Commentary  Let them learn French

A word of advice to graduating international students

Correction appended September 2, 2015.

I moved to Toronto from South Korea at age 13 without my parents. Now I’m 24, but still, I am neither a Canadian citizen nor a permanent resident. Although I overcame numerous obstacles to feel “Canadian” – the cultural and the English language barrier – I still face other challenges that prevent me from obtaining “Canadian” status. I want to talk about one thing in particular that has added to my sense of alienation: the complexity and inaccessibility of resources and information about the French language courses that international students should take as they try to immigrate to Quebec.

In the summer of 2014, I applied for an internship at one of the English TV networks in Montreal. On my first day, the director welcomed me with a string of questions about why I was in Montreal when I couldn’t speak French. There was no chance of me finding a journalism job in Montreal, since knowledge of French is essential. For instance, a conversation with a police officer on the phone is usually conducted in French, and a lot of documents available online are offered only in French. Yet, discouragingly, there is a complete lack of support from both McGill and the government, in terms of providing accessible information about learning French for immigration purposes after graduation.

Four things are required from international students to apply for a Quebec selection certificate (CSQ) through the Quebec Experience Program (PEQ): $765, a Quebec university diploma, an application form, and an official document demonstrating an “advanced intermediate” knowledge of oral French (level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference). Yet, until late 2014, McGill’s International Student Services did not provide a document stating which French courses available at McGill satisfy the French level requirement. Between 2009 and 2014, I took eight French as a Second Language (FRSL) classes at McGill, including FRSL 302 and FRSL 303. Despite having the prerequisites, I did not take FRSL 321 or FRSL 325 (Oral and Written French 2), not knowing that only those classes and more advanced ones are recognized by the Quebec government as meeting the language requirement.

I emailed the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion (MIDI), and received confirmation that it would not recognize the eight French classes I took at McGill as sufficient. I was left to fend for myself, and spent the next year taking two TCFQs (Test de connaissance du français pour le Québec), one French course at Centre Saint-Paul, and ultimately, FRSL 325 at McGill. Saint-Paul, run by the Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM), is a free language school that accepts non-Canadian students only if they have a certain type of work permit. In January 2015, I started a course at Saint-Paul, but in February, I was asked to leave or pay over $1,000 at the next session of class. My post-graduate work permit was not acceptable, the school said, and it had enrolled me by mistake.

Some days I feel so dejected by all the hurdles I have to jump over, the walls I have to turn away from, and the confusion I have to swim through due to a sea of misinformation that I just want to throw in the towel and call it quits.

So I went back to McGill. While browsing McGill’s website in March 2015, I found a recently uploaded document about French courses that meet the B2 level requirement. But since I was no longer a McGill student, I was registered as a independent student and asked to pay $3,500 for that one French course. Due to the failure of McGill, the MIDI, and the CSDM to equip international students with the skills and information necessary to adapt themselves to Quebec’s linguistic expectations after graduation, I had to pay for their mistake, wasting not only time, but also a lot of money, which could be a significant burden for many people.

I have learned a lot in the past year; working part-time as a waitress for an entire year while I was taking the additional classes – with the knowledge at the back of my mind that I owed my parents roughly $200,000 – made me proud of myself and boosted my self-confidence. Nevertheless, I would like to make some recommendations to help students avoid my mistakes and some suggestions to McGill offices and Quebec policymakers.

To international students who want to apply for permanent residency: first, take the necessary French course at McGill and apply for a CSQ as soon as possible, as the level of French required for immigration has only been getting more difficult. It’s currently the advanced intermediate B2 level, while. In 2013, it was the intermediate B1 level. Before that, only a one-on-one interview with an MIDI official was required.

Second, if you have not yet obtained a CSQ at the time of your graduation, apply for a year-long working holiday visa instead of applying for a post-grad visa. This will allow you to take French for free at one of the CSDM schools – in fact, you can even take free classes at some of these schools with your student visa.

Finally, after obtaining your CSQ, apply for permanent residency right away. Usually, it takes less than a month to get a CSQ, and although it takes a year to two to get your permanent residency, you will be given a number in two to four months after applying. With your CSQ and that number alone, you can start taking French full-time while receiving at least $115 of government aid per week.

As for the Quebec government and institutions offering French classes, what I would most like to see is transparency. I was given new – and sometimes contradictory – information at every turn. I think that the confusion among language schools and governmental offices is due to a lack of transparency on behalf of the government regarding the regulations. For instance, to my great confusion, I was given three different answers each time I called the MIDI. The first time, I was told to contact the CEGEP du Vieux Montréal to set up an appointment to evaluate my French proficiency in order to take French classes for free with my CSQ. The second time, I was told I should apply online and then mail other documents to be tested by an evaluator from the MIDI. The third time, after my application had been rejected, I was told I could take French only part-time. I asked a lot of questions to gain as much information as I could, since details are not available online. At the end of that conversation, I asked for a document that had the information I needed, but I was told that they could not give me a document. But why not?

As a recently graduated international student, I want to stay in Montreal even if that means I have to take time off from looking for a job to invest time in learning French. I personally see this as a great opportunity rather than a burden. However, some days I feel so dejected by all the hurdles I have to jump over, the walls I have to turn away from, and the confusion I have to swim through due to a sea of misinformation that I just want to throw in the towel and call it quits. No one should have to jump through this many hoops to meet the basic language requirements for immigration.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that one could apply for permanent residency through the Quebec Experience Program (PEQ). In fact, the PEQ is a selection program for obtaining a Quebec selection certificate (CSQ). The Daily regrets the error.

June Jang is a recent English Literature graduate. To reach her, please contact