French at LVC, and eliminated any uncertainties she had about beginning the program. She also intends to study abroad after the success of her first experience, though she is unsure where or when. 

The trip impressed on Ciuchta the importance of communicating with others in their native language and encouraged her to study French after returning to LVC: “In Quebec, I felt like I missed out a little due to the fact that I couldn’t communicate well with natives due to my limited French experience. I have always felt that the best way to learn about a place is listening to others’ stories and I wasn’t able to do this as much as I would be able to in an Anglophone region. Due to this, I vowed to become more proficient in French so that no matter if I visit France, Algeria, or even Quebec again, I will be able to get a fuller experience as I will be able to talk more to natives.”

Linguistic growth eventually translated to personal growth, as the students’ became more comfortable asking questions and making mistakes. While Ciuchta was initially embarrassed by the mistakes she made using her limited French skills, she grew to understand that mistakes were simply a part of learning and used them to her advantage.

“Toward the beginning of the trip we were hesitant to even ask for directions, but by the end of the trip we were comfortable asking for help,” remembers Calderwood. “Each day we interacted with new people, which improved our social skills.”

As the trip progressed, students found themselves honing more of these essential nonacademic skills, a welcome surprise for the young travelers.

“One important skill I learned while in Quebec was time management,” confirms Ciuchta. “While Quebec is a big city that had a lot to offer, I made sure that I had enough time each day to complete my homework and write a daily blog post. This skill has definitely helped in college as LVC also has a lot of fun opportunities for students, but it’s important to carve out time for studying.” 

“Being abroad taught us how to adapt to unfamiliar situations, as I learned that some cultures do things differently, which isn’t better or worse, just different and that’s okay,” affirms Calderwood. 

Even though the trip has long since concluded, the skills learned and friendships made will long transcend these borders, establishing memories that will last well beyond the students’ collegiate experiences. Calderwood and Ciuchta have already begun discovering these hidden benefits during their first days on campus.

“I am originally from near Pittsburgh and knew absolutely no one at LVC,” describes Ciuchta. “However when I returned to campus the day before regular freshman orientation, I already had made five great friends. College is a new environment that can be difficult to adapt to and because I was forced to adjust to the environment in Quebec, as well as being away from home for an extended period of time, my college adjustment was much easier.” 

 

Editor's Note: Additional students who participated in the program include Kaila Letourneau, Abigail Packheiser, Rachel Shaffer, and Jennifer Summy.