When Belgian exchange student Hélène Georges stepped out of the airport in Prince George, her eyes widened at the expanse of green trees and vegetation before her.
“Huge spaces with no houses. It’s a huge change from Belgium. Huge spaces. That’s really cool.”
The drive from Prince George to Burns Lake gave her another surprise when she saw a bear and a moose on the highway.
“I was really lucky for the first try. That’s a bit of a legend for me – a moose and a bear – when I think about Canada,” Hélène said.
Exactly one month after the 17-year-old student arrived in Canada, her impression of the Canadian outdoors is only becoming stronger as she enjoys such experiences as drinking water straight from lakes, going fishing from a boat and seeing very clear water – all rarities in her home country, she said.
Hélène is from Bastogne, a French-speaking city in the south of Belgium, just west of the border with Luxembourg. She came here through the Rotary Club of Burns Lake’s student exchange program and is studying in Grade 12 at Lakes District Secondary School (LDSS).
Emily Culberson from Burns Lake was sent to Belgium as part of the exchange.
When Hélène signed up for the Rotary exchange program, Canada topped her list of destination countries, based on the distinct seasons of the True North Strong And Free, outdoor sports and majestic landscapes.
“And the reputation of Canada being welcoming and open-minded,” she added.
“I can confirm that now,” she said with a laugh, “I found everybody very welcoming. They asked me questions about my country. When I meet new people they’re like that, and at school too.”
In the one month she has been here, the only challenge she has faced has been the spotty WiFi access in Burns Lake, she said with a half-serious grin.
This being her first time living in an English-only environment, sometimes speaking English all the time becomes tough for her, especially at night when she’s tired. But as the weeks pass by she is becoming more fluent.
“I’m already starting to dream in English, so that’s good.”
While Canadians might pride ourselves on such culinary offerings as Nanaimo bars, poutine, Timbits and Montreal smoked meat, something else grabbed Hélène’s attention: pie.
“It was unique to try peach pie here! In Belgium we eat tarts but not pie.”
And even though she’s living in Canada, that doesn’t mean all of her new discoveries have to have originated here, because she did yoga for the first time at LDSS as an elective in physical education.
Over the next 11 months that she will live in Burns Lake, the young student hopes to explore as many possibilities as the country has to offer.
“And maybe this exchange will make me more confident because I have to go out of my comfort zones lots of times.”