It was a meeting of two sides of a nation at the Francophone École Mer-et-montagne school recently.
The Campbell River students were anxious as they waited for the friends they have been corresponding with over the past month to arrive.
The moment finally came April 28 when a bus full of 21 students and three teachers from Quebec’s Magdalen Islands pulled up to the school. A salmon barbecue awaited them inside where the festivities were just getting started for the group that would spend five days in Campbell River, followed by a few more days in Victoria.
At the end of the month, the students and staff from the Magdalen Islands will return the favour and host 16 students from École Mer-et-montagne.
It’s part of an exchange program through Experiences Canada, arranged by Chantal Rousseau, a Grade 7/8 teacher at École Mer-et-montagne.
“I think as a Francophone teacher it’s very important – because our students are a minority here – to expand their French and to meet other people,” says Roussseau who applied to the federal Experiences Canada program to take part in an exchange with her students. She was matched up with Polyvante des isles – the only high school on the Magdalen Islands, a small isolated archipelago that lies in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. “There are only two flights per day to the island,” Rousseau adds. “But I wanted a place where Francophones are the majority.”
The program pays for all the students’ travel costs but it’s up to the schools involved in the exchange to plan full itineries (and pay for them) that will teach the students about their respective areas’ heritage and how it relates back to Canada as a whole.
École Mer-et-Montagne raised $11,786.18 through monthly bottle drives, bagging groceries, hot dog sales and a draw at Christmas time for gift cards.
In exchange, the Quebecers were treated to trips to the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge, a hike to Ripple Rock, a hot dog roast and games at Miracle Beach, a trip to the aquarium and to Horne Lake Caves. They also went to the Museum at Campbell River where they created Native art and they took a trip up to Mount Washington to do some geocaching. On Wednesday, the group headed to Victoria where they toured the Royal BC Museum, the B.C. Parliament Buildings, Chinatown and the famous Butchart Gardens.
Now, the students and staff from École Mer-et-Montagne are looking forward to their turn to travel. They leave Campbell River on May 29 and return home on June 8. Like the students from the Magdalen Islands did when they were here, the students will all live with billet families during the exchange.
“I told my students, ‘do you know how lucky you are?’ Their trip is paid, they’re passing through all of Canada,” Rousseau says. “It’s amazing.”
And she’s thrilled the students will get to learn about a whole different culture. While the Magdalen Islands have similarities to Campbell River – it’s a coastal community known for its fishing and beaches – there are wide similarities.
“We’re both fishing, but we’re not fishing the same stuff,” Rousseau says. “We have First Nations history, they’re 80 per cent Acadian. We speak the same language, but the accents differ slightly. The Francophone community, even in Canada, is so different by region.
“It’s so important for them to be exposed to different cultures, it’s such a wonderful opportunity,” Rousseau adds. “There’s some students who don’t have the opportunity like this to travel with their families for different reasons.”
This exchange program provides that experience for Canadian students who want to learn more about their nation’s heritage and culture.
“It’s basically for any community that wants to discover another community,” Rousseau explains. “Five thousand people each year take part in the program.”
For Rousseau, it’s a chance to expose her students to a different way of life.
“We’ve got two French groups exchanging together, but they’re so far apart in Canada that we have two different realities,” she says.
Rousseau says her students may be in for a shock when it comes time for their part of the exchange. The population of the entire Magdalen Islands is only 12,781 and with the only high school being in the middle of the islands, it is quite the journey for students who live at either end to make it to school.
Rousseau says her daughter, who is taking part in the exchage, will be living with a billet at the top of the island and will have a 65 kilometre commute to school.
“And we think here in Campbell River 15 minutes to get somewhere is bad,” Rousseau jokes.
But despite the heavy travel – it will take the Campbell River students and staff two days just to get from here to their final destination – Rousseau say it will all be worthwhile.