Explore Program

Wish you could parlez-français a bit better? Travel to a francophone city in Canada to practice your français in an authentic environment and watch your language skills grow!


In summer 2014, I participated in Canada’s Explore Program in Jonquière, Saguenay, Québec. I had an absolute blast and two of my friends have since participated too. Here’s what the program is, and how you can take advantage of it too!

If you want to check out my day-by-day blog from the Explore program, check it out here.

What is the Explore Program?

From the Explore website:

“Explore is a five-week intensive French-immersion bursary program that is offered during the spring or summer for people with any skill level in French. Explore participants are awarded a $2,200 bursary (taxable income) that covers tuition fees for the course, instructional materials, meals, and accommodation. You will discover another region of Canada while learning French in classes adapted to your language level.”

How Do I Apply?

Sometime in the Fall, the application process opens for the following Spring/Summer. Visit the Explore website, choose your top three destinations, create an account, fill out an application, save, print and mail. Done. Easy, right? You’ll receive an email around April notifying you whether you have been selected or if you have been wait-listed. The selection is by a lottery, so don’t feel if you haven’t been selected that your application was missing something. You just weren’t one of the first X number to be drawn.

My Tips on Getting the Most Out of Explore:

1) Apply before March

The application process is from October- something until the end-of-March/early-April. There are usually extensions of a week or two for those last-minuters, but I wouldn’t rely on it. Get your application in before the beginning of March and you will be certain it will get in on time (even if Canada Post strikes!).

2) Be Open to All Locations

Many students get upset when they can’t go to Montréal or Québec City, but remember that big cities are more touristy and often everyone speaks English. Be open to smaller towns and other provinces. Alberta, Nova Scotia and Northern Québec have a lot to offer too! Smaller cities will have more authentic speakers who actually can’t speak English, therefore forcing you to speak French and practice more often. Immersion is the best way to learn any language!

3) Select the Other Locations Option

When you apply, there is an option that asks if you are willing to visit a location other than your top three. Select yes, as I’m sure many would rather be able to travel SOMEWHERE than not travel at all! You will be notified of the location if it is not in your top three, and you can always turn down the offer.

4) Accept Immediately

If you do win a bursary, accept the offer ASAP! You only have 10 days to do so, and it is easy to let the days slip away. If you accept immediately, you don’t have to worry about it anymore. This applies to all messages you receive, plus sign-ups for any bonus activities offered, as they fill up quickly!

5) Give the Host Families a Try

Lots of locations offer residence and host families as options. Give a host family a try. Residences are full of students who speak in English even though they are only supposed to speak in French. The temptation to speak English may be too much. Also, the residents eat in the school cafeteria which is closed on weekends, so you will be given a $40 weekend allowance to do your own groceries and cooking. Host families however will cook all of your meals for you, and it will be yummy, homemade local recipes; way better than the cafeteria food. Staying with a local family will also give you a more immersive, cultural experience. Your host family is also never permanent. If you have a problem or would like to switch, talk to the housing advisor at the school. You will fill out a form with dietary restrictions, preferences, etc. before you leave, and the coordinator will try their best to find the best family to fit you.

Have a Question?

Feel free to ask anything about my experience with the Explore Program, Jonquière, living with my wonderful host family, or anything else you can think of! Ask me in the comments section and I will try my very best to help you out. Alternatively, feel free to read what other have asked below or check out the FAQ’s.

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4 Comments on Explore Program

  1. Bonjour! I really like your travel blog! I too have one which I would like to develop more. I have received a bursary for the Explore program and I cannot wait to go! I am trying to decide between residence and a host family and I must do it by tomorrow. I originally wanted to live with a host family because I participated in a Quebec exchange 2 years ago and had a great experience. However my friends did Explore last year and they really recommended staying in residence. I have a few questions.
    1. Are there more activities for students staying in residence vs. host family? (My friends said there are weekend trips, games, movies, and activities every night)
    2. Are host families required to speak French or not? (my last family switched to English so I did not learn a lot).
    3. Did you find that people in residence were closer to each other than those staying in a host family (did you feel left out because you were away from campus?)
    4. Is it common for host families to host more than one student (I realize that your situation was a bit unique)
    5. Did you find that you had more freedom because you stayed at a host family. ( able to see more of the city)
    6. Can students staying with a host family still participate in evening activities and or trips/ excursions offered to residence students?
    7. Did you find that your host family was patient and interested in your French language or did they prefer to switch to English (if they spoke English)
    8. You mentioned meals, do students staying with a host family eat lunch at the cafeteria or bring a lunch?
    I know that was a lot of questions, and I understand if you are unable to answer some of them.
    Merci

