Only the beginning – by Anna Boström

As I am walking down the wide busy streets of downtown Montréal I cannot help but feel small and insignificant. Who would really notice if I disappeared right this instance?  Then I meet the eyes of a stranger and we share a smile. Suddenly, everything seems different. The skyscrapers aren’t so daunting anymore; instead I can look at them in awe and feel lucky to experience something so different from what I am used to.

During my first couple of months here in Montréal, my perspectives and attitude towards the exchange have been ever changing. It’s been an amazing rollercoaster so far, which has taught me a great deal about myself. Thus, even on the days when I have a less positive outlook on things I cannot regret going on an exchange.

I came here expecting cultural differences and a very different kind of city to what I am used to. However, what I was not prepared for was the small subtle differences that still throw me off every time. Humans are naturally creatures of habit and we can be quite averse to too much change. Though, the beauty of it all is that we are also very good at adapting. So I know that once this initial period of obstinacy has passed I will become accustomed to life here, love it and probably not want to leave. But for now, I am still taken aback every time I see a car without a number plate at the front, have to pay 15% tax on top of the price given on price tags, see the different marking scheme or experience the ever changing weather; fluctuating between 15 and 25 degrees in one day.

Being an international student at Edinburgh University and having acclimatised before, I thought going on an exchange would be the same. However, even though the various phases of adapting are similar, what I’ve found is that it is still quite different. Not necessarily better or worse, simply different. When I arrived in Edinburgh I knew that I was registered for a 5-year degree. Thus, when I met other first years there was an instant sense of belonging, since we both knew we would spend at least 4 years in the same city. Whereas here in Canada, I know that I am leaving in a year, which significantly changes the entire making friends process. Hence, it is a challenge trying to balance between having more than shallow acquaintances, but perhaps not getting too attached in order to save yourself from future separation anxiety.

This is an extremely difficult task, made even harder by the fact that one of the Canadian stereotypes really is true; Canadians are some of the friendliest most welcoming people in the world. Going into third year in a fixed degree such as Civil Engineering I was a bit concerned about fitting in with the people who have already been studying together for 2 years. What I’ve experienced though is a very inclusive and welcoming environment and if I’ve had a gap in knowledge for a course, they have been more than happy to help out. Another thing that I’ve found interesting is the fact that McGill University’s curriculum gives students the opportunity to individualize their degree further. So even though they have quite a few compulsory courses such as in Edinburgh, they can choose between more courses and make up their own schedule themselves already in third year.

So instead if simply seeing the differences, I am slowly starting to see the advantages of McGill and things I really like about Montréal. Consequently, I am looking forward to the rest of my exchange with eagerness, curious to discover more about the Canadian people, culture and about myself.

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