Connecting in the Real World

My Experience in the Quebec Academic Community

By Catherine Gannon, first-year student

I never expected that I would get the opportunity to travel to a foreign country for class in my first term of college. 

Yet, thanks to the Quebec International Studies Academic Community, I spent my very first fall break exploring the city of Montreal, Quebec—applying what I had learned in my classes to the real world.

Our detailed study of the First Nations tribes in the Quebec region in the “Introduction to French Speaking Canada” class became poignant as a museum curator narrated an exhibit on artifacts and culture of the Canadian First Nations.

My confidence in speaking French soared when, while lost in the Montreal Museum of Fine Art trying to find an incredible counterculture exhibition, I maintained perfect French with a security guard. (This extremely gratifying moment—and the entire experience of traveling to a foreign country and being able to communicate in their language—has empowered me in my continued study of the French language!) 

And, I was able to make really good friends through the experience that I wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to meet. By missing airline flights together and spending extended time together during our trip, I really felt bonded with the eight other people in my academic community. Sharing food in restaurants and intellectual excursions through the museums of Montreal turned into searching Pittsburgh for the best pierogis and spontaneous adventures to the Andy Warhol Museum after we returned from our trip. Our academic community provided a unique and incredible platform to develop friendships over our shared interests in French and traveling, and I hope that I keep these friendships throughout college and beyond.

The trip to Quebec was just one of many unexpected joys and advantages that I gained by participating in this academic community, and connecting to the city and my classmates was just the start of connections made through this experience.

As a member of this academic community, I took several classes with the small group of students: the French-Canadian history course I mentioned above, which chronicled the French tradition and heritage in Canadian history, explored nuances and idiosyncrasies of the French-Canadian dialect, and closely examined the relationship between Anglophones and Francophones throughout Canada in the past and present; a French language class that corresponded to each student’s prior knowledge and competence with the language, which ranged from students who were advanced and those for whom this was the first French language class they had ever taken; and an introductory course to the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, which helped ease our transition into college and allowed the members of the academic community a chance to connect with Pitt and the city of Pittsburgh.

While participating in this academic community, I had the opportunity to connect to faculty in the early parts of my college career which will be really beneficial for the rest of college career. In addition to being the amazing professor who taught us “Introduction to French Speaking Canada,” Brett Wells serves as an academic advisor in the French department and an advisor for students in study abroad. I am eternally grateful that I was able to develop a positive relationship so early on in my college career with Dr. Wells, as he will undoubtedly be an amazing source of wisdom and advice for my studies and study abroad in the years to come.

My advice to any incoming first-year students interested in joining an academic community is to not hesitate: It’s an amazing experience! In general, I feel that it’s tremendously important to seize all of the amazing academic opportunities the University offers first-year students, including but not limited to academic communities. Follow your passions and interests and take advantage of all the unique ways you can ameliorate your knowledge through experiential learning and study abroad during your time at Pitt.