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    • Salut Diana! I’m glad you like my blog 🙂
      Congratulations on receiving a bursary! You are going to have a blast, no matter where you travel to. I have many friends who have done it multiple times – once was just not enough for them!

      I’ll be happy to answer all of your questions, plus a few side-notes at the end 🙂

      1) The activities are offered to everyone, regardless of fluency or where you choose to stay. Some are included in the program free of charge. Others are optional and may have a small cost involved. The optional ones usually take place on weekends, while the included ones are in the evenings during the week (if they are local) or maybe on a Saturday if they are a day trip like going to the zoo or something.

      2) I’m sorry your last experience with a host family wasn’t as you had hoped. The host families are (officially) not allowed to speak any English for the entire duration of your stay, just as the students aren’t. My host mom only ever spoke French because she couldn’t actually speak English! But all the other host families, from what I heard, kept to this agreement.

      3) In my experience, all host families were either given two or more students (one took on four guys!) or they had teenaged/young adult children of their own living at home. I can’t think of anyone who was put with a host family where no one was close to their age. You will be spending most of your days in class with all of the students and most nights and weekends you will be out with them too. So I didn’t feel left out or on my own at all.

      4) Oh! Seems like I already answered this one for ya 😉 yes most host families took on two students. One brave young couple with a newborn took on three girls without any problems and the girls absolutely adored their family. The couple were in their early 20’s, so sometimes the hosts are closer to your own age than to your parent’s age. The family who took on four guys I mentioned earlier also had two teenaged sons of their own! So you aren’t likely to be alone.

      5) I feel like having stayed with a host family, I “lived” there, as opposed to being on a “prolonged holiday”. On days or evenings that I had nothing going on, my host mom took us out on activities, like one time we visited her daughter who had a horse farm. So I saw more local life and was actually able to do some things the residence students did not get to do! My host mom was also a great source for local secrets and the “bests” of the city, which I maybe would not have known otherwise. Host families are not in the little university bubble, so you actually do have to mingle with the locals (even if you just say “Bonjour” to the mailman), and you really do feel like this is “your city” too.

      6) The activities in my experience were for everyone. There weren’t any just for host families and just for residence students. Although some host families included their students on family day trips. The family with the four guys were a really active family so they went on outdoor excursions a few times and made everyone jealous, haha.

      7) My family didn’t speak English so that wasn’t an issue. But I do think that it’s important to remember that being a host family is voluntary, so these families know what they are agreeing to and they WANT to share their language and culture with you! Also, they understand that you are learning the language, so they can better help you grasp new words and build up your confidence. If I didn’t know the word for something, in the residences I could “cheat” and just say it in English and everyone knew what I meant. In my host family, I had to describe the item to them and figure out what the actual word was. It was really helpful for my fluency with those little words you use daily. Also, I learned a lot of local idioms and expressions I had never heard of before. I still use many of these expressions to this day, and the Parisians do use some of the same ones, so I feel like I am communicating with them on a deeper level than most second-language students. It was more that just speaking French. I was really living it 🙂

      8) For me, meals worked like this:
      Breakfast: Host families provided breakfast; I ate croissants, toast, fruit, homemade pastries, coffee/tea, milk/juice. We had eggs and bacon once too. Residence students ate in the cafeteria; I heard they ate baguettes and fruit a lot, but I don’t know what else.
      Lunch: We all ate lunch together. There would be a menu and we could choose 5 items off the menu, so usually an entrée, side, drink, dessert and salad. But maybe you needed two drinks, or you wanted to substitute your side for another dessert, etc. There were a lot of options for all dietary restrictions.
      Dinner: Host families provided dinner; I ate a lot of yummy, homemade, local foods like tortière. I also helped my host mom cook once which I really enjoyed. Residence students ate once again in the cafeteria.
      On Weekends: Host families were in charge of all meals on weekends; if you had a trip or activity that day, they would pack a lunch for you. Residence students were on their own for meals; they were given an allowance of $40 a week and had to cook for themselves.

