Today I’m going to be drawing attention to a less common type of traveling, but one that I think can be even more meaningful than the traditional soul-searching backpacking we all hear about constantly. I’m going to draw on experiences from my time in Chicoutimi, Quebec, Canada to illustrate some of the benefits of lingering in one place longer than might seem necessary.
Many people wouldn’t consider my going to Chicoutimi, Quebec as traveling. I was still in the same country, the total travel time was maybe 6 or 8 hours, and I was going to be in the same spot the entire time.
Ignoring the short distance from Ontario, the lifestyle in Chicoutimi is very different than that of where I am from. This was one of the regions most in support of Quebec leaving Canada altogether. (Fun fact: in the 1995 referendum, 50.58% of Quebecois voted to stay in Canada, so if only a handful of voters hadn’t shown up to vote, Canada would been a very different country now. Moral of the story: always vote!) French was the dominant language and much of the population didn’t know any English.
I spent five weeks living with an elderly couple while attending French immersion classes. I started the program with virtually no French and left with good conversation skills (though I still wasn’t great). For a number of reasons, living in a culture with a different language was one of the most important experiences of my life, and one I think can benefit anyone.
Living in one place makes you appreciate it more. Backpacking is a lot of city hopping; you see the main attractions and the bucket list items, but you don’t always get a feel for the culture. I thought I would be terribly bored in this mid-sized town in the middle of Quebec, but being there so long allowed me to explore the different neighbourhoods, the parks and forests and the surrounding towns. Chicoutimi actually had so much to offer, it just needed to be discovered.
You’ll make really strong friendships. Immersing yourself in another world, you’re surely going to meet people. Whether it’s your host family and neighbours, the people you see at the coffee shop everyday, or the people you study or work with, you’re there long enough to get to know people well. A handful of the students I was with became some of my closest friends, even now, years later. It was comforting to go home after school everyday and eat dinner with my Chicouti-parents. Even the people I only became acquainted with, it was nice to see familiar faces around. This is something you don’t typically get from staying a few nights in a hostel.
There are countless benefits to learning a new language. Creativity, memory and concentration are improved; it can distinguish your resume from others. But most importantly, it challenges you to get out of your comfort zone. It’s really uncomfortable trying out foreign pronunciation and trying to not say anything stupid, but you learn to laugh at yourself and overcome those feelings of doubt. I still get anxious and self conscious about my attempt at a French accent, but not nearly as much as I used to.
If you’re interested in living in another community or abroad, here are some ideas:
- MyExplore This is the program I went to Chicoutimi through. If you’re Canadian, I’d highly recommend it.
- Au Pair I looked into being an Au Pair for this summer – it seems like a great experience. You look after a family’s child(ren) while the parents are at work and in exchange you get room, board and some pocket money. You typically get weekends off to travel and may even get to go on a vacation with the family. There are host families all over the world looking for Au Pairs.
- WWOOF If you have any interest in manual labour or organic farms, this organization connects travellers with host farms to help with a variety of tasks like gardening, housework, farming and looking after animals. In exchange, you get room and board, and you learn about a different way of life.
- Moving Worlds I’m not a supporter of voluntourism, and neither is this organization. Here’s how it works. You have a skill or trade: from software development, accounting and engineering to fashion, marketing or journalism, you have something specialized to offer. They connect you with an non-profit, small business or government in another country who is in need of your specific skill. You can go for a few weeks or over a year. The specific arrangements vary per position, but most offer room and board, and some will even cover travel costs.
- If it’s financially feasible and fits with your academic requirements, students can take advantage of an exchange year/semester, which is what I’ll be doing next year.
- Many countries also offer work visas for extended periods of time. I know Australia is the most common country Canadians go to.
These are just a few of the resources I use the most, but get creative with your google search words and it’s easy to find experiences.
Wherever you end up traveling or whatever you find yourself doing, consider staying a while. Learn a language, live the culture, make some strong friendships. You won’t be disappointed.