March 2002
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Functionally Bilingual
By Jacqueline Friesen, Grade 12, Garden Valley Collegiate, Winkler, MB

bilingual exchange students
bilingual exchange students

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Thirteen GVC Senior French students embarked on an adventure after years of being sheltered in Winkler. Leaving behind their family, friends, culture, and language, on February 28th they traveled to St-Georges-de-Beauce, Quebec.

The trip was packed with activities like skiing, shopping, an IMAX movie, and tobogganing. But what students from GVC will remember most about the exchange this year aren't the activities, it's the experience. The students were exposed to a whole new culture and language. They were guided through museums, churches, and the Chateau Frontenac all to get a feel for Quebec and its culture.

What hit them the most weren't the tours or group activities, it was the "exchange" aspect of the trip. "The first few days were really awkward," says GVC exchange-student Julia Klassen. "You're with a whole new family." The exchange students were brought into the homes of people they'd never talked to or seen before. "Having them go into somebody's home and become part of the family really teaches you a lot about the culture that you aren't going to learn from any tour that you might take," GVC French teacher Lori Neufeld relates.

They quickly began to pick up on how people in Quebec act and speak. "It's a lot easier when you have real people to talk to," says Neufeld. However, Klassen found it a lot more difficult than the classroom. "Not being able to understand anything around me drove me absolutely crazy. Just how fast they spoke and not being able to communicate properly with them." The experience allowed students the incentive, and opportunity to speak French to real Francophones. "Once I was out in Quebec I definitely realized I needed to do something if I was going to survive. I realized I needed to start speaking French," says Klassen.

As the group grew and evolved in their language ability they quickly learned that it's okay to make mistakes. But most of all, as Neufeld puts it, "they found out that they can communicate to French speakers and that they are functionally bilingual."

The trip to Quebec proved to be an eye-opening, worthwhile experience for all GVC exchange students. "It definitely opened my eyes to how cultures are different in different areas and how sheltered we are in Winkler," Klassen remarks. "I had new experiences I never would have had otherwise."

The second part of the exchange will take place April 2nd through 8th, as the students from the Polyvalente Saint-Georges travel to Winkler.

Visit the GVC French exchange website