Moving to a new school is hard enough – let alone having to move to a new school, in a new country, in a new language. Two years ago, when we moved to Québec City, that is exactly what we asked our 7-year-old daughter to do. We asked her to step into a classroom in which she didn’t understand a word. Even now, I am nervous for her, thinking about those first days. We crossed our fingers and hoped it would all go well.
Among the many things to sort out with her at the end of each day was the complicated world of the schoolyard. It is a place where the fact of being new and foreign can be all the more isolating. We were worried for her and we sought to help her to make sense of it from the calm of our kitchen table.
She often described to us games the kids were playing. One was called Traverse Québec-Lévis. All the players except one stand along a line on one side of the yard while the one who is “it” stands in the middle, inviting the others to cross – traverser – to the other side of the yard. The players run into the no-mans-land, attempting to make it to the other side without being tagged.
The geography of the game mimics the real-life geography of the region, in which the city of Québec stands on one side of the St. Lawrence River and the town of Lévis stands on the other. They are sister cities divided by the river, but linked by a ferry that runs back and forth between them.
For me, Traverse Québec-Lévis quickly became a metaphor for all of the challenges we asked her to overcome in moving to Québec. Problems of language, friends, acceptance, and self-esteem all became visible in an impromptu schoolyard game. I am proud to report though that she has made the crossing successfully.
Nowadays, she reassures us that we will make it through such challenges, telling us not to worry when we have to chart new water in a foreign language. She tells us we speak French just fine – and then corrects our pronunciation when we thank her.