Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

John Abbott College, an English-language CEGEP in Montreal’s West Island, is making history in French.

A group of nine students are participating in a prestigious French literary contest. The CEGEP is the only English-language institution in North America to take part.

They are going above and beyond to enrich their knowledge of Molière’s language by taking on a massive challenge: the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens.

It’s a literary competition organized by one of France’s biggest bookstores and the French Ministry of Education.

The Quebec cohort is among 50 classes of students aged 15 to 18 years old committed to reading 16 new books in two months and discussing them every two weeks.

The goal is to come up with a favourite.

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The book with the most votes wins a prize of about 900,000 euros.

Of course, reading 16 books in eight weeks is not easy.

“It’s just — it’s crazy,” said Magali Shimotakahara, a commerce student. “It’s like running a marathon once in your life, hike up to Mount Everest.”

In order to meet the goal, Kamyla Mychelle Contreras-Zarate, a social sciences student, says she takes advantage of her commute.

“I read in the bus,” she says.

For Anna Mullins, a social sciences student, every minute counts.

“Five minutes between a class? Hell yeah, let’s get a couple of pages knocked out. A teacher is late? That’s another page in my book,” she said.

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Fair to say, it has taken over the participants’ lives.

But their hard work and enthusiasm for the French language hasn’t gone unnoticed by their French teacher, who set it all up.

“It’s a dream,” Daniel Rondeau said. “We represent a continent, we represent our country. But I think what I’m most proud of is I represent these nine students. They are great.”

Rondeau is not the only one the students have impressed.

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“I got a call from Greg Kelley, congratulating me,” Mullins said. Kelley is a member of Quebec’s national assembly for the riding of Jacques-Cartier.

The prize will be awarded in France next month and the group will be there.

“I’m really excited but also scared, because they have a lot of bedbugs right now,” Contreras-Zarate said, laughing.

Regardless, it promises to be an experience for the books.

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