Engaging students in Quebec language and culture

The Quebec Studies Program aims to enhance McGill students' academic experience by giving them the opportunity to immerse themselves in Quebec's language, history and culture.
The Quebec Studies Program aims to enhance McGill students’ academic experience by giving them the opportunity to immerse themselves in Quebec’s language, history and culture.

By Lauren Jane Heller

With Montreal named the best city in the world for students, there’s no question why McGill has one of the most diverse and international student bodies of any university in Canada. But are our students really making the most of their time in Montreal?

Many students may be so focused on their courses that they miss the opportunity to truly appreciate the language, culture and history of Montreal and Quebec. That in turn, reduces their likelihood of staying in Montreal after graduation. To counter that trend, the dedicated group of academics and administrators at CIRM (Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Montreal) are working hard to attract more undergraduate students to the Quebec Studies Minor – an interdisciplinary program that enables students to not just learn the language of our province, but also absorb the history and culture, through classes, field trips and a community service component integrated into the program.

“The students really wanted to benefit from a hands-on learning experience in Quebec studies, so we decided to integrate the community engagement, learning and research component with SEDE (the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office) … so the minor in Quebec Studies is really a minor in Quebec Studies and Community Engagement,” said Stéphan Gervais, Scientific Coordinator at CIRM.

Not only is this a great opportunity for students to learn about the city and province, but it’s also an important way for McGill to contribute to a greater knowledge of Quebec within Canada and the wider world. According to Gervais, the students who participate in this minor may also be more likely to stay in Montreal after graduation – either continuing their studies, or putting their language and cultural knowledge to work in their places of employment.

“We want to be part of the wonderful possibilities that McGill can contribute to the enrichment of the student in Montreal and at McGill; and also to enrich Montreal by helping retain the talented students,” Gervais continued.

Also, in a world where a lack of empathy and understanding seems to be driving xenophobia and exclusion, building bridges between students and the culture in which they are immersed can contribute to a more inclusive environment, and a pride of place that embraces both the history of the province, and the diversity of its current reality.

“Even if they don’t stay in Quebec afterwards, they’ll become great ambassadors for the province, and they will contribute to a better knowledge of Quebec outside its frontiers,” said the new Quebec Studies Program Director, Professor Éric Bélanger, who is working hard to increase the reach of this program.

U2 student, Olivia Kurajian is taking the minor in Quebec Studies both because of her desire to learn French, but also because she aspires to live here post-graduation.

“As an international student and now a permanent resident of Quebec, I think it’s really important that people can appreciate where they’re studying, especially people not from here,” said Kurajian.

Likewise, Maryse Thomas, an Anglophone Montrealer who took the Quebec Studies Summer Seminar this year wrote, “Maintenant que le cours est terminé, j’apprécie davantage ma ville, son architecture, et les évènements et personnages qui l’ont forgée. En plus, j’ai plus confiance dans ma capacité de m’exprimer en français oral et écrit. ” (Now that the course in over, I have a greater appreciation of my city, its architecture and the events and people that formed it. Moreover, I have more confidence in my ability to express myself in both written and spoken French.)

For any student looking to increase their appreciation of Montreal and Quebec, or to deepen their knowledge of the French language, this minor is without a doubt an excellent academic and cultural option.