Cameron: There’s snow place like Montreal!

Many locals hate the winter weather, but as an exchange student, I’ve learnt to make the most of every opportunity and always find something to do whether its a -23°c snow blizzard, or a beautiful 1°c (warm for Canadian winter) sunny day. Even in the winter, there is still SO much to do in Montreal – arguably more than in summer! I have only been here for a month yet if you asked me, “What have you done in Canada,” it would take me hours to go through everything. But here are some highlights!

IGLOOFEST

Igloofest is an electronic music festival that is on every Thursday, Friday and Saturday for a whole month, so you pick which nights you want to go depending on who’s playing. Tickets sell for $35-$48 NZD for each night depending on the demand, which is quite cheap for a concert this good. They’ve had some pretty big DJ’s perform in the past such as Diplo and RL Grime and I went on the night Kaytranada was playing! There are also heaps of free activities around the festival ground such as free marshmallow roasting, tube sliding, photo booths and a retro arcade game tent.

The cold is extreme, therefore everyone packs on the layers, which makes it kind of hard to dance and is an odd sensation but the event is a Montreal MUST-DO if you’re here for the winter semester, Igloofest is definitely not your average festival.

QUEBEC CITY

The city is located three hours away from Montreal and is VERY French. The Quebec City Winter Carnival is an important annual event that celebrates French Canadian culture with food, entertainment and amusement rides. Tickets to Quebec are about $40 one way, (according to my flatmate), however the McGill International Student Network offered exchange students return bus tickets for $35! Tickets to the Carnival were $18, but we also used the time to explore the breathtakingly beautiful city streets.

Some of the activities at the carnival were:

  • Exploring a castle made entirely out of ice (it even had an ice slide)
  • Axe throwing
  • Wearing sumo suits and playing ice hockey (wearing shoes not ice skates though)
  • Tube sledding
  • Ski shots (4 shots attached to a ski – very Canadian)
  • Making maple syrup toffee. Done by pouring maple syrup onto snow until it freezes and you eat it like a lollipop

SLEDDING

Sledding is an everyday winter activity for Canadian children, but my flatmate and I had never done it, so we decided to embrace our inner child and invest in a sled. You can rent one $7 a day, but we bought ours in downtown Montreal for $15. After only one sledding trip we already got our moneys worth and plan to use it many more times. Beside McGill University is Mount Royal which takes 45 mins to walk up to get a view of the entire city, but halfway up the mountain is a literal winter wonderland. There’s sledding tracks and an ice skating link on a beautiful frozen lake where there’s sledding tracks and an ice skating rink on a frozen lake.

The view from the top of Mount Royal is insane – photos don’t do it justice!

NIGHTLIFE

The nightlife in Montreal is much better than in Auckland. You can go out every night of the week here if you wanted to and most clubs have different themed nights e.g. House, Regge, R&B and Throwback etc… Although it is freezing outside, everyone still wears typical clubbing outfits like they would in Auckland plus a jacket or coat for walking in between clubs. Everywhere offers coat check for $3-$5, but I just tie my jacket around my waist or hide it behind a plant instead. #hacks. 

Cafe Campus is the McGill equivalent of Shadows at UoA, except it’s 4x the size and equipped with about 30 disco balls

To anyone reading this and thinking of coming to McGill University – DO IT. Montreal is an incredible city that has so much to offer. There has not been a single day yet where I have been bored. If you ever want a (long) list of recommendations feel free to email me. cbak267@aucklanduni.ac.nz

Although the winter semester has intense weather, Montreal truly embraces it. There are so many events on and things to do all day and all night – just don’t forget your thermals! 

Au revoir!



			
		

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.

Cameron: First Impressions of Montreal

I made it to Canada!

My first two weeks at McGill University have been jam-packed with meeting new people, battling the cold and exploring the incredible city of Montreal. My main goal for the exchange was to go somewhere that is so utterly different to New Zealand and I have come to the right place. Here’s a breakdown of some of my first impressions of anything and everything important that has to do with going on exchange to McGill University!

Food

Montreal is well known for its food. This is something I was especially looking forward to as I’ve always wanted to try the classic North American food we hear about growing up but can’t get in NZ. A Canadian dish I was excited to try was poutine. It’s hot chips covered in gravy and cheese curds – but you can get some insane variations. I made sure my first ever poutine was at the best poutine place in Montreal, and everyone Canadian I talked to recommenced a place called La Banquise. It was a half an hour walk away and then a 20-minute wait to get a table, but it was 100% worth the wait.

