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C’est une fête

Memorial University marks 50 years of French immersion in Saint Pierre et Miquelon

Campus and Community

By Joshua Goudie

The Frecker Jubilee will be a grand reunion and a nostalgic journey into Memorial University’s French immersion program’s rich history, organizers say.

An archival black and white photograph of students assembled outside the Frecker Institute.
Does anyone recognize themselves in this archival photo of Memorial University students in Saint Pierre?
Photo: Submitted

The Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures is celebrating 50 years of Memorial students learning French in Saint Pierre et Miquelon on Dec. 9 at an event at the Signal Hill Campus.

The collectivité of France is an archipelago about 25 kilometres off the southern coast of Newfoundland.

Immersive education

Since its inception in 1973, the Frecker Program has embodied Memorial’s commitment to linguistic and cultural immersion, fostering language proficiency through cultural understanding.

A pair of Frecker Program students stand smiling inside a barn. One student, dressed in a white hooded sweatshirt, holds a baby goat.
A Memorial University student visiting a local goat farm in Saint Pierre, France.
Photo: Submitted

Rooted in the Federal-Provincial Agreement on Official Languages in Canada, the program sends an annual cohort of Memorial students to spend a transformative semester living on French soil.

Throughout the semester, students tackle a full university workload of five French courses at the 2000 level. Teaching is carried out by a mix of local educators and faculty from the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures.

Lessons take place in the Institut Frecker, named in honour of Dr. George Alain Frecker (1905-79). Born in Saint-Pierre, he served as the third chancellor of Memorial University.

“Learning starts at breakfast and ends when going to bed.” — Dr. Maria Mayr

The distinctive feature of the Frecker Program is not just its academic rigor, but the immersive lifestyle. Students live alongside French families, actively becoming part of their host community.

“Frecker students are not simply meeting and observing members of their host community,” said Sarah Martin, the director of the Frecker Program. “They are actively participating in and becoming members of their host community.”

She says the language and cultural immersion extends beyond the classroom, with students participating in numerous activities, such as photography classes, workshops with local artisans and taking part in excursions around the archipelago.

“This semester, I have students who volunteer weekly at the local animal shelter. They are regulars on the roster and one student’s father has even adopted a dog,” Ms. Martin said.

Dr. Maria Mayr, head of the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures, says the experience is unique.

“Learning French and about Francophone culture is happening naturally all day long,” says Dr. Mayr. “Because students stay with host families, learning starts at breakfast and ends when going to bed.”

Impact and evolution

Originally focused on translation and a culture course specific to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, the Frecker Program evolved in 1994 to align with courses taught at Memorial’s St. John’s campus.

Over the years, course offerings have expanded, as have the opportunities for students to practise their French skills outside the classroom.

“I would not be surprised if ex-students start singing at the reunion on the ninth.” — Dr. Anne Thareau

Dr. Anne Thareau, undergraduate director of French in the department and a former director of the Frecker Program, recalls how students used to organize French theatrical productions to present to their host families at the end of the semester.

One year, students brought a production of La Fontaine’s Fables back to St. John’s and presented it at the university.

“We also used to have a weekly singing class,” said Dr. Thareau. “A musician from Saint-Pierre would teach songs to the students and accompany them on the piano or on the guitar. I would not be surprised if ex-students start singing at the reunion.”

A grand reunion

The Frecker Jubilee is not just a celebration, but an invitation for alumni to reminisce, reconnect and actively contribute to shaping the future of the Frecker Program.

A group of Frecker Program students stand inside a hydroponic vegetable farm. At the centre of the image, a man in a grey shirt demonstrates the process of growing lettuce.
Frecker Program students visiting a hydroponic farm in Saint Pierre.
Photo: Submitted

Invited guests include Frecker alumni, members of the government of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, local business partners and Memorial students interested in participating in future Frecker programs.

Thanks to the generous support of both the provincial and federal governments, entry to the event is free. However, registration is now closed.

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