Smithers Secondary hosts cultural exchange with Quebec students

Smithers Secondary hosts cultural exchange with Quebec students

Students from Smithers Secondary School recently hosted a class of 20 language and culture exchange students from Berthierville, Québec, a town on the St. Lawrence River approximately 80 km northeast of Montreal.

The visit represented the return leg of an exchange that saw 22 students from Smithers travel to Québec in mid-February under the umbrella of Experiences Canada, a national exchange program for youth ages 12-17 which has been sponsoring inter-provincial exchanges for more than 80 years.

Highlights from the Québec portion of the exchange included a tour of the old centre of Québec City where the students walked among historic buildings dating from the 1700s and the early arrival of Europeans to Canada. Smithers students also visited a sugar shack where syrup was being made from the sap of 11,000 sugar maple trees.

In the evening, the students enjoyed a soirée canadienne—a traditional Québecois dance party.

“I found it interesting and fun to experience the day-to-day life of my exchange twin and making contacts with other Quebec students my age,” explained Alex Forsyth, a student in French 11 at Smithers Secondary.

When the Québec students arrived in Smithers in mid-May, they were impressed by the snow-capped mountains towering over the valley. They gained an appreciation of the landscape with hikes to Malkow Lookout and Seymour Ridge and visited ‘Ksan to learn about Gitxsan culture, an excursion that included a walk across the suspension bridge in Hagwilget.

Additional highlights of the visit to Smithers included paddling in a war canoe on Tyhee Lake with Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en paddler Mel Basil, and later in the evening, listening to traditional stories around the campfire.

“I was able to show my twin what life is like in the Bulkley Valley,” said Alex. “We even brought him on the Tour de Smithers,” a race that takes cyclists on a 40 kilometre loop of the Bulkley Valley.

Students from Smithers and Berthierville celebrated the final evening of the exchange with a potluck and family dance at the Evelyn Hall, an event hosted by the Valley Youth Fidders.

“This was the first exchange of its kind in Smithers since the pandemic and it was a resounding success, signaling a positive boost for language and culture exchanges in the future,” said Patrick Williston, a parent chaperone. “It was an experience that will not be forgotten by this group of students who were supported by a dedicated team of language and culture teachers from two sides of the country.”

Organizer Denise Lipscombe, a teacher at Smithers Secondary, said that exchanges are the best way to foster connection between students in different parts of the country.

“I think that being able, not only to travel, but also to host and to show off their own community, gives students a greater appreciation of their hometown and all it has to offer.

“Having students interact authentically in their second language is an amazing learning experience. It builds language skills, social skills, and cultural appreciation. For many of our students, this is the furthest they have travelled, and they learn so much that couldn’t possibly be taught in a classroom.”

Exchange student Logan Boyd, who is in Grade 10 at Smithers Secondary, said participating in the exchange gave him the opportunity to meet new people and to see new places while having fun and learning.

“I got to be involved in a community that I otherwise wouldn’t if I was just a tourist. When you travel, you don’t usually get the chance to live in a family’s home, take the school bus and see how their school day is different from ours.”

Students from Smithers Secondary visit a sugar shack in Quebec in February. (Submitted photo)

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