Tom: Conclusion of Exchange

The 20th of December marked my date of freedom, succeeding the most enjoyable semester and a few weeks of stressing for exams. In this post, I will let you know what I did that made my experience abroad so spectacular for me.

Leaving home was scary. I had never taken an international flight alone and everything seemed so uncertain – anything seemed to have potential to go wrong. Fortunately, my arrival into Canada went as smoothly as I could have ever imagined, with a negligible line through customs and friendly security. Getting to Montreal and to my hall of residence went equally well.

Recommendation 1: Do all the admin WELL BEFORE departure.

The reason everything went to plan is because I had everything organized months before. All courses had been approved, I had my ESTA and ETA, McGill had accepted me, and I was already in email correspondence with professors and the faculty well before I needed to be.

I decided to do Outdoor Frosh (a themed O-Week & trip for new students) to meet new like-minded people at McGill and experience a National Park of Canada that I might otherwise not have gotten the chance to. It is one of the best choices I made, resulting in my introduction to some AWESOME locals and exchange students who I traveled and met up with throughout my exchange semester. 

Recommendation 2: If you can do it, DO IT!

I understand there are many barriers that may prevent you (e.g. financial, physical, mental), but if you get the chance to go on a trip/do something potentially amazing, PLEASE don’t turn it down. Go out and meet new people, experience new things, and enjoy yourselves. The McGill Outdoors Club provided the perfect platform to do this, with frequent trips to nearby cities and provinces as well as physical activities such as rock-climbing, canoeing, hiking, etc. Their email list allowed anyone to propose a trip to do with others.

As I was on a semester abroad, I wanted to make the most of being overseas which meant travelling and not overworking myself. The fact that courses are pass/fail whilst on exchange really helped put my mind at ease and enjoy myself more (this is not an excuse to completely slack off though!). Additionally, I tried to take courses and a workload that would be less stressful – I took four courses instead of five, with one being general education. As a result, my exchange was the best semester I’ve ever had.

And so here I am, at the end of my 4-month exchange semester, with $300 to my name and a flight booked for the 31st of January from Los Angeles – over a month away. Time to call mum…

Recommendation 3: Budget.

I am incredibly fortunate to have parents back home who are willing, and financially able, to support me. Although I had saved up what I thought to be a significant amount after working part-time for 3 years plus 10 weeks full-time over the summer, I greatly underestimated the cost of living abroad and travelling. Try to know how much visas, flights, accommodation, food, etc. are likely to cost and over budget for everything. All included, travelling the United States (on what I would consider quite a low budget) costs roughly $100 NZD EVERY DAY if you want to do some touristy activities and enjoy yourself… 

To conclude, travelling and experiencing cultures abroad is 100% worth it. If you get the opportunity, make the most of it.

Thomas: Cultural Canada

Climate

Game of Thrones may have finished but WINTER IS STILL COMING here in Montreal. It’s only early/mid-November, temperatures are already negative, and we’ve had over 20cm of snowfall in just the last couple of days!!! Recently, I splurged on some new winter boots as my feet were getting cold and it can be dangerous walking on the very slippery city streets. I am so thankful in retrospect that I’m only doing the Fall Semester here; good luck for anyone coming from New Zealand’s summer to this horrendous climate in January for the Winter Semester! Brrrrr.

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McGill University – Montreal

Tax & Tips

Asides from climate, there are a few differences between home and here, with one of the main differences being monetary: tax and tips. Everything can appear reasonably priced in Quebec until you add 15% in tax and then tip on top of it. Not tipping can earn you dirty glares as it is culturally expected here. You should tip anywhere that offers some sort of service: cafes, diners, restaurants, hairdressers, tour guides, and even bus drivers (though not on the general public transport system fortunately).

Language

Montreal, as a city in the province of Quebec, has French as its only official language. My ambitions to brush up on my French whilst living here were short lived though: everyone speaks English. Outside of Montreal, however, in smaller towns of Quebec, French is prevalent, and English could be a barrier (so I’ve heard). There isn’t much in terms of language that is significantly different to New Zealand, except for the one word “eh” – a request for affirmation or attention, that they stereo typically end every sentence with.