ACCOMODATION

McGill doesn’t provide much information for exchange student housing on their website. If you’re interested in coming to McGill I’ll give you a quick rundown:

Exchange students can either go into their regular accomodation, which means you’re mixed with domestic students in flats or dorms, or you can go into 1 of 4 flats which house 17-30 exchange students in each flat. I’m in one of the exchange student houses, and it does, unfortunately, mean you end up living in an ‘exchange student bubble,’ but the major benefit is that you are living with people who are always keen to explore and go do something. The endless late-night conversations about slang and mocking each other’s accents are fun too.

The only major downside to this accommodation is the loft beds. This means that all the beds are above the desk. You have to climb a ladder to get onto your bed and you also can’t charge your phone and be on your phone in bed at the same time because the chord doesn’t reach that high from the wall. But the rent here is cheap compared to Auckland, and we live a 6-minute walk from campus, so I’m not fussy.

UNI

University life at McGill is very different from UoA. I’m taking all level 400 courses (equivalent to stage 3 courses at UoA) and in upper-year classes the class sizes are really really small and the expectation from the lecturers is high. In two of my classes, I’m 1 of 11 students. We all sit around one table, and the lecturer sits with us, and the content is taught to us like more of a discussion. We are expected to stop the lecturer to ask questions and give our own opinions on everything. None of my lectures are recorded, and most of them don’t provide slide shows, so if you miss the class you fall behind and it’s hard to catch up. Class participation is much more emphasised here than at Auckland and is worth 20% for most of my classes.

WEATHER

It’s pretty well known that Canada is cold. I can’t really describe what -21° feels like, and apparently, it’s going to get even colder. Every Canadian tells me that I’m going to hate the snow after a few weeks, but at the moment I love it. As long as you have snow boots (I found a pair for $60 on the first day I arrived), thermals and one REALLY good jacket (I got mine for half price during a Kathmandu sale) you’ll be fine. Going on exchange is all about putting yourself in a new and different situation, and this is definitely different from Auckland.

If you have any questions about anything related to going on exchange to McGill University don’t hesitate to reach out! cbak267@aucklanduni.ac.nz

Meg: How to Survive a Canadian Winter

It might still be fall but we’ve had more snowy days already than I’ve experienced in my life before Canada! So here’s what I’ve learnt about preparing for, surviving and making the most of Canadian winter.

A winter’s afternoon inToronto – as we get closer to the shortest day the sun sets before 5pm!

Quick disclaimer, all of my information comes from southern Ontario, so while it’s colder here than Vancouver, if you’re headed to Edmonton all I can say is good luck! Try asking locals for help and international students too as they often have a more accurate gauge of how cold winter really gets. Learn from their mistakes!

McMaster as the snow begins.

Shopping Tips

Make sure to budget for winter clothes as while a raincoat and hoody will get you through any Auckland winter they won’t do much during entire months of subzero weather. If, like me, you would rather spend money on travel, then try borrowing from Canadian friends or buying secondhand online.

My Canadian housemates were winter shopping godsends!

What You’ll Need

Winter Coat (winter semester)

  • You’ll be wearing this almost every day for months so it needs to be thick enough to keep you warm and water resistant to keep the snow from soaking you.
  • A larger size is good so you can add layers underneath, it’ll keep you warmer if it reaches down to the tops of your thighs and a fur trimmed hood is great for keeping your face from freezing in gusts of snow.

Snow Boots (winter semester)

  • These look ridiculous but they’re very important for when you’re wading through heavy snow mid-winter.
  • They should be waterproof, have a good temperature rating (check what’s needed near you), good tread for grip on ice, be a size too big for thicker socks and lightweight to make wading through snow easier.
My borrowed winter coat and new snow boots!

Beanie, mittens or gloves and a scarf (both semesters)

  • Unlike in Auckland these will get a lot of use.
  • Waterproof Ankle Boots (both semesters)
  • Very useful for days when it’s raining, lightly snowing or icy to keep your feet dry and warm and help you grip on ice.
  • Most types of waterproof boots are suitable, they have great options here but many people use Doc Martins or Timberlands from home (though they’re not much help on ice).

Fall Coat (fall semester)

  • Less heavily lined than a winter coat but useful for light snow and cold fall days.
  • I’m still using mine in late December as most days are still warmer than -10.
My everyday fall coat, waterproof boots and the little winter essentials I own but never need to use back home.

Beat the Winter Blues!

With short days and cold weather it’s easy to feel trapped inside so to survive winter you need to make the most of it! Ice skating, skiing, snow shoeing and more are all at you fingertips in Canada so it’s easy to get out of the house with friends. Most importantly, make lots of visits to Tim Hortons to keep warm the Canadian way!

