The Thing No One Tells You About EXCHANGE

So somehow time has flown so quickly that it’s been 3 months since I had to say au revoir to Montreal and finish up my exchange (if you missed what I got up to – you can check it out here). So now uni has started (we’re somehow in Week 4?!), life back in Wollongong is in full motion and exchange feels somewhat of a dream.

Everyone always talks about how amazing exchange is. How it’s the best time of their life. How you’re going to make friends for life, drink too much, see wonders of the world, get your Instagram popping and how it’s going to change your freakin life! And all of this is true, and these are just some of the many reasons that I encourage everyone to seek the opportunity to study abroad and travel.

But in all honesty, I wasn’t prepared for the complete confusion, doubt and insecurity I faced at home and within myself when I returned to Australia. I’ve heard about reverse culture shock before, and I’ve lived away from home before and I knew something like this was coming… but it still smacked me in the face.

Whilst I know the following thoughts are natural and silly, at the time I was dealing with these thoughts, the stress and anxiety was real. My biggest fear was surround my friends.

Was I going to lose my friends that I’d just made in Montreal? Would they still be interested in my life back in Australia? Would they make time to talk to me? Would I make time to talk to them? Would my friends back home accept the new me? Would they even notice that I’ve changed? Would I even have my old friends back home? 

These (thankfully) were all dealt with and overcome when I saw my friends back in Australia again and I was overcome with happiness, gratitude and joy. Plus, being able to FaceTime and Snapchat my friends back in Montreal, it reassured me that these friendships are strong and real. And it actually made me appreciate them even more – the fact that they care about my life over here and they’re willing to put in the effort to keep in touch and keep the friendship alive.

My other concern was about my identity and personality, leaving me asking ‘who am I?’ I slowly saw myself, my ideas and my values change over the course of the time that I was away. I was exposed to problems and issues I’d never heard of, listened to stories of strength, injustice and survival, changed my core values, altered my ideas… all that cheesy stuff associated with going through a life changing experience. And you’re determined to hold on to it all, bring it all to your life back home and just be a freakin awesome changed woman.

But the reality is that you start to adjust back to your old life, old routine and old ways, and you can’t help but let some of those ideas go. You almost get trapped in between 2 versions of yourself, and you’re not really sure which one is the real you, or the one you want to move forward it. I guess everyone has these types of identity crises throughout their lives, but it’s especially apparent when you return from an adventure overseas.

So how do I move forward? Where do we go from here?

I think I’ll continue to romanticise my exchange, always giving me fun, beautiful and exciting memories to look back on. But my goal is to channel that feeling. The feeling that anything is possible, that anyone can be a friend, that your day could take you anywhere and that life is freakin beautiful. And I just need to accept that not everyone shares these ideas, but I can’t hold back who I am or what I want. I’ve got to remember to be fierce and do what sets my soul and heart on fire… chase and create that feeling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A DRINKER’S GUIDE TO MONTREAL

Let’s be honest, whilst sight seeing is pretty awesome, nothing compares to finding the perfect bar, sipping that perfect beer and munching on some delicious food. And if you’re going to Montreal, you’re in for an absolute treat when it comes to treating yourself. Lucky for you, I’ve spent the past 5 months living, eating, drinking, and drinking some more in this incredible city and I think I’ve just about nailed my list of the best places to eat and drink in the city.

 

COFFEE

Le Moineau Masqué – Rue Marie-Anne

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Kawha – Avenue Mont-Royal

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Myriade – Rue Saint-Denis/Rue Mackay

 

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Pigeon- Boulevard de Maisonneuve

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Cafe Bonita – Rue Viger

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My friend Dan and I went on a coffee crawl in the Plateau. You can check out how our day went, hyped up on caffeine here.

FOOD

La Banquise – Rue Rachel

L’avenue – Avenue du Mont-Royal

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Schwartz’s – Boulevard Saint-Laurent

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Sushi Saint Denis – Rue Saint-Denis

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Boustans – Rue Crescent

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DRINKING

Dieu Du Ciel – Avenue Laurier

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La Habenera – Avenue Union

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Moose Bawr – Rue Sainte-Catherine

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Reggies – Boulevard de Maisonneuve

Fitzroy – Avenue du Mont-Royal

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Kampai – Rue Sainte Catherine

So here are just some of my favourite places to get hyped, feed my tummy and quench my thirst in Montreal. Let me know what gems you discover in Montreal in the comments below! 

 

10 THINGS TO DO IN MONTRÉAL

