I am having difficulty attempting to open this blog with a description of the sense of impending panic an exchange student feels as the end of their semester abroad approaches… In a series of four months I had managed to become part of a previously unfamiliar community to the extent that the thought of leaving was beginning to petrify me (not to mention the thought of those ever looming exams). From late August to mid December 2014, I had lived and breathed all things McGill University – I had in fact, taken advantage of the never-ending free samosas available on campus and found the best napping spots, so one could I say I ate and slept the place as well! From day one, students of McGill had clearly articulated their strong sense of McGill pride, a surprising sense of community in one whole body comprising of nearly 40,000 individuals. By the end, I truly knew what they meant.
When I first arrived on exchange, I had been incredibly nervous about being utterly alone in the unfamiliar environment of Montreal, Canada — possibly the furthest place I could’ve chosen away from Adelaide! However, before I knew it, the social activities were rolling in: meet and greets at the student bar, welcome ceremonies (complete with the Native tradition of having an Elder fan smouldering wheatgrass smoke over us new students with an Eagle feather), Association sign up nights and much more. The only thing to do was to throw myself amongst all the activity. Every single new student was doing this. We were all in the same boat; grasping to make friends in this new place. Shamelessly putting oneself forward was the best way to build those necessary friendships.
My exchange was under the Faculty of Law at McGill University; so I had the luck to befriend first year students in Orientation week that I would go on to see regularly for the rest of my semester. This, unfortunately, does not happen in many degrees, but under Law, due to the heavy course load, a sense of one community as a whole is encouraged, so there is a generous support network for any who struggle. Events both social and informative are arranged purely as a Faculty, study groups are allocated and weekly socials carried out to ensure this. There is a wide array of ages, backgrounds and maturities meaning the people I met were some of the most interesting I ever shall meet. Most importantly, I formed bonds of which will last me a lifetime. My original impression of partying my way through exchange amongst friendly strangers very quickly changed to realising this was going to be a life-changing experience I would remember forever.
The very last month of semester was the most hectic both emotionally and study-wise. During the semester, there had always been a sense of more time to do this or that, see that person, travel to that place, and have brunch at that cute café… Suddenly, we were all cramming madly for exams, sometimes worth 100%. There was no SWOTVAC or mid-semester break: the stress levels of even passing were high, amongst international and local students alike. The social events became minimal and having spent over 12 hours at a library became common. It both seemed it would never-end and that it would end too quickly. The end of semester parties were the most bittersweet I have ever attended as I said goodbye to new best friends. Although, I remained travelling in and around Montreal for the following two months after semester end, I too had a tear as I left McGill campus as a student for the last time at 2.13am on Friday, December 19, after a gruelling 48-hour take-home exam. I wandered past the iconic McGill image of the Arts building crowned with the Canadian flag knowing the sense of community had entered my heart and I forever will retain that McGill pride — proud to have studied and experienced life on that beautiful campus.