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My Exchange at McGill University, Montreal – by Nicholas Burton

So with a scream of “EVERYBODY GET NAKED”, the underpants are off and I’m surrounded by bare skin, bad smells, and a mixture of happy and grossed out faces.  I’m actually afraid to use the saddle. The constant clicks of the cameras are a bit off-putting as well, and I’ve never been so well-aware of the bloody cold breeze in my life. But I bragged to all my friends that I’d do it, and now there’s no turning back. The Montreal Naked Bike Ride. Yep. Going with the motto of “say yes to everything”, endowed upon us by the tyrannical “returned exchange students”, I’m actually here. And as if I wasn’t uncomfortable enough in the park, there are still two laps of downtown Montreal to do, and it’s only getting colder. Hopefully the Caribbean festival happening on Saint-Cats will distract all the camera-wielders . But I know that’s not going to be the case. My nerves is well on display, and you don’t even have to look up at my face to see it.

In all seriousness though, I actually really liked the idea of the say-yes-to-everything attitude that I packed in close to my chest, right next to my passport and boarding pass. But I always assumed it was say-yes-to-everything-within-reason, so how I ended up riding around the main streets of a city of over a million people without my clothes on (yes, still a helmet and shoes) is a mystery. It’s a great attitude to have though, and one that’s taken me to all sorts of weird places, led me into the arms of the craziest people, and made this exchange such an awesome experience.

Everyone knows that the Quebecois are passionate people. This guy driving me back from New York, accompanied by a flippant use of the bird and my new favourite expression, “Tabernak!”, is a prime example. Three centuries of being squashed by the Anglophone population of Canada has aroused an excited aggression, a love-of-life and a damn awesome party attitude (and some crazy driving). “Everyone has to bond together, to have a good time and release that aggression”, he advises. So that time I was hanging around outside my residence, just after arriving in this wonderful new city, basking in the winter wonderland of Montreal, and a group of students said that they were going to a show, the answer had to be YES.

I held this idea in my head this whole time. Yes, I’m going to pub trivia tonight. Yes, I’m going to watch the Redmen smash Sherbrooke at hockey (literally as well as figuratively I assume, having heard the sound of a padded-up hockey player get pile-driven into the wall). Yes, I’m going out for poutine tonight! And to my surprise, I actually liked that disgusting-looking mixture of chips, cheese and gravy, a real muddy volcano of grease. There’s an Engineers Without Borders on campus, of course I’ll have a look. Broomball? Sure, I’ll have a try at playing a uniquely Canadian sport. Ice-fishing…hell yeah!

I’ve really done the lot in my first semester away. Going skiing, ice-skating, hiking, ice-tubing, naked bike riding, partying with engineers, Valentine’s Day serenades. I’ve made the best friends ever, who I’ll never forget, no matter how far away they live. I’ve drunk plenty of bloody good beer, and eaten tubs and tubs of ice cream. I’ve lost my hearing, stayed up late, frozen in the February cold, sweated in the July heat, walked the streets at night, picnicked in the parks on warm, sunny days. I’ve been to the history-rich Quebec City, remote-Prevost, Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara Falls, New York, San Francisco, Iceland! AND, And there are endless frontiers still to explore. I’ve seen the most amazing sites from the tops of mountains, church displays older than my own country, soaring skyscrapers that evoke the dorkiest of gawks, and the forts where the English clashed with the French over 200 years ago (the cannons are still there)! I’ve made a dick of myself trying to hold it in when saying goodbye to friends, and made an even bigger dick of myself meeting new people.

The Fair Trade Corner, where EWB would fundraise every Friday, really says it all. There I would just hang out with my new mates from all over Canada and the US, assignments looming over our heads but acting like we didn’t have a care in the world, chatting to everyone we saw, and just loving being there, relaxing after a busy week. It was a better party than anything going down that night.

It’s been amazing, and I can’t wait to do it all over again. Bring on the new semester.

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