Kitimat student Chelsea Boison will be celebrating her 16th birthday in a very special way next April.
She’ll be in Vesoul, a small town of approximately 17,000 people in eastern France near the German border.
And she’ll be close to wrapping up a three-month stint of learning French and getting acquainted with the country’s culture and citizens.
Boison said she’s long been fascinated by France, with the opportunity to spend time in the country arising when a representative from a non-profit organization promoting student exchanges spoke to her high school class.
“It was something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Boison of living in another country. “I’ve been fascinated with a lot of countries.”
Boison took home the information provided and quickly gained the backing of her father.
“He’s been very supportive – he’s helping me with the money [for the trip]. He wants me to have a great experience.”
Boison, who has taken French through school, is looking forward to the experience.
“I can understand some things but my spoken French isn’t really that good,” said Boison.
The trip is being organized through non-profit OSEF (Organisme de Séjours Educatifs Francophones), a society formed in Belgium in 1994 to promote linguistic and cultural exchanges between France, Belgium and Spain and all Canadian provinces.
The cost is approximately $4,200 with the majority of that taken up by travel costs and insurance.
Boison is raising money through her job as a newspaper carrier for the Northern Sentinel and through lawn-mowing jobs organized by her father.
Boison won’t be alone when she travels to France early next year.
Because this is an exchange, 16-year-old Alise Duplessis from Vesoul is nearing the mid-mark of her own language and culture experience by staying with the Boisons.
“I love Canada. It’s a beautiful place, very different than France,” said Duplessis of her stay so far.
Although Duplessis has taken English in school, she’s hoping her stay in Kitimat will increase her conversational English ability.
Aside from instruction in school, Duplessis watched TV shows and movies with English subtitles.
“If I want to get a good job, I will really need to learn English,” said Duplessis.
So far, Duplessis has been impressed with the mountain scenery of northwestern B.C.
“We don’t have this in France where I’m from,” she adds of the geography of the region.
Duplessis has also been struck by the friendliness and informality of the people in Kitimat.
Her favourite food so far has been popcorn, saying the kind of popcorn they have in France is quite different. In turn, Duplessis has been introducing the Boisons to her own favourite foods – sour cream mixed with sugar.
When it comes to recreation, she’s impressed the Boison family by learning how to throw knives in their backyard.
Duplessis has also been attending school with Boison, saying the school system here is quite different compared to France’s.
“Here you start school at 8:45 a.m. and finish at 3 p.m. In France, you start at 8 a.m. and finish at 6 p.m. Here it’s like a summer camp,” she said.
OSEF B.C. volunteer coordinator Patricia Rhodes said the organization offers one-month summer exchanges as well as the three-month ones during the school year.
Canadian families play host during the fall months and Canadian students then travel to Europe in Februrary for their three months.
“When they return, I’m always impressed by the French they’ve learned,” said Rhodes, of Canadian students coming back home.
Improving conversational French is one of the main goals of OSEF, she said.
“It just opens the doors to another language. Once you’ve learned a second one, then a third comes that much easier,” Rhodes noted.