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In my book I have this sentence:

生徒が学校へ行こうと思って野を歩いていると、一ぴきのきつねが遠くにいるのをみた。

I understand the sentence, "The student, who is walking in the field while he wants to go to school, saw a fox far away".

But what's the purpose of "と" here?

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と in this case implies that something unexpected is following. "The student was walking in the field to go to school, when he saw a fox far away." Or we can emphasize like that to see the nuance: "Just when the student thought of going to school and was walking in the field, he saw a fox far away."

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