Last summer, I spent five beautiful weeks in Québec City studying French with the Explore program. It was best summer of my life.
This post is meant to be for anyone that is 1) deciding whether or not to do Explore 2) about to leave for Explore and is nervous/hesitant/scared 3) counting down the days until they leave for Québec or 4) has post-Explore depression and would do anything to go back! I remember being so incredibly excited, and constantly scouring the web for tips from previous participants. Hopefully I can be of some help!
First, let me tell you a little bit about myself. Freshly graduated from high school, I was due to start university in the fall. My interest in French sparked when I was sixteen (having done the YMCA Summer Work Student Exchange), however, the extent of my education in the language was completing French 12 at a public BC high school. My ability to speak French was far from perfect. This transition summer, between the end of one chapter and the start of a new one, seemed to be the perfect opportunity to do the Explore program. I was lucky enough to be picked in the lottery, given the bursary (which covers meals, accommodation and tuition – all Canadian citizens that apply are eligible), and placed at my first choice university – Université Laval in Québec City.
In the weeks before leaving Vancouver, I joined a Facebook group that was created by animateurs and animatrices (organizers) of the program at ULaval. The group was specifically for the summer session and had tons of relevant, helpful information, such as program itineraries, check-in info, and participants arranging to fly out together from common cities. In my excitement and anticipation, I hungrily scoured the group every day. This is where I noticed a thread for those flying out of Vancouver and met a girl my own age – we arranged to fly out together and became best friends for the duration of the program.
Tip #1: Do not stick to Expedia when finding flights. Consider other possibilities. My friend and I made the mistake of putting Québec City as the end destination on Expedia, which ended up giving us connecting flights from Montréal or Toronto to Québec. We ended up getting flights from Vancouver -> Montréal -> Québec City then from Québec City -> Toronto -> Vancouver for the return trip. Please do not do this. It’s so much cheaper to take the train or bus from Montréal to Québec City. (AmigoExpress is another great alternative.) The round trip flights ended up costing over $800. I had another friend from Vancouver who spent around $500 by taking a bus from Montréal to Québec City, and back.
I was placed in the residence building Alphonse-Marie-Parent. It was the central residence building, where everyone initially registered and where the bulk of the participants lived. I had a number of friends who were placed in the other residences, however, everyone usually came to Parent for cooking dinner, studying, hanging out and pre-drinking before nights out on the town.
ULaval is great because there is great public transportation which makes it easy to go to Vieux-Québec, which has Parliament buildings, le Chateau Frontenac and la Grande Allée (great night life). Right next to campus are three huge shopping malls, side by side. Inside are stores such as Zara, H&M, Dollar Tree and Holt Renfrew (that juxtaposition though). Québec also has an awesome department store chain called Simons – a more fashionable, trendy version of The Bay). Man, did I shop a lot. There were so many sales and everything seemed to be discounted more than they usually are in Vancouver. But a word of caution: Québec tax is 15%, so even if you think that things are cheaper, they amount to the same (or even more) including tax. ULaval also offers a bicycle rental service on campus that’s free for all Explore students. This was awesome for riding to the mall for groceries, wandering through Vieux Québec or just for getting around campus. They take your ID as collateral, however, so don’t take a bike when you’re going to the liquor store!
Québec’s legal minimum drinking age is 18. This means that I was in the program for those 18 years and older. We were given unlimited amount of freedom (I know the under 18 program had strict curfews). Although there are two different age groups, the two groups never clash or cross paths (except for on the bus or walking around campus, but that’s really the extent of it). The timeline of the two programs only overlap for 1-2 weeks; they are designed separately.
Tip #2: Be smart about your food allowance! The program gives you $700 in cash for meals, which you can use for cooking or eating out. There are no optional meal cards – some of my friends were disappointed with this but I was glad. Use the communal kitchens! We usually went grocery shopping 1-2 times a week and stocked up. Go to the Dollar Tree in one of the malls and stock up on pots/pans/utensils/dishes/tupperware. You can also rent a fridge from the residence for $60. I shared one fridge with my two other friends and we each paid $20. It was totally worth it because I would prepare a large batch of food on Sunday and pack them in containers to have for lunch for the rest of the week. Each morning, I would grab one container and go! There are microwaves in the building with classes, so it’s all very convenient. I ended up having around $200 left in my food allowance!
To continue reading, see part two of this two-part series here.