Frigid Quebec City Temperatures Didn’t Daunt SEM Students

While the temperature was cold, the conversation was hot


January 11 through 14,  38 SEM students and four teachers became tourists on a French-Canadian adventure in Quebec City, Quebec. This adventure included line dancing at a traditional Quebecois sugar shack, tubing, snowshoeing, making maple candy, a 10-hour bus ride and most importantly, wearing layers.

One of the highlights for Maggie Rose Bontempo ‘18 was eating what she refers to as “food of the gods”: maple taffy. These memories are all thanks French teacher, chaperone and French Canadian, Madame Isabelle Fisher. This is the second year that Mme. Fisher has organized the trip (which was a year after she started teaching at SEM). Although the trip has changed over the years it has always been filled with good memories, good food and lots of snow.

SEM students feasted on pain au chocolat at Paillard, a popular bakery in Quebec.

This year, the Quebec trip departed from its former identity as a “French only” joint trip between local all-boys school Saint Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and SEM French students. This Quebec trip was open to all SEM students regardless of what language they take and St. Joe’s boys were not in the mix.

Madame Fisher said she wanted to expose more people to her culture, but students who traveled last year had several things to say about non-French students being included.

Anna Ange’18 said she would have rathered it be only French students. “The French aspect was something that I personally looked forward to last year.”  

Maggie Rose, who traveled last year too said having Spanish students on the trip didn’t effect her. “It honestly wasn’t that different this year because the St. Joe’s boys had no idea how to speak French.”

French students who were new to the trip felt more comfortable knowing that they had some French under their belts. Tessa Covello ‘18 explained that she felt more confident knowing French.“I think French classes definitely helped because I knew I had some language if I needed it. I didn’t end up using it a lot but I found myself speaking French whenever I ordered something.”

Fun Fact: Quebec has stop signs in French, yet France does not. The city of Quebec is very invested in keeping their language.

Although the experience was certainly different for Spanish students, they still communicated effectively with the Quebecois. Chantal, SEM’s tour guide for the trip said the Spanish students would get just as much out of the trip because the tour guides speak English.

Spanish student Hannah Danzinger ‘19 said, “ I think that it’s totally manageable for Spanish students but it’s more beneficial for French students.” She said that one of the few times where she actually had to speak French was when she interacted with the staff at the hotel.

Several students who were not fluent in French felt guilty for being a stereotypical non-bilingual American tourist while in Quebec. Spanish student Caroline Smith ‘18 said, “It would have been cool to not have been some dumb American and spoke some French.”

Non-fluent French student Jackie Schanzlin ‘18 laughed and said: “Somehow everyone at the shops and restaurants knew that we were American, probably because we were acting like stereotypical Americans and so they spoke English to us.”

Spanish student Sophie Fogel ‘20 said, “I sort of felt bad because some of the people had to work harder to talk to me.” Sophie said she was inspired and wants to learn more about French culture. 

SEM students got to know the happy, well-cared-for dogs!

The second controversy of the trip required snow pants. SEM girls traveled to Mont Sainte Anne for snowshoeing and dog sledding Saturday morning but were distressed over the possible treatment of the dogs

The group’s guide at Mont Sainte Anne described the dog sledding as a family activity and the staff stressed that the dogs were trained so that children would be comfortable around them. The dogs seemed happy, well fed, and to enjoy their work. This was in sharp contrast to the dog sledding facility that SEM visited last year. One student who wishes to remain nameless, traveled to Quebec last January described the deplorable conditions of the other facility: “I was so uncomfortable that I started to cry watching them. There was blood on the snow around their pens that they claimed was from the meat the dogs ate but the number of dogs fighting each other told a different story.” Mme. Fisher described the owners of the old facility as unfriendly and scheduled this year’s dog sledding excursion at a much cleaner, friendlier facility.

Although the students were headed toward a nicer facility students still voiced strong opinions. Shelby Kmidowski ‘18 said “I have a dog that I rescued from a race track that was bred to run and that’s what he does. I don’t think it’s abuse because they take good care of them while they get to do what they were bred to do.” Caroline Finkbeiner ‘21 held a similar belief. “It’s their job basically” and she continued, “they seemed very happy. They have an extra layer of fur and they’re bred to run.” Some students seemed unfazed by the controversy being discussed around them. Sophomore Sydni Winters said “my favorite part was the dog sledding. I love dogs.”

Although some SEM students did not go inside they were still able to appreciate the beautiful exterior of the basilica.

The hottest moment of the trip took place at Sainte Anne de Beaupré basilica. Before the bus even came to a halt the students were told that a funeral was currently in progress in the church. 

Many decided to go inside and experience the Basilica despite the funeral. Chaperone Kyle Hopkins decided to enter but only after being granted explicit permission by the museum guide and encouraging girls to be silent and respectful. “I really wanted to go inside the Basilica because it is a very important, sacred place,” she said. “If the purpose of this Quebec trip is to experience French-Canadian life then I wanted to also experience a very important place for French-Canadians.”

Several students felt that it was disrespectful to enter regardless of whether the group was given permission or not. One senior said, “While I would not consider a few people quietly meandering into a church to be a disturbance, I find a massive tour group wandering around during an ongoing funeral to be extremely disruptive and distracting.” Another student echoed the same sentiment. “I was uncomfortable with the situation. I didn’t want to feel like I was interrupting someone’s funeral.” Tensions calmed after a few hours of sightseeing and downtime that afternoon.

Students were able to enjoy the beauty of the old city.

The trip created snowy memories for SEM students and will surely be a highlight when reflecting on their high school career. Sydni ’20 said, “I wish we had a little more time because the trip felt super rushed. I think we made good use of the time we had, though.”

Mme. Fisher was happy with the way the trip went particularly with students who didn’t speak French.  “It opened the horizon for them because they got to go to a French city and it increased awareness that there is a place that speaks French not too far from here.”