Study Abroad in Quebec: Maple Taffy on Snow

While teaching is at an end for our undergraduates on the Stirling campus, our students currently on Study Abroad semesters in France, Quebec, Switzerland and Morocco are at different stages of their academic semesters. Some – as in the case of Emily Brown, who has sent us this blog post, and who is enjoying her Semester Abroad in Quebec – are just waiting for Spring to start and for the end of sub-zero temperatures…

2016 Brown Laval Ice Fishing April
Ice Fishing

“Proudly progressive politics; a cityscape packed with church spires; the drive to protect a traditional language from Anglophone influence; an extraordinarily narrow referendum for political independence… I am of course describing Québec, the seat of French Canada.

If any of the above sounds familiar to Scottish readers, studying abroad at Université Laval may not be the terrifying leap from Stirling that it seems. From the stunning local wilderness down to the university’s Olympic-standard swimming pool, I’ve found we have more in common with our Québécois cousins than I expected.

2016 Brown Laval campus April
Laval Campus

If, for example, you prefer to say ‘Scotland’ before ‘Britain’ when asked where you live, you may understand why a Quebecker bristles slightly at being called ‘Canadian’. The province’s cultural heritage is appreciably distinct from that of its Anglophone neighbours, and proudly so. Buy a cheeky poutine (chips, special gravy and cheese curds) or maple taffy on snow, and you’ll understand why.

2016 Brown Laval Tire D'Erable April

Both Scots and Québécois French are beautifully distinctive examples of dialectic variation, but nevertheless, it can be hard to distinguish between accents as a non-native speaker. My advice to my German friends in telling a Scottish accent from an English one was to pay attention to the choice of swear words and insults. This method has served me well in Québec, because if I hear any curses I immediately recognise, the speaker is probably from France. Quebeckers instead use sacres, terms derived from the Catholic Church, which would translate for us as words like ‘chalice’ or ‘tabernacle’. They are deliciously versatile, easy to learn and artful to master – much like Scotland’s home grown variety. In addition, it’s useful to know that there’s no tolerance for Anglicisms like ‘weekend’ or ‘parking’ (it’s ‘fin de semaine’ and ‘stationnement’); but you might hear a roar of ‘Let’s go!’ at a hockey match, or a friendly ‘bye bye’ from a cashier.

2016 Brown Laval Snowed In April
Snowed in…

One word of warning: we may make a cultural pastime of complaining about the weather, but winter in Québec is not to be sniffed at. Once you’ve walked home with your groceries through a snow storm of -30C or below, Scotland will feel like a temperate oasis. Fortunately, if you want to opt out of hypothermia on the way to class, there is a maze of toasty underground tunnels connecting every building on campus. No snow days here! (Britain, take notes.)

2016 Brown Laval Ice Hockey April


Alternatively, you could warm up with a spot of ice skating, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, or – of course – ice hockey. Or curling, why not? The largest ice slide park in North America is about a half hour’s drive away from Laval. And most of these activities, among dozens more, are available for free or at a student discount through the university’s outstanding immersion program. If you’ve ever got that itch for ice fishing or dog sledding, this is the place to scratch it. Far from complaining, the party never ends in Québec as long as there’s snow on the ground.

One semester is an awkward amount of time to move anywhere – it’s long enough that you’ll be forced to settle in and make friends, and short enough that your adieux will come too soon, but every second will be worth it. The crazy, offbeat humour and warm energy of the people I’ve met here means I haven’t regretted my destination for a second. If you have the same opportunity, grab Québec with both hands and attache ta tuque.”

Thanks to Emily for this blog post – enjoy the rest of your semester and make the most of the warmer weather!