Successful past participants

Silvia Ursini - Explore Director

My Explore experience

My name is Silvia Ursini. As far as I can remember, I have always loved the French language. As a little girl, I dreamed of one day being able to speak French fluently. I was born and raised in Toronto, a city were French is rarely spoken or heard, and although I had taken French classes all throughout grade school and high school, I never had the opportunity to practise French and, therefore, could not speak it.

Once I got to postsecondary, I heard through the grapevine about the Explore program. At the time, it was referred to as SLBP (Summer Language Bursary Program) and its duration was six weeks. When I learned that this program would give me the opportunity to learn French and live in a francophone milieu, I immediately signed up. To this day, I consider the Explore experience one of the most rewarding and worthwhile experiences of my life!

It was 1983; I was 19 years old and had gotten accepted into the Explore program at the University of Montreal, in residence. I was absolutely thrilled! I remember thinking, “Wow, our government is so generous to give us this opportunity!”

I was completely right to be excited. The program turned out to be so much fun and I learned so much. Before the end of the six weeks, I was able to hold a conversation in French, I had learned tons about French (Quebec) culture, and met so many interesting people from all over Canada. I even met a few people from Mexico.

In the six weeks that I was in the program, I attended daily classes that placed emphasis on practical communication needs. I was placed in an intermediate class and we had a great teacher (thanks, Jean Yvon!) who really knew how to build our confidence in speaking French. Our teacher took us to places in the city and gave us assignments that involved interacting with people in French. We did a lot of fun sociocultural activities and excursions that taught us about Quebec culture. We visited Quebec City and many of Montreal’s attractions, including cafés, parks, and open markets. Our class even went on a picnic and a folk sing-along bar as a group. I signed up for a workshop in dance and performed a little cabaret number at the talent show at the end of the program. Every Friday night, there was a dance organized on campus with a DJ and all! Every dance celebrated a theme and everyone would dress accordingly. I remember there was a Mardi Gras theme where every one came in costume and a Brazilian night where everybody dressed in white. The program was really geared to our age group and gave us so much opportunity to meet and connect with people. But most of all, we were forced to speak French all the time. There were monitors around to make sure of that!

How Explore contributed to my career and life success

The Explore experience influenced me to move to Ottawa nine years later, a city that was bilingual and where I could practice my French. The Explore program also piqued my interest in studying second-language teaching. In 1998, I graduated from the University of Ottawa with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double concentration:  English literature and second-language teaching.

After teaching ESL for a few years in Ottawa, I landed the job of ESL Department Coordinator at the Centre Linguistique du Collège de Jonquière, a school well-known for its French Explore program. In 2003, I had the opportunity to launch and direct the Centre Linguistique’s first English Explore program in Ottawa. To date, I have planned, organized, and directed eight programs and have been able to shape the Explore experience for over 1,200 students.

I direct these programs with great thoughtfulness, enthusiasm, and pleasure. The wonderfully organized Explore program at the University of Montreal and the coaching I received at the Centre Linguistique du Collège de Jonquière were great springboards and models for the programs that I direct today, and have given me insight into knowing how to make the program relevant and fun for our students.

I am grateful for my Explore experience. Not only has it allowed me to realize my childhood dream of becoming fluent in French, it has given me the opportunity to work in a job that I love. I could not do this job without being able to speak French. It has also helped me gain an enormous appreciation for Quebec and its people; I truly feel at home in Quebec and visit there as often as possible.

What has been most rewarding to me is that my job as Explore director gave me the opportunity to give back what I received. Knowing that, over the years, I have been able to provide over 1,200 students with such a wonderful experience gives me great joy and satisfaction!

I strongly recommend the Explore program to every Canadian who has the opportunity!

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