Everywhere is Different!

Culture in other areas of Canada changes dramatically between provinces and cities. A trip to Toronto and down to Niagara introduced me to a little bit of America. Toronto as a city I found was much less interesting than Montreal, however, it did contain a couple of hidden gems such as Graffiti Alley and its much larger Chinatown.

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Graffiti Alley – Toronto

Niagara on the other hand was a vibrant and touristy city which additionally boasts incredible waterfalls, daily fireworks during peak season, and borders America – completely different to what we experienced in Toronto.

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Niagara Falls – Niagara

Drinking

Drinking culture (as I have experienced it so far) is much less excessive and more responsible than how I have experienced it back in New Zealand – I have enjoyed it much more since coming to Canada and do not feel the equivalent social pressure to binge drink that I often do amongst peers back home.

Exchange Advice

If considering an exchange to Canada, you should try to know what you want to get out of your exchange before choosing the appropriate university. Know the location, climate, culture, etc. of the province and city before you go so you can choose what will suit you best!! Montreal is fantastic to experience some real cold, a white Christmas (hopefully!! for me), a little French culture, and locality making areas such as New York, Ottawa, Toronto, Quebec City, and Mt. Tremblant accessible for weekend getaways.

 

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Mt. Tremblant with Fall Foliage

Thomas

Thomas: Try to See EVERYTHING

Approaching the date of departure from home was neither exciting nor intimidating; however, the gravity of my adventure ahead finally dawned on me the morning of my flight, before saying goodbye to family and friends at the airport. I suddenly felt much more apprehensive about my decision to travel abroad. The 13-hour flight from Auckland to Vancouver was as uncomfortable as it sounds – trying to sleep was as futile as trying to stay awake. At 14:00 local time, the flight touched down, and I took my first step onto Canadian soil. Getting through customs was pleasantly much easier than I anticipated – all that was required was my admission letter and eTA. My first ten days overseas were spent staying with a family friend in Vancouver so as to facilitate my transition into a very new environment.

Vancouver is a beautifully designed city with so much to offer and a stunning surrounding area. I spent two nights in Whistler, as well as a night in Victoria on Vancouver Island, whilst exploring British Columbia (BC). Whilst in Vancouver – after recovering slightly from the horrendous jet lag – I tried swing dancing, hiked Grouse Mountain, visited Deep Cove, and did many other typical touristy attractions that the city had to offer.

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Bloedel – Vancouver, BC

Whistler, I would describe, is the Queenstown of Canada – boasting picturesque snow-capped mountains, blue lakes, and a quaint village. I tried my first poutine from Zog’s, which did not fail to satisfy. Other highlights of this three-day adventure included walking the high-note trail, the Peak2Peak Gondola, cycling to all the lakes, swimming, and staying at the pod hotel. Thus far, Whistler has been my favourite trip within Canada.

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Poutine – Whistler, BC

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Whistler Peak – Whistler, BC

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Alta Lake Park – Whistler, BC

My Victoria trip began with an early seaplane flight from Sea Island, followed by a whale-watching tour where we spotted dozens of orca whales. I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the town, then the evening at Hermann’s Jazz Club – one of the oldest in Canada. The town boasted beautiful Victorian architecture.

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View from a Seaplane – Vancouver Island, BC

Following my ten-day holiday in BC, I flew to Montreal and moved into my university accommodation at Solin Hall. Since then, I have visited Ottawa, the McGill Outdoors Club Clubhouse, been canoeing, and am planning a tip to Mt. Tremblant this coming weekend.

Based on my limited travel experience over the past month, if I were to offer one piece of advice to those going abroad, it would be to make the most of every opportunity you can. Try to see EVERYTHING. Travel to different cities, don’t be afraid of new food, and treat every day as the opportunity it is – because you may never be back to wherever it is you are. I have found that studying overseas provides an ideal environment to travel in for the first time.

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Lachine – Montreal, QC

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Ottawa – Ottawa, ON