Next winter, Vanier College and three other Montreal cegeps, will send 28 students to study for a semester at the Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles, thanks to new funding from the Quebec government that will finance the project and other similar ones for the next five years. The Montreal-Gaspé exchange, which was started by Vanier College in 2011, was so successful that eventually Dawson and John Abbott Colleges and Cégep du Vieux-Montréal joined in. Indeed, the Vanier program was helpful in inspiring the government to free up funds and encourage other cegeps in urban and regional centres to find ways of creating their own exchange programs.
Up until now the four Montreal Cegeps have funded the project themselves and through grants from Entente Canada Québec. However, the $1.5 million from Quebec ensures the project will continue and even increase the number of students who will be able to study in Gaspé annually. With the new funds, the exchange program will be able to send students for both Autumn and Winter semesters. This is a boon for the Montreal cegep students and a relief for Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles. Indeed, the project not only provides an extraordinary learning opportunity for the Montreal students but also bolsters the number of students at Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles where student enrollment is declining.
“The exchange program guarantees that the cegep itself will continue to flourish, an important fact given that cegeps in the regions are often at the centre of the cultural, educational and socio-economic life of small communities all over Québec. Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles is particularly valuable since the region has been hard hit in recent years by the closing of mines, pulp and paper mills and fisheries,” says Mark Prentice, a native of New Carlisle and the Vanier Social Science teacher who has spearheaded the program since its inception in 2011. Thanks to his work and that of two Gaspé teachers, Gaye Wadham, who retired two years ago and her replacement Emily Roberts, the project has been an unmitigated success.
During the exchange, Montreal students spend a semester taking courses in Gaspé. They also participate in weekend activities that introduce them to aspects of Québec and Gaspé life they don’t experience in Montreal, such as dog sledding, snow shoeing, skiing, and ice fishing. Students live in the cegep’s residence where they have their own rooms but share a common kitchen area where they each cook their own meals. For many, it’s the first time they are away from home and living on their own.
Students brim with excitement when they talk about their experience. In fact, Vanier Social Science, Psychology major student, Kevin Majuducon, who participated in the 2016 exchange, liked it so much he decided to complete his cegep studies there. “I stayed in Gaspé because it is a very relaxing place where people are friendly and say “Hi” even though they do not know you. It’s a small country town surrounded by mountains, water, sea creatures, beautiful morning sunrises and peaceful sunsets. As well, because classes are small – 5 to 15 people, you have a student-teacher relationship where teachers get to know you on the personal side and help you a bit more.”
Without doubt the new funding to support this and other exchange programs between urban and regional cegeps is now on sure footing – a good thing for students and cegeps alike.