16 Lessons From Studying Abroad in Montréal

As my semester abroad in Canada at HEC Montréal draws to a close (I can't believe that's the first part of my year abroad DONE!), I am beginning to reflect on the unforgettable 4 months that I have spent exploring this western corner of the world. Coming on a university exchange was never something I had ever considered, however, I can truly say that I am genuinely so grateful to myself, my university and my family for encouraging me to take this wonderful step as I have grown so much personally, academically and mentally from my time studying abroad (yes I know it sounds so cliché and no, I'm not ashamed). Growing up, my dad would always make jokes about how much he wanted to move to Canada (very random as he has no affiliation with the country whatsoever) and would persistently tease me and my sister with the "welcome to your new school" jibe in the most horrific Canadian accent ever. 10 years later and it seems this joke accidentally made an impression on me and became my reality. But let's be factually correct here: in Montréal, it's "Bienvenue au votre nouvelle école".

As I haven't been the most proactive on my blog during my semester (sorry), I wanted to write about what I've learned from my time abroad in the hopes that it gives a little insight into what I've got up to during my experience in Montréal and maybe even provide a little inspiration for those who are pondering doing it for themselves. For those who aren't in a situation to study abroad, I hope this can encourage you to want to voyage to Montréal (or somewhere far away) anyway!

1. I am MUCH more capable of change than I think:
I have previously felt as though I reject change as much as possible. That doesn't mean I avoid seeking new opportunities because, believe me, I love challenging myself to try new things, but I also love the sensation of being comfortable; of feeling at home. Obviously I've been exposed to change as I moved to Bath for university, but I had never spent 4 months 3,000 miles away from home in a country I've never been to before. So naturally, I was very scared about all of the changes I would be facing, however, I came to realise that my maturity that I've been refining for years is absolutely at a good level where I can tolerate big life changes and be adaptable and flexible so that the adjustment process is less tumultuous. The culture in Montréal has a very European influence, so I instantly felt more at home than it if was 100% pure Canadian.

2. Homesickness is 100% normal:
As someone who loves her home comforts and who is very close with friends and family back at home, there have been many things that I've missed. I've even had moments where I miss the tiles on my kitchen floor (yes, that was a low point), but I think it's very common to experience homesickness and not something you should ignore. The ways that I dealt with homesickness was Facetiming my loved ones regularly (I even had my parents, sister and boyfriend come to visit me, which really helped), talking about it with my new friends and ensuring I stayed busy. Ultimately, feeling homesick is just a reminder that you have an amazing home life that you hate to be away from, so it really is just a positive experience as it makes you really appreciate how lucky you are to have such amazing things and people that you miss dearly.

3. I LOVE Bath University:
HEC Montréal is a highly regarded business school whose community I have felt very proud and grateful to be a part of. However, having taken 4 modules here, I now am extremely appreciative of my home university back in England and their way of teaching, assessing and interacting with students. At HEC, there was a large emphasis on in-class participation (it could make up to 20% of your total grade!?!?!) and group-work, however, at Bath, there are a lot more individual assignments and group presentations followed by an individual write-up. I love working as a team, but when everyone in your group is a native Québecois (accent and everything), it made me pine for a British accent and a Prezi account (if you know, you know). Furthermore, I felt as though the material at HEC wasn't very theoretical - it was very much based around common sense and fact. Whilst this made for very practical learning, I am now able to appreciate the profound nature of UK teaching, as we focus a lot more on theories and putting those into practise to explain certain ideas, which makes me feel a little more accomplished and as though I have a deeper understanding of concepts. This is very subjective, however, and I can definitely envisage many people preferring the style of learning/teaching over here as it mirrors the technique in the workplace.

4. If you have the option between a small and a regular Poutine, always choose small:
Unless you have a stomach the size of an actual solar system, there are very slim chances that you'll be able to finish a large Poutine. Trust me. As a real foodie and an underfed student (ah, the life of an undomesticated goddess), I genuinely believed I could conquer a large Poutine, especially as I do love a bit of stodgy food, but alas, the score will perpetually remain Chloe - 0, Poutine - 1.

5. Always be open to meeting new people and embracing new cultures:
It's bamboozling to me to think that just 4 months ago, I had never met any of these people in my life, and our paths would have probably never crossed had we not come to Montréal. I've laughed with, partied with, shared stories with, cooked with, travelled with and lived with an incredible bunch of people who I can definitely say will be my friends for life. They come from all over the world and so we have wonderful differences as well as similarities, which make for such dynamic, profound and fun friendships.

6. Say yes to travel opportunities:
I was fortunate enough to journey to Toronto, Québec City, Mont Tremblant, Sainte Agathe Des Monts and New York throughout my time on my study abroad exchange. Although my bank account is now in dire need of fattening up (student loan, come in please), I wouldn't take back any of these travels as I now have some incredible memories and experiences that will last me a lifetime.