      Other notes:
      1) I found that your personality really determined which one you chose. Obviously this isn’t true of everyone, but I found that:
      Host family students: more into language, culture, more open minded, more flexible, not at all high maintenance, good at time management (you weren’t RIGHT on campus)
      Residence students: spoke English even when they weren’t supposed to, more into bar-hopping, drinking, parties, night life, their independency was extremely important to them, they were less concerned with local culture, and wanted more of a typical “college” experience
      2) Host family students could visit the residences whenever they wanted, but residence students often had to ask the families if they could visit. So host family students could get the best of both worlds if they wanted to.
      3) Towards the end, the residence students were getting a bit tired of the cafeteria, and envied the host family students by the fact that they didn’t have to do groceries or cook.
      4) If you find that you aren’t compatible with your family, you can switch families at any time with no repercussions. There was one family hosting two students and both of them weren’t too happy with the arrangement, so they were both switched to a new family the next day.
      5) There were more host families than people who actually asked to stay with a host family, and more students who requested residence than there were places in the residence. So some students were placed in a host family even when they wanted the residence. Many of these students ended up saying they loved it more than residence.

      Reading this, although I am trying to be as unbiased as possible, it is easy to see that I am pro-host family, but the choice is really up to you 🙂 Personally, I really wanted to experience everything I could, and so for me a host family was a good fit. I’m from the countryside, very active, pretty laid back, not a party animal, and enjoy totally new experiences. I lived in residence in university, so I knew I wasn’t “missing out” on anything. My host sister was someone who had requested residence and couldn’t get a spot. She was a city girl who was a bar-hopper, loved gossip magazines and did full hair and makeup before going to the beach. She stayed out really late and slept in late too. I don’t believe she benefitted from the host family experience as much as I did. Whatever one you choose, you will enjoy the Explore experience and remember that it is only 6 weeks, not a lifetime. All the students who ended up doing the Young Canada Works program offered to us immediately after Explore were all host family students I believe. So it really depends on you 🙂

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  2. Bonjour Daneille! Merci beaucoup! Thank you for your detailed and super helpful answer. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions. While I know this program is 5 weeks, I have had so much trouble deciding between host family and dorms. You response affirmed my beliefs/ suspicions about the host family- “more into language, culture, more open minded, more flexible, not at all high maintenance, good at time management (you weren’t RIGHT on campus)” and dorm-“spoke English even when they weren’t supposed to, more into bar-hopping, drinking, parties, night life, their independence was extremely important to them, they were less concerned with local culture, and wanted more of a typical “college” experience”
    The reason I was thinking about dorms lately is because I was interested in having the college experience. I live at home with my parents and I thought this would be a good chance to be independent. However, I am really NOT in to drinking and partying, and I think I would be sad to not have anyone to speak English with.
    Regarding the host family, as I said I was a bit worried about missing activities. Did you find it difficult to finish classes, go home, eat supper, and return for evening activities all in 2 hours? Do the host families live somewhat near the university? Do students often have an easy time getting to class, 30 minute bus ride?
    I am happy that you said every family had more than 1 student or children. I think it would be great to have a fellow anglophone to struggle with French alongside haha. Did you become close with your roommates at the host family?

    Like

    • Hi Diana! Glad to be of some help 🙂
      I was in Northern Québec, like way north, so the cities were pretty small. Most of the students lived a 5-10 minute walk from the university. I lived “far” from the university and it was about a 25 minute walk, or 10-15 minutes by bus. I was given a free bus pass to use for the duration of my stay. I didn’t find it hard to do everything within the two hours because dinner would be ready by the time I returned from class. I could eat, change if necessary and leave again with lots of time to spare. As for your second question, I did become close with my roommate at first because we were in the same situation together, but towards the end when we became more comfortable with our new city, we made different friends and spent more time with them. 🙂

      Like

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