Reflections: Shirley

Final thoughts are usually something of a mixed feeling for me. Even the name itself just pushes you to face all the preparation, all the hidden fears and excitements of living a life elsewhere for half a year and all the amazing memories that have come out of it is about to end. Usually I would find myself in a state of blankness, that really horrible feeling of dread and knowing that at least for the next little while, I will leave behind adventure for the mundane monotony of home.

But in actual fact, that was not how I felt leaving Montreal. Of course I would miss everybody that I have met and had a great connection to without a doubt, and I appreciate that the time and experiences I had were unique and special. But somehow the things I learnt about myself, about how to progress with my life and how to think about things from a different perspective made me particularly excited to come home. And nobody is more surprised about that revelation than I am. It’s like what they say, you never really find the things you look for until you stop looking. And I wasn’t prepared to find this newfound appreciation not just for the world outside of my own country and the lovely things that comes with it, but of it instead. I didn’t even realise I had missed New Zealand that much until I could not stop smiling landing back from a long journey and savouring the sunlight instead of the snow. There are too many new ways of changing my lifestyle and mindset to better ones that ultimately I appreciated the experience for what it was: As a big learning curve that ultimately gave me exactly what I needed at this point in my life.

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It’s only fitting that this last post should be a visual highlight reel of my experience in Montreal, and along with the various posts I as well as my fellow exchange students have done over the past half year, hope that it inspires even just a few of you to take the plunge. These snapshots what words can’t capture, only that the feeling after having achieved and experienced all of this makes me feel very lucky and extremely grateful. It can be scary, intense and at some points no matter if it’s organising it of simply living it. But in all honesty, nothing could make your university life more memorable. In twenty years, it won’t matter as much what grade you got in which paper. That won’t be the conversation starter when you have work events, family gatherings or social reunions. But for me, the special times like watching my first ice hockey game, or hiking in sea of golden leaves during a storm, or having a white Christmas on top of a mountain… Those I will share time and time again with fondness and happiness.

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Thank you to everyone who supported the content; Giving a glimpse of my adventure was such a creative outlet to share those incredible moments and I enjoyed it every step of the way. And as cliché as it may sound, it cannot compare to actually living it. Don’t believe me? I dare you to give it a try.

Keep up to date with my adventures through Instagram (shirleyxjiang) and my personal travel blog (http://pageparisienne.blogspot.ca/)

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Adobe Spark (10)

 

Wanderlust: Shirley

Some people may be thinking that exchange life is more like normal life at home but in a different place, and in a lot of ways they are right. The length of time is definitely long enough for certain habits and routines to development and the ones around you take really no time at all to become family. But it is also a way of life that is exciting and thrilling, unrelenting and often tiring at the same time, which may sound unappealing but would definitely not be done in any other way. Because the soul source of all those feels that makes the whole experience so vibrant and worthwhile comes down to one thing: The ability to travel.

There are limitless easy possibilities when you find that you’re in a country surrounded by other regions and countries rather than by sea, and I can say without fail that each and every exchange student would have taken absolute advantage of this to see more, taste more, learn more and feel more. So for a fun post that might even give you a bit of inspiration with where you might want to do your exchange in the first place. By no means do I love Montreal any less, I thought I could give a brief little rundown of all the other places I managed to wander to.

The first and certainly the one that set the standard was Quebec City. Granted a massive push of summer heat even at the end of September, it was like we had walked into a beautiful European town that really glowed and you just couldn’t help but smile wherever you went. With a huge French influence that really appealed to what I love personally, the days spent just walking around and enjoying the delicious food on outside terraces while listening to street jazz music was just the perfect start to my exploration of this part of the world. It was exactly the type of holiday that I love, and a perfect way to get excited about my next endeavours.

