Hot, crispy fries smothered in thick gravy and creamy cheese with guacamole at La Banquise. Fresh sesame seed bagels with chewy cream cheese at Fairmount Bagel. Milky hot chocolate served in wine glasses at Juliette et Chocolat. Five dollar pitchers of beer and dancing all night on Tuesdays at Café Campus. Strolling down Rue Côte-des-Neiges in the heat of July every afternoon. These are the pieces of Montréal I will remember forever.
You could call me a bit of a Frenchie after my experience with the Explore program at the University of Montréal to learn French last summer. To this day, I can’t believe I was offered a $2200 bursary to go on the experience of a lifetime. Friends, food, and French, all day, every day, for five weeks.
When I got to Montréal after my six-hour train ride from Brampton, my first French experience was with a francophone cab driver who couldn’t find the university residences. I got by only because I knew some French from school, and learned that everybody in Montréal expects a tip, from cab drivers to waitresses to people who escort you to booths at bars and clubs. He actually tried to explain to me that he doesn’t earn much and wanted more of a tip than what I had given. I then had to walk up the steepest hill I have ever seen to get to the Studios Hotel residences and drag five weeks worth of luggage behind me. Luckily, I also learned some secret passages around the campus to avoid the hill afterwards. On that first day, I made no friends and was completely homesick.
With some optimism and a stunning view of Montréal from my window, I motivated myself to get up for breakfast the next morning and make friends. I was lucky. Leaving my room, three other girls were heading down for breakfast too and I immediately befriended them. We stuck together for the rest of the trip. I still hang out with one of the girls who lives in Toronto now, and talk to everyone else I met on Facebook and Snapchat.
As dependent as I was on those friends at the beginning of the five weeks, I became comfortable with being alone and independent by the end. After all of the tours of the neighborhoods in the city like Little Italy, Old Montréal, Outremont, and downtown around Rue St-Catherine; after all of the amazing food at La Banquise and Fairmount Bagel and McCarold’s and 3 Amigos and Blanche Neige ($2 breakfast, yum); after all of the shopping at Simon’s and at little kiosks; after memorizing the metro system, the late nights and late buses, the 9am classes at the university, the friendly strangers, and meeting students from across Canada, I learned the value of being myself and being independent. I learned more about myself during my five weeks in Montréal than I did in my first year at UTM. I opened up and became confident. Now, I feel capable of taking on the rest of my university career and have discovered what I would love to do with my life: travel. Become cultured. Learn.
My life outside of UTM usually consists of binge watching TV shows, copious amounts of texting and Facebook, sleep, and procrastination, but it’s the unexpected that I’ve learned to look forward to. When I think about it, a year ago, I had no idea I would spend five weeks out of the province when I’ve never been away from home as a commuter student, and here I am, unsure what I would be doing now without the experience. Who knows what experiences await me outside of my university career, and I, for one, can’t wait to find out.
What are your unexpected stories from outside of the world of UTM? Comment below!