When I first arrived in Montreal I had been travelling for a month throughout the West coast of America. I had been living day to day and only thinking about my next night of accommodation for a month so it was daunting though that I had to move to a city for a whole Fall semester. I had been tentatively organizing appointments to look at apartments for rent near the university before I arrived but it was a stressful experience coming to a city with nowhere to settle for the first week. I managed to find an apartment with another exchange student from Amsterdam and two Canadian girls from Toronto. We were lucky – it was a good mix of personalities and a diverse mix of cultures. I heard other stories about roommates from hell who stole each others things and showed their true colours as soon as they moved in – so I was thankful for such a smooth move-in experience.
O-week was just around the corner and unfortunately I fell ill as it approached. I wasn’t surprised – my body was telling me I needed to chill out seeing as I had just come off a month long adventure, meeting new people and going out every night.
I went to a few orientation events at the university. Everyone here is so enthusiastic – our first welcome to the school involved all the first year students filing into the stadium with energetic cheerleaders and sports players lining the path and chanting welcome songs. We were then directed into lines to create a massive ‘2014’ sign on the lawn.
McGill University is not an easy school to get into – people come from all over Canada, America and even overseas to live here and attend university for their whole degree. The international student base is huge and enhanced by the high number of exchange students. There is never a time at which you feel alone – there is always an international student event, weekend trip or pub crawl to attend. The best thing I did when I started at McGill was to join the track and field team. I have never been a sprinter (usually a long distance runner) but it was something I wanted to learn. It took some courage to join the squad because the varsity team is intense and trains 3 times a week whilst following an independent training program. Once I joined though I didn’t regret it. Everyone was very serious about running, but also supportive and encouraging and I ended up making some good friends. The coaches are amazing – many former professional athletes themselves and they made the effort to get to know each person on the team. Even though I am not here to compete in the open meets in January it brings a structure and routine to my week. Especially during the colder months having a scheduled training session after class three times a week is motivating and relieves stress leaving you feeling refreshed and on track for studying.
Although athletics or sporting groups are not for everyone, McGill has such an extensive range of clubs from music to charities it’s hard to not find something that you’re interested in. It’s the most common advice that people give you when you start an exchange, and now I can say from experience how helpful it is for motivation, networking, having fun and meeting locals.
The start of an exchange is a stressful time for every student, but there are proactive steps everyone can take to make it a smoother transition. My advice is to take each challenge as it comes, put yourself out there and get out of your comfort zone, you never know who you will meet. So even though you are tired, strike up a conversation with the person next to you, pull yourself off the couch and join your roomies on a night out even if you don’t really feel like it. The most fun I have had has come from the most unexpected chance meetings and opportunities. Living on the other side of the world is a purely unpredictable experience but I am now a true believer in serendipity and the amazing adventures that can grow from simply showing up.