By Vivian Collings
Even after five months of visiting grand Medieval castles, like the Château des ducs de Bretagne, and touring French vineyards in the Loire Valley, Emily Parish will always feel most at home in the rolling hills of the Haliburton Highlands.
Known in the county for her curling expertise, the 22-year-old Haliburton Highlands Secondary School alumnus recently returned home on May 21 after her study abroad for one semester at L’Université de Nantes in Nantes, France as part of her bachelor of arts program, majoring in French at Trent University. She was able to visit seven other European countries during her travels.
Parish was one of around 4,000 international students studying at L’Université de Nantes, which is a school more than four times as big as what she was used to at Trent University.
“I appreciate Haliburton County a lot more after being away for five months. I was really lucky to travel abroad and experience lots of different cultures, which reminded me of how lucky we are to live in Canada and to live in such a community-oriented, close-knit town,” Parish said.
The exchange to France was long awaited for Parish, so she was excited to get the call from her program co-ordinator at Trent University that it was a go.
“I was supposed to do the exchange in my second year of university. It’s one of the requirements in my program to complete a study abroad in Nantes. It ended up getting cancelled twice because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I ended up going during my last year of my undergrad,” said the Trent University graduate.
She explained that the exchange program allows students in the program to increase their level of bilingualism, expand their French accents, and learn about the culture.
Parish will work as a program facilitator at YMCA Camp Wanakita for the summer and complete her final year of her bachelor of education at Nipissing University in North Bay beginning this fall.
She said, “My plan is to finish my bachelor of education and to then teach French at the high school level. I’m hoping to stay and work in this area of Ontario and locally if possible.”
While in France, Parish taught English to students in the equivalents of Grades 10 to 12 at a private school in Nantes called Lycée Talensac. This experience added a welcomed balance to her primarily French-speaking life in France.
Parish explained, “At first, it was strange to speak French constantly, but I was able to adapt and actually found that my internal dialogue was in French instead of English. It was so interesting to see how the education system works over there, and the students I taught were all amazing.”
This experience was not her first time teaching. Parish also worked as a French tutor while studying at Trent University.
“I started French tutoring during the pandemic to help support the French immersion kids in Haliburton County who weren’t getting a full experience with only at-home learning. I’ve continued with some of my students past the initial COVID-19 health measures, and I plan to continue tutoring going into the summer months,” said the 22-year-old.
Parish said that it is very rewarding to teach French to local children because she was a French immersion student during her school years in Haliburton County, and she is happy to help others succeed in the program that changed the course of her own life.
“French is incredibly important to learn here in Canada because we’re a bilingual country. Being bilingual has opened so many doors for me in both my professional life and my social life. I believe that one of the best things to ever happen to me was to be placed in the French immersion program here in Haliburton County,” she said.
She now has connections all over the world from her time at L’Université de Nantes.
“My favourite part of the trip was meeting new people and making lots of different friends from different countries and knowing that I now have lifelong connections with others internationally,” she said.
Parish said that Greece is her favourite place she visited because of the hospitality of the people and the beautiful, warm beaches in contrast to Ontario’s frigid winter weather. Another favourite memory is seeing the tulip fields in full-bloom during the spring in the Netherlands.
“I went on a group trip with a bunch of my friends to Amsterdam and we rented an Airbnb in the middle of tulip fields and it was so beautiful. It was definitely one of my best memories,” Parish said.
She would recommend that any student go on an exchange if the opportunity is presented to them, especially if they would like to pursue studies in another language.
She said, “The best advice I could give to others interested in studying abroad is that it seems absolutely terrifying to leave everything you know and to start a life in a new country, but you’ll make so many memories and meet so many amazing people. It can be difficult at times, but overall, I have no regrets about my time in France.”