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The second destination could perhaps be considered a must hit for eastern Canada and while I could have chosen a better time than before a heavily weighted midterm to go, Toronto was a place that appealed to me in ways I couldn’t have imagined myself. Being the biggest city within Canada, the rich variety of things I saw whilst I was there really made an impact, and the engineer inside me really appreciated that even without the CN tower, those tall buildings downtown were extremely impressive. And of course the Niagara Falls were not at all disappointing, but I loved the fun and amusing township most of all which everyone had somehow forgot to mention. While it was undeniably more slightly stressful than what I was used to, perhaps it was the most surprising trip that led me to a place I seemed to think I had a full grasp on yet found I knew barely anything at all. But isn’t that what travelling is all about?

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If Quebec City was the epitome of a perfect summer vacation, then Ottawa was its equal in every way as a winter getaway. And in true contrasting style, we managed to fill a house full of new friends and roommates to have a wild weekend away, where we could celebrate coming together from all over the world and make unforgettable memories while we had the chance. It was true a time of bonding, with one of my best friends and my roommate treating ourselves like queens in an outdoor mountain spa in the dead of winter. I cannot even convey the luxury of having warm water wrapping around you as the morning light faded to a chill night, and when the lights and candles started to glow through the steam, we experienced our first real snowfall. It stayed until the next day when we walked our way through Ottawa in absolute awe of this magical setting to consolidate a very heart warming and lovely weekend away.

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The final and certainly biggest destination was the only one I had set my eyes on before I had even left for my exchange experience because who could deny an opportunity to explore the concrete jungle? New York was absolutely spectacular. It was impressive and grandiose and interesting in so many ways, but I could not believe how lucky I was to get a full week and a half to spend there, including the infamous New Year’s Eve. Snowstorms and high winds did nothing to knock our spirits to wander anywhere and everywhere that we could, and I don’t think we could have taken more advantage of being there than we did. Rooftop parties, food and cafe hopping days, shopping getaways… we went big because as sad it was, we knew we were going home.

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But what a perfect way to finish off a massive adventure that held nothing back and gave us everything it had. If something like this doesn’t convince you that an exchange is worthwhile, I really don’t know what will.

Keep up to date with my adventures through Instagram (shirleyxjiang) and my personal travel blog (http://pageparisienne.blogspot.ca/)

Adobe Spark (10)

 

Campus Life: Shirley

It’s not hard to imagine what is most exciting, most intriguing and most anticipated for an exchange: The new experience. Sometimes it is easy to be blinded by the places to travel, the new foods to try and the activities to do that it overwhelms a very big aspect of this experience, notably achieving a different academic perspective. For me personally, I would definitely like to start by confessing that all and everything fun and amusing became a front runner as a priority with this journey, which therefore put my academics more so on the back burner than what I am used to back at home. I thought to myself, it would be an absolute crime if this opportunity of all opportunities was spent sitting inside studying my precious days away.

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I did take me a while to see that university and campus life is inclusive of having a good grasp on what is going on, and discovering McGill along the way with its similarities and differences is not a hindrance to the experience but a part of it. Looking at these pictures of the beautiful campus and feeling pride towards being a part of such a diverse and strong student community there, it really does form a great part of the journey. A lot of aspects were very much on par with what I was used to at Auckland. Others, whether it arose simply because it is a different university or due to the fact that I am in a particular situation on exchange here, took some time to adjust to. Leaving behind for one second all the other envious bonus advantages from being overseas that comes to mind whenever somebody goes on exchange, I think that it is fairly important that the reality of education and spending a lot of time immersed in an academic setting is told.

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With regards to that, these would be my personal top five campus life related advice I would have loved to receive had this been a year back when I was planning my exchange, and would certainly now help others to have a better idea of what to expect.

  1. In the lecture room setting, expect to work a little harder if you want those social relationships.

Exchange students come in all forms, some are naturally more outgoing while some like to take it slow and build relationships at a relaxed pace. But meeting people back at home university is a different game to doing it in a new place. It’s so important since for me at least, my relationships within my cohort always give me an academic support that I find extremely useful. In saying that, it is definitely more difficult to break into established groups and simply put, more effort and courage is required than it would have been starting your first year where everyone was openly looking for friends. Just remember though, everybody is super friendly and generally people love a fresh new perspective. And if anything, you’re on exchange! What have you got to lose?

