Après Explore, Part 1: An Open Letter to Familloise

I just returned from the Spring session of the Explore program at Université Sainte Anne, Nova Scotia. Over the next little while I’ll be sharing des petits morceaux of my experience there, so stay tuned! 

  1. Open Letter to Familloise (my residence, Belliloise, for the last 5 weeks)
  2. What’s In My Bag: Nova Scotia edition (what to pack/what I wish I’d packed)

Dear Familloise,

Every truly significant experience in my life has happened twice. It reminds me of a quote from my favourite book:

“The law is simple. Every experience is repeated or suffered till you experience it properly and fully the first time.”
― Ben Okri, Astonishing the Gods

The first time I lived in res, everything that could have gone wrong, did. It was a year I try not to dwell on. After that experience, and having moved back to Toronto, I accepted that in all likelihood I would not have that mythic, positive experience of living in a residence.


When I applied for Explore, I had no real intention of actually going. Sure, it sounded cool. Yes, I wanted to improve my French. Nova Scotia seemed beautiful, but there were so many reasons not to go. I doubted that I’d get in; I convinced myself that I’d be better off taking summer courses; I had multiple jobs and responsibilities… and I have physical limitations that could not be ignored. When I found out that I’d been allocated a place at Université Sainte Anne, my nearest and dearest staged an intervention. Eventually, they convinced me to take a leap of faith.

In the weeks that lead up to my departure, almost every night was peppered with anxiety attacks. I did not want to go. I was convinced that, like every solo trip I’ve taken in the last few years, it would end with me in a hospital bed – and the nearest hospital from Sainte Anne is 40 minutes away, in Digby. Spending five weeks with a group of strangers — in French — was the most terrifying scenario I could think of. I was certain that there was no way it could go well.

But, oh, Familloise. How wrong I was.

I arrived at Sainte Anne moments before midnight on a mid-May Saturday, met off the bus with salt-fresh air and a breeze whispering amongst the cherry trees in front of reception. They would bloom and shed during our time there. We were met by all the animateurs, and Tristan, the directeur pédagogique. There, I met Taha. As he handed me my keys, he introduced himself: “Hey, you’re in my residence! I’m Taha, your animateur” and the doubt rising in my stomach began to ebb.

Slowly, over that weekend, we started to get to know each other. Yssa introduced herself as Maria but later decided she could trust us with her “real” name, Mishma was relieved that other people had finally arrived, Taha brought out his guitar and sang to us. I’m so glad we had some time to break the ice in English: to hear Sapir and Nadine discussing medical case studies, to hear Simone’s explanation of Sushi Go; to learn that Ryan really likes to party.


Although partying sometimes leads to an avertissement.

By the end of our first week at Sainte Anne, it was clear that something strange was happening to Belliloise. We were placed in the same residence because of our age, but Belliloise became a home because we were lucky. We moved as a group: even though divided by niveau and atelier choices, we would gravitate together like magnets. We would eat together in the caf, 12 people squeezed into a table for 8 (“beaucoup d’espace!”); we would go to the beach in different combinations each time, we passed almost every evening together in the salon (minus Amy, but that’s because it was past her bedtime).


I’m grateful that you were there for the highs and the lows. We celebrated each other with unmitigated enthusiasm. From Nadine’s 4th place giant musical chairs medal and her first place in ping pong, to coming third in volleyball, and all our miserable defeats in balle-molle — we were always the ones cheering the loudest.


On the days when French was slowly trying to kill me — the days when I was covered in hives, running a fever, or in so much pain that it hurt to move, you were all there offering company and support (in the case of Papa Taha, this meant back rubs. In the case of Maman Mishma, it meant getting sent back to bed with a Neocitran).


Thank you for the moments of ludicrous hilarity: Simone, our resident mixologist, with her “interesting” smoothies (sidenote: peanut butter and lemonade do not mix well), Shaq with his alter-ego Omari (“J’étudie!”), Carlo’s expertise in Instagram strategy and his love for Petit Mot. Good decisions (or really, most things) were rewarded by a rousing chorus of “bon jugement!”, fragile masculinity was acknowledged with the simple phrase “je suis barbecue”. Thanks to Yssa, every moment of Explore was captured and broadcast on Snapchat. Thanks to Ryan, we were the life and soul of every fête. Samson was always high in the rankings of Les Bons Garçons de Belliloise, despite his secrets. For those wondering, the ranking is as follows:

  • Carlo (the original bon garçon), Samson, et Taha
  • Ryan et Ken
  • Autre Ryan
  • Les autres garçons
  • Rico
  • Shaq

Every night at Belliloise was a fête, but Soirée Pyjama was a night to remember. While other residences ordered pizza or watched a movie, we were dragging our mattresses into the salon for a slumber party complete with a massage train, pranking Tristan, and card games.


Photo credit: Yssa Lisci

Speaking of games, thanks to jeux de société we got to see Dr. Megan’s and Alice’s dark sides… Especially Alice #toujoursfâché.


Life will never be quite as fun without atelier de bronzage, atelier de frappé, or atelier d’insomnie; without Jaclyn winning every contest, without Claire’s beautiful impromptu dance performances, without Megan Gordon-Ramsay’s strange noises or screams at the beach.


French homework will be that little bit more tedious without Michelle, Sapir, and Simone to proof-read, and without the Megans every presentation I do will be a little more nerve-wracking. No party will be complete without “ambiance” (also known as a blanket covering the lights), Carlo’s playlists, and a picnic of KD, instant noodles, and rice on the floor afterwards (merci Yssa, Nadine, et Alice).


Photo credit: Jaclyn Thibaut

We arrived as strangers, but we left as a family. I’m so glad that in the ten days since we left Sainte Anne, we’ve spoken every day, and have even had mini-reunions already — and as I write this, I’m waiting for Nadine to arrive. You have changed my life in five short weeks — more than you’ll know. I’m forever grateful to know you. You, Familloise, were both the cherry and the icing on the cake of my time at Sainte Anne. You made me brave, and you taught me so much more than French. Je vous aime de tout mon coeur; vous me manquez tellement.


Photo credit: Jaclyn Thibaut


2 thoughts on “Après Explore, Part 1: An Open Letter to Familloise

  1. Pingback: Après Explore, Part 2: What’s In My Bag: Nova Scotia Edition | Tea & Textbooks

  2. Pingback: #ThanksGLiving | Tea & Textbooks

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