7. It's O.K to need some time alone:
Sometimes it all gets a little overwhelming and it's perfectly acceptable to need some time to yourself. Pop on your pyjamas and stick on an episode of Friends and you'll feel at home again in no time. 

8. Invest in warm clothing:
When they say it's going to be -10 degrees, they're not fooling around. Buy a warm coat and TRUST the damn weather forecast.

9. Invest in earplugs:
You never know who you're going to be living beneath. I didn't expect to be living directly underneath what seemed to be like a drummer who only liked to operate past 12am. Pair that with a hideously thin ceiling and you've got yourself a live concert at silly o'clock that prevents you from a peaceful night's sleep. Earplugs would have been marvellous. Noted for next time.

10. Racism is still a thing:
This was an experience I had during my time abroad that definitely shocked me. The story begins when (what seemed to be) a homeless man came up to me and my boyfriend asking for money and we had to apologetically reply that we unfortunately had no cash to spare. Once he caught wind of our British accents, he started screaming at us to "get on a plane back to England", that we "didn't belong in Montréal" and that he "hates the British". Many expletives peppered his insults, I may add. What's more, he proceeded to throw his Tim Hortons cup at us and he even physically shoved my boyfriend, which we were both astounded by but refused to rise to. I am absolutely sure this was just an unfortunate event of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the man clearly was intoxicated (let me remind you that weed is legal in Montréal), but that didn't make it any less offensive, and I was in shock for a while after this encounter. I have absolutely nothing against the people of Montréal at all, but that was a bad experience. 

11. It takes a while to get used to the Québecois accent:
As someone who had come to Montréal to improve my French, let me tell you it was a shock to the system to have to encounter the accent in class and on a daily basis. I genuinely couldn't understand a word they were saying at the beginning, however, after 4 months, my ears became attuned to the dialect and I was no longer saying "pardon?" every other sentence. 

12. Don't be afraid to spend your money:
Now, I've always prided myself on my self-control when it comes to my finances. I will avoid spending money on unnecessary, frivolous things when I am at University. Don't get me wrong I love to treat myself, but only when warranted. However, in order to participate in a lot of the activities/days out and trips with my friends and the exchange committee, money did indeed have to be spent. However, I soon came to realise that I would much rather have less money but incredible memories than have lots of money and be sad, lonely and miss out on adventures. When I go back to Uni in 4th year, I can save up again, however, I will only have lived in Montréal once and I certainly did not want to have any regrets due to financial limitations.

13. "Normal" doesn't exist:
I find it so funny how real culture shock is. I don't just mean the culture difference between the UK and Canada, but with so many other European countries. By having friends who come from Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and Australia, I soon came to realise that what I thought was "normal" in life, is a very subjective affair. For example, in Sweden it's normal to not go straight to Uni after A Levels and wait a few years, however, in the UK, it's normal to go to Uni at 18 or at 19, if you do a gap year. I find it totally OK to wear shoes around the house, yet my Swedish friends would always leave their shoes outside their bedroom door/in the porch. Most people found it weird that I chose Rosé over white or red wine ( I would say Rosé is the go-to amongst UK uni students!). It's little habits and customs like these that made me realise that "normal" is a completely subjective and I genuinely think it's astounding that we all live our daily lives in such different ways. I can assure you it made for incredibly interesting conversation.

14. Prices in Québec DO NOT include taxes and tips:
The price you read on a label, menu or groceries is never the sum you will actually end up paying. Here in Québec, they have the TPS (federal tax), TVQ (Québec tax) and to top it off nicely, you are expected to pay at least 15% tips and no, not just when you're dining out, but when you go to bars, cafés and even shops! There have been occasions where we have been "politely" reminded by servers to tip them more, as some loophole in the Canadian system requires them to rely on tips to have an acceptable salary. For some reason unbeknown to me, prices at supermarkets do not include tax, so you have to stand in the aisle doing some #quickmaths to ensure you are staying within budget.

15. Try something new every day/week
Being in a city I've never been affiliated with before in any sense meant that there were a wealth of things that I could experience for the first time. I relish in the moments that you first experience something, as you know there's something so beautifully ephemeral about it that you can't help but soak up every glorious second. Whether it was going on a different road trip every other weekend or even just discovering a new walking trail near my home, making new discoveries every day or every week was so adrenaline pinching and exciting that I always had new stories to tell. It certainly beats sitting around all day (although, if I was having a little homesick moment, then of course I would allow myself to stay in my room and watch Friends until I felt better. I'm only human).

16. A&W is the BEST fast food in Montréal
When it's 3am and you stumble wearily out of the club (or fall down the entire flight of stairs, in my case), there is no other way to properly top off a night than with a glorious burger from A&W. You simply cannot go wrong and you know it's been a good time if you're finishing the evening in an A&W.


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