If you have any questions for me about Canada, McMaster, winter survival or even what to order at Timmies then feel free to talk to the 360 office about how to contact me!

If you don’t know what Tim Hortons is before you leave don’t worry, it’s impossible to be in Canada and not find out quickly!

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

Meg: Accommodation at McMaster

My house is currently covered in the first snow of the year which I’m absolutely in love with! It’s also what I want to talk to you about today. One of my biggest worries before I left for my exchange was my accommodation so I want to help you figure out what would work best for you.

 

First Arrival

Lots of exchange students have different plans when they first arrive, but a buffer of time before classes start is useful to give you a chance to adjust. Most flats or residences only let you move in late August or early September so Airbnb is a great option before then (it does pay to ask if you can move in early though). 

If you’re in on-campus accommodation you’ll want to be there at least a week before classes start for Welcome Week. For off-campus, I’d recommend the same as MIX club runs an amazing week of events that are great to get to know other exchange students keen for adventure.

 

On-Campus Accommodation 

At McMaster accommodation works a little differently than at UoA. The first thing to know is that while you can apply for an on-campus residence, very few exchange students live on campus – it’s usually only for first years. While exchange students can apply in upper years, you should consider if it would suit you to stay with younger students.

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Hedden Hall

A meal plan is compulsory in residence, it works like a prepaid card for restaurants on campus. This can be hard to go back to if you’ve spent time cooking for yourself or it might be one less thing to worry about. 

If you decide to try applying make sure to keep on top of application dates and look at other options too. It’s all based on a lottery system so even as an exchange student you won’t be given preference.

Off-Campus Accommodation

After first year, most students choose to live in student houses nearby. My house is a ten minute walk from the edge of campus but the buses are free to students so you can look further away if you’d like. The most popular student areas are Westdale and Ainslie but lots of students commute.

 

For off-campus accommodation, it pays to start looking early. I found my house in May for a September move-in date and as I wanted to sublet for both semesters I got very lucky with proximity and price. If you’re only on a one semester exchange it can be even more of a challenge so you’ll need to get looking early and keep your options open. 

 

 

It is possible to find a place once you’ve arrived, you wouldn’t be alone, but competition is steep at that time of the year. It’s best to get onto it early and let yourself enjoy getting settled in. 

Overall, no matter where you end up staying you’re going to have an amazing time. Don’t let worries about where to stay overwhelm you. As long as you make the most of it, it will be the right choice for you.

Meg

 

PS: Here are some bonus pictures of the fall because even though winter’s on its way, I’m still not over the beautiful leaves!

 

Meg: First Impressions of McMaster University

Adjusting to a New Adventure

I’ve been in Canada for almost 6 weeks now and it’s already become my new second home. The McMaster University campus might feel like a movie set sometimes (maybe because it is), but the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had so far are as real as it gets.

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My first time on campus!

My time here has been hectic in all the best ways. It started out with an outdoor orientation experience which let me make heaps of new friends by stranding us in tents and canoes in the Canadian wilderness for a few days. The MOOSE eXchange programme has been a highlight of the trip so far! Once semester starts, MIX Club is the place to be for exchange students with an action-packed week of events from arcade night to hiking. Joining some of McMaster’s 350 clubs has also been a great way to get involved with Outdoor Club a must-try. Planning weekend trips with your new friends is also a great time, especially before winter hits. You don’t need to worry about a shortage of things to do!

 

 The first few weeks are amazing and intense but make sure to take care of yourself. With the excitement of a new adventure, the adrenaline from so many new situations and the extreme highs and lows of getting settled in, it’s even more important to take some time to breathe. Whether it’s by writing a journal, hitting the gym or sitting under a tree on campus to read, anything you find relaxing can help stop you from burning out. This way you can carry on making the most of every moment!

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In my first week, I spent hours each evening exploring Hendrie Valley

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Leave from Cherry Hill Gate and you’ll see heaps of these adorable little buddies

The best part of exchange is that everyone’s in the same boat when it comes to nerves, excitement and wanderlust. There’s no doubt that change is hard but you’re not alone in this experience. By getting to know people it all seems far less daunting and luckily your chance to make friends doesn’t end after week one. Take every chance you can to introduce yourself to someone new, you already have the perfect topic to talk about – Canadians love a Kiwi accent.

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I made some great friends when I lost my main group on an exchange trip to Niagara Falls

My new normal here in Canada is something I’m working hard not to take for granted. Enjoying every moment, making the most of every opportunity and looking at the world from a new perspective gets easier every time I try. I can’t wait to keep you posted on more of my adventures and introduce you to my new home!

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Meg