Au Revoir, Montréal

By Erin Butrico

  • Photo of Quebec City

I was always the nervous type. I relied on my twin for everything. I used to stand behind her when I was scared. I liked to eat the same food and stick to the same routine. Even though I’m 20 years old now, and I’ve lived without my family for two years at Duke, I was still very nervous when my mom left me for this program. It was the first time that I was living in a city. I had never met these girls before. My French was mediocre. I felt very alone.

But Québec was the ideal place for me this summer. This was the best experience for me, not only in preparation to study abroad, but also in the development of my independence as an adult. It developed me.

Québec opened my eyes to life in a city, filled with Canadian restaurants, hobos, BIXI stations, and pedestrians. It opened my nose to the smell of poutine and introduced my taste buds to variations of maple flavor. It opened my lungs to new air (that I needed to run) and strengthened my arms with each photo I took. It strengthened my legs with all the hills and my feet with each tour of the town.

Québec challenged me. It forced me to speak French when I walked into a store and forced me to be brave when I was volunteering (not only among people who spoke French, but very fast French). It forced me to speak to professionals—in a variety of domains—about their work and to ask questions. It encouraged me to speak to taxi drivers about the town and to artisans (specifically in Jean-Talon and the International Festival Nuits d’Afrique) and rewarded me when I spoke in French. It forced me to be flexible and curious, with each meeting, class, and excursion. It forced me out of my English-speaking shell and into the beautiful world of French.

I am very grateful for this experience. I now know that advertisements aren’t just images of models holding products but strategies aimed at a certain audience. I now know that street art isn’t just personal expression but a reflection of culture. I understand that Montréal isn’t a “French town in a English country,” but she is her own living entity. 

I appreciate all the kind artisans, taxi drivers, and waiters who encouraged my usage of French, and I admire all my classmates for always trying to better their comprehension. I am very grateful for Madame, who was always encouraging, and for her efforts to introduce us to the town, in both an academic and cultural sense. I’m grateful for Marianne, who was a great friend, mentor, and friendly expert. 

From this experience, I am confident to go to France and to improve my comprehension and usage of the language. But my heart will always rest with Québec, the place that really taught me the joy of cultural immersion.

Erin Butrico 
Duke in Montréal, Summer 2016