This winter, seventh and eighth grade French students embarked on a journey to Québec City, where they learned about the province’s history, culture, and customs while putting their French language skills into practice. Whether bundling up for some of Canada’s famed winter activities, immersing themselves in First Nations history, or bonding with their host families, these eager middle school travelers embraced every aspect of their trip and returned to Hewitt with a new respect for the diverse viewpoints and experiences they encountered.
Over the course of their time in Québec, students and their faculty chaperones from our world languages department enjoyed ice skating at Place D'Youville and making (and eating!) maple candy in the snow. A visit to Quartier Petit Champlain included a climb up the famous escalier casse-cou, a steep stairway connecting Côte de la Montagne to Petit Champlain, while a trip to Glissades de la Promenade Dufferin offered exhilarating toboggan rides with views of the St. Lawrence River. A highlight of the trip was the unique opportunity to go dog sledding through the province’s picturesque wooded trails. One student noted how complicated it can be to motivate the sled dogs, observing, “Sometimes we had to call their names and shout commands, but we also learned that the dogs really like it when their driver runs along with them at the start of a ride.”
Recognizing the importance and complexity of the region’s past, seventh and eighth graders prepared for their trip by learning about Québec’s French-European and First Nations history. In their classes at Hewitt they researched First Nations food traditions to understand how culture influences food and learned about the indigenous people of North America through Hannenorak et les rêves, a fictional story written by Wendat author Jean Sioui, and Grand chef autochtone, Marie Roberge’s account of the Huron chief who helped broker the peace treaty known as the Great Peace of Montreal. Once they arrived in Québec City, a trip to the Plains of Abraham Museum offered students an opportunity to learn more about French and British history in North America, while a visit to Onhoüa Chetek8e, a reconstructed First Nations village, gave students the chance to explore the history, traditions, food, and culture of the Huron-Wendat Nation.
Research shows that language learning is enhanced when it is closely connected to cultural immersion, and to that end, staying with local host families was an important part of the travel experience for Hewitt’s seventh and eighth graders. In fact, students pointed to the time they spent with their host families as a major highlight of their trip to Québec. In the words of one seventh grader, “We talked about everything from politics to ice hockey, which my host brother played. My host parents told me about the Canadian government and how they have a prime minister instead of a president.” Another student expressed how surprised she was to learn that the city of Québec keeps running throughout the winter, even in a snowstorm. “My host siblings went to school during a blizzard, which really shocked me since we cancel school in New York City when it snows.” Combining the experience of traveling in a Francophone city with the opportunity to stay with local families, Hewitt’s French students were able to develop an appreciation for the joyful learning that comes from exploring communities beyond their own.
Along with several other travel opportunities available to Hewitt students, including trips to Costa Rica, Spain, and France, the middle school journey to Québec is a valuable experience designed to encourage empathy building. As students immerse themselves in the language, history, customs, and cultures of foreign cities, they are given the chance to expand their worldview and connect deeply to the stories and experiences of the people they meet along the way. By taking time to listen to and engage with their fellow global citizens, Hewitt students are developing into patient and compassionate young women who have the ability to communicate effectively and to value a wide range of perspectives.