Chronicles of a Montréal newbie
When I choose Montréal asked international students to relate their Montréal experience, I jumped at the chance to give back to this city a bit of what it gave me.
Day 1: First few puffs of the Montréal air
Off we go! You finally get to step on Canadian soil after spending seven hours by a very narrow window looking out into the great sky. As much as you have been destabilized by the long journey, you are just as excited by the new adventure it promises. You get to experience the warm welcome that is in store for international students provided by the free Accueil Plus program. A quick online registration brings you into contact with students who have gone through the same experience as you when they first arrived in Montréal.
At the airport, they guide you to a fast lane reserved for students so you can pick up your study permit easily. It’s all done in about 10 minutes. Grinning ear to ear, they try to answer any questions that come to mind: housing, ways to get into town, places to get a bite to eat, and just simply talking with you to break the loneliness of leaving home.
They also offer you the use of a landline phone at no charge so you can call your family. You really feel quite special to have such a warm welcome, and it will remind you of the hospitality that is the pride of your country.
Day 3: In search of a cozy home
With luggage as heavy as the heart, you go looking for a little nest to put down your bags for the next few months. Considering the horrible memories of the administrative rigmarole you had to endure in the previous city you lived in (naming no names: Paris), you already dread this tough ordeal. But surprisingly, it’s a lot simpler than you had imagined.
In fact, you simply need to stroll through the neighbourhoods that you want to live in and you’ll find quite a few “à louer/for rent” ads.
So you’re looking for a place close to Université de Montréal and take the opportunity to discover the surroundings of the area where you want to live in. You walk by houses and take down phone numbers on the “à louer/for rent” signs you see. In just 20 minutes, you already have a dozen phone numbers. It’s no surprise considering the huge student population in the Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood, which is so close to Université de Montréal, Polytechnique Montréal and HEC Montréal.
As the rents are very reasonable, you’re finally considering living alone instead of looking for a roommate.
Day 60: Friendships and security
Despite all your many travels, you are surprised by how fast you were able to build relationships here. The many student associations at school brought you together with people who share your passions – writing and theatre in your case. You even had to limit the number of associations you wanted to join because you were afraid you wouldn’t have enough time for your studies.
How amazing it is to make friends so easily. So then you can go out together and share all you’ve learned late into the night, in a country an ocean away from yours. And what a pleasure it is to be able to go home without fearing for your safety after a long night out. You can use the night buses or you can walk all the way home without any problems as Montréal is quite safe.
And should you have small (or big) hunger pangs because you ignored your grumbling stomach during one of your nightly outings, you can always pop into one of the many shops that are open 24/7 to satisfy your hunger.
Day 120: Winter is coming!
Time to face your first snowstorm! You open your curtains in the morning and are flabbergasted by the sight. You’ve never seen anything like this before. The cold that you were so dreading has inevitably arrived, but you did not count on the warm Canadian winter jackets. There is a proverb that comes to mind, “there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.”
The cold will not prevent you from fully enjoying life in Montréal. From the free museums the first Sunday of every month, activities at a reduced rate with Passeport Montréal (special card entitling international students to rebates), to concerts such as Igloofest or the Nuit Blanche all-night party. You can’t really get bored in this city.
Day 130: Finals are coming
Final exams are coming soon and that also brings a lot of stress, despair, and caffeine. But you console yourself when you find out just how easy it is to study in Montréal, between the libraries with extended opening hours (some are even open 24/7 during exams); lots of cafés crammed with students; the ease of borrowing books with inter-university agreements; and not to mention the availability of professors who will set you straight on what you may have previously learned.
Day 300: Writing the article
The pearly white snow has quickly melted and given way to an explosion of colours and budding flowers. You delightfully notice that Montréal enjoys its summer just as intensely as the winter is long.
The patios are teeming with people and the city is blooming before your astonished eyes. You sit at a café contemplating the article on your Montréal experience that you want to write.
You recollect past moments you had in Montréal for almost a year now (how time flies!) and you try to summarize everything. But it’s really complicated. So you take a break and listen to everything that is going on around you.
You slowly realize that you only had to write down what was happening in the moment to grasp the essence of Montréal. All around you, you hear so many different languages; you see passers-by walking around with a hot bagel in hand; women with all kinds of hair colour walking around freely; Jewish people observing Sabbath walking by briskly; kids petting a dog that is patiently waiting in front of a store for its owner. An LGBTQ flag covers the sign in front of you, like an invitation to diversity, a cosmopolitan city that is so welcoming to differences.
But the dark roast coffee quickly goes to your head and you feel like you need a walk.
Maybe a stroll around Place des Arts to enjoy some jazz concerts? Or maybe go out later to watch the Loto-Québec fireworks? How about picking a nearby park to read and relax? Join the free yoga class at Baldwin Park? Take a walk through Atwater Market and discover a new product? And that may be the only activity where you will spend any money.
In short, stop writing about Montréal and just go live Montréal.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Montréal International.