  1. Do everything that you want to do, but don’t feel upset if you can’t do everything.

Without a doubt any university will burst a whole myriad of clubs involving sports, music, hobbies and so much more that offer a very vibrant experience. I would definitely recommend them as they certainly are enriching and act as a very nice way to meet new people. As an example, my French conversation mini-course definitely helped me brush off my language cobwebs and I have meet people who I have made memories with already and will keep in contact with in the future. But it’s important to accept that with all these priorities on the list, you realistically cannot to it all. It is healthy to achieve a nice balance of what you want to do vs what you can do, so that it can be integrated into the campus lifestyle without feelings of overwhelming stress and fatigue. If you have the energy, do it. But don’t mistake it for pushing yourself too hard.

 

  1. Take the time to understanding the personal requirements of the courses you have picked.

 

My story will help clear this particular point a bit more. Of my papers, the ones which deemed a good match for what would have been my third year level at home was a first year maths paper and a fourth year structures paper. Having full confidence in mathematics and finding structural design the most difficult component of my civil degree, you can imagine my surprise when I scraped by with abysmal maths grades while soaring through with high scores for structures. This insane outcome taught me something I think every exchange student must accept: You have to take some time to evaluate what you need to dedicate more time to in terms of study because it isn’t necessarily the same as before. This will help with study efficiency and productivity to leave more time for all the other travel and leisurely things that are waiting.

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I expect that everybody wanting to go on exchange is looking for one thing within campus life – something different. So the best thing that you can do is to be prepared for it all as best you can and enjoy every different thing that comes with it which will make for some interesting stories when you get back home. After all, nothing beats a good but unpredictable story.

Keep up to date with my adventures through Instagram (shirleyxjiang) and my personal travel blog (http://pageparisienne.blogspot.ca/) J

 

Food, Glorious Food: Shirley

Anybody who knows me will be able to say without hesitation that this is the post for me. How is it possible to complete an experience without trying out all the flavours of the region, spending endless hours reading mouth water articles and sniffing out the hidden gems within the city? Even in the two months I have been here now, I have already gone to crazy limits like lining up for half an hour at midnight to have that authentic poutine, or posing as a different person on two different days to get another taste of the new brownies they’ve created at the chocolate shop. And sure there were some very shameless moments of whipping that camera out to get the best angle, wishing that somehow technology could help retain the scents and flavours in reality, but I would of course brave that for these delectable bright photos and wonderful experiences.

In fact, I’m not even that embarrassed because food appreciation is everywhere in Montreal. It is literally bursting through the city no matter how distinct the neighbourhood is and where you might happen to stroll past. The tasting culture here is so high that one of the most recommended activities that someone may ever find themselves being advised to try is to go on a walking food tour, where the city and all its charms can be discovered step by step while the fuel of classic foods and satisfying flavours makes the incentive for the next destination ever the better. The university even gave us as exchange students various opportunities to experience all of this with their own hosted tours – and what better way to make new friends on a sunny weekend but to stroll down the streets of Montreal with a famous bagel in hand and a nice iced drink to go with it?

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There is definitely no lack of good food, and while the city prides itself with its stunning and cafes each with a unique flair as well as the vibrant atmosphere which comes with causal bars and restaurants, there is no lack of variety either. Running all the way back to the classics here which I was most excited to try as somebody who has never set foot in Canada, all the way to modern hybrids of different flavours and combinations. It would be an endless mission to taste even a portion of what is there to offer, although I have, without question of course, gladly accepted this strenuous challenge. Smoked meat sandwiches, out of the oven bagels, hearty poutines, fresh salads and colourful juices, warm coffees, sweet beavertails and decadent desserts… Those only make up the tip of the massive iceberg that has me yearning for more. And with the transition into the colder months now, the options are endless and there is no doubt I will continue enjoying taking pictures of all of these even if I get a fair few more worried glances cast my way.

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But as much as eating out can be amazing and without a doubt some of the best conversations, the best laughs, the best memories were created with outings like that for me so far, there are always other options. In the shoes of a student trying to travel as much as I can, you can imagine that when the dreamy haze parts and reality hits in the form of a very depleted looking bank account, it doesn’t take major maths skills to know that those are only ‘treat yourself’ moments. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a single week that passes by without several of those, but living independently means you can get creative. I understand that cooking isn’t something a lot of us have time for nor have a heap of experience with, but it’s all a fantastic learning experience when you have so many others around to share tips and tricks from their parts of the world. I actually love developing this skill because it helps me to become healthier, more budget friendly. And of course it proves to myself that I, as well as any student capable enough to set their mind on exchange, can make some delicious food and innovate at home too.

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See if you can spot the homemade good sprinkled in there, but I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, not to mention I absolutely die for how vibrant these pictures look! After all, there’s not much more I can say without feeling hungry again!

Keep up to date with my adventures through Instagram (shirleyxjiang) and my personal travel blog (http://pageparisienne.blogspot.ca/)

Adobe Spark (10)

 

Accommodation Awards: Shirley

Different people have different things that they find important in their immediate environment: Some have to have good company, others like warmer or cooler weather. But for the most part especially being on exchange, it is the creation of a makeshift home fit to remember good pastimes but induce new memories as well which cannot be overlooked.

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It is definitely a good time to note that sorting out accommodation is no easy task, and even as someone who does not live at home and is flexible enough to find it easy to adapt to new places, it was an extremely difficult process to sort out. For me personally, the top three priorities that I really looked to fulfil with my accommodation would not be too dissimilar to those of most people: The opportunity to meet new people easily, proximity to the university campus and easy accessibility to frequent places such as shops and cafes, grocery stores and banks. In fact, I had come to the realisation that cost wasn’t the most important factor because during my one term here, I wanted to make the most of it and rent would not be too much of a controlling factor. The important thing was to have a place to live where my lifestyle could be well integrated even in the midst of vast differences between Montreal and Auckland.

Three very obvious options were presented to me: Living on campus with McGill Rez, off campus with hotel style student accommodation or simply flatting with other fellow students in the nearby neighbourhood named the McGill Ghetto, which can be rather charming despite the name. More than several hours to say the least had been spent simply researching what might be the best option considering my three requirements, but the best fit seemed to be staying with McGill. The network and community would be unparalleled to make new friends and an infinite number of students in my exact same shoes would have gone through with it without a hitch. But I sure can tell you there were many bumps in the road. The application itself gave no information so until the point I had paid my deposit and assigned a house, I had no idea what I was signing myself up for. Deadlines sprung up without warning, emails back and forth were frustrating with time zones and questions were endless even if you could get them through. It was a tough lesson to learn that making the decision to take risks is something that I will definitely have to come across again during my exchange.

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But at the end of day, it really does work out no matter what option. I now live with 14 other girls where we spend every waking minute filling this massively old house with young laughter. Steps away from campus through the back door, a few more through the front on to one of Montreal’s most well known streets, it couldn’t have ticked the boxes in a better way. Our shared kitchen is always bustling and the common room is almost big enough to throw a salsa dance-off. The manor style staircase and corridors carry sounds of giggles and banter from room to room. With five singles and five doubles, I was lucky enough to have talked to my roommate Michela before we met in person so sharing our space was something we slipped into with ease. It definitely helps that our room is unbelievably grand as well, being the only one with tall windows, high ceilings and even a rustic fireplace to add to that cozy Canadian feel.

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While it was the luck of the draw and we may have the biggest room, it’s easy to see that we all are winners here. Everyone puts their all into their rooms, with photos and decorations, and walking through them is like diving into a part of their lives and listening to their stories. Some sneaky little rubber ducks seemed to appear and they don’t stop either, which adds to the fun of it all. We all deserve awards as people coming from different places to adjust and trying our hardest to make this place as much of home as possible. And if I may say so myself, we certainly did a kick ass job of it.

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Keep up to date with my adventures through Instagram (shirleyxjiang) and my personal travel blog (http://pageparisienne.blogspot.ca/) J

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First Impressions: Shirley

First impressions aren’t everything, but they are definitely something. The things you hear, you read, you see from afar: They are all building up to this one grand moment of finally getting there to experience it all for yourself. Going on exchange to a place I have never been to gave me plenty to be excited for, and without me even noticing, the expectations only grew as it got closer and closer to my departure date. And without spoiling the plot far too early, they all exceed those unnaturally high expectations and passed with flying colours.

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Montreal can only be described as a vibrant, diverse and every moving place. There is so much to talk about already and without a doubt much more to come, which makes me glad that I can try to provide the best interpretation as I can throughout these upcoming posts instead of having an endless stream written down all in one go. It is constantly shifting and moving, ever jammed packed with activities to do, festivals and events to do attend and there is never a dull moment as long as you are willing to participate. And that kind of positive, fun-loving attitude completely transcends to the student life I have experienced so far at McGill University. To be honest, even more so. Because you can trust us young people to also take things a step further and make it an unforgettable moment, every day and every night.

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So focusing on the orientation aspect of my journey so far, this is a part that I really noticed a difference from home. The whole purpose of the exchange for me was to gain a new perspective on what tertiary education could be like, to try and experience something perhaps more dynamic than at home simply because I would now be fully immersed in having everything that comes with being a student. And from the very first event, it was like a whirlwind had started and it has not stopped ever since. Being thrown in the midst of a huge stadium on the first day as a welcome didn’t feel like the typical orientation, but that we were being initiated into part of something exciting. It made perfect sense to get the more informative segment of the week done early so we had a good understanding of where everything was, and while it doesn’t seem particularly interesting, trust me that when there are a million things to sort out when you first get here, having people showing the way is a sweet blessing to get that ticked off the list.

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I can’t lie: What I have been highly anticipating with coming to McGill during this orientation week was the infamous Frosh week. Different faculties with their themes and colours have a myriad of activities planned all over the city. Together with our hyped up, enthusiastic leaders who seemed to take their job of giving us the best first McGillian experience seriously, we were all buzzing with excitement to start our four days of bonding and trying our hardest to make it to everything that was available to us. But the explosion of what was to come were nothing like what us ‘froshies’ expected at all, and our engineering ‘The Frosh and the Furious’ theme could not have found a more fitting way to portray it.

There is never a half effort with events held as part of frosh. Thing are turned up to maximum level without fail. Even if I were to describe the highlights of a select few, it would probably take days to finish reading about what had happened and what it felt like to be part of something so big and foreign to anything I had, or in fact any normal person, would have experienced. Plus, it’s almost impossible to capture the atmosphere in words on a page, and the photos would probably do it more justice even though only a small portion of the electric vibe that lingered in the air and be felt through them. Obstacle courses, pre-event rallying, concert and club nights, park games, pub crawls, beach day, frat parties… If anybody had told me before that I would be doing all of that in the span of a couple of days in the most insane, unforgettable of ways, I doubt I would have believed it. The jokes and banter, the laughs and the thrill of meeting new friends every few moments thrust me into an electrifying state. With everything that happened though, even the smallest things like learning the university and faculty chants, singing and dancing to them like we didn’t have a care in the world was something that struck me and will stay with me for a very long time to come.

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It wouldn’t be right to hide the fact that these four days were EXTREMELY intense. Collapsing in fatigue in the dead of night and waking up as early as 6am to get to the next event was no uncommon thing. It was hard on us, so hard that almost everybody got what we deem as ‘frosh flu’ as soon as it ended. But even with our sniffles and red noses, it was undeniably the most exhilarating experience that we had ever had. And I was part of all of that. With every vivid moment ingrained in me and a million more stories to tell, even just this very beginning part of the journey was worth it for me to be on exchange. And the prospect of having more to come? I think it’s easy to guess how I feel about that.

Keep up to date with my adventures through Instagram (shirleyxjiang) and my personal travel blog (http://pageparisienne.blogspot.ca/)

Adobe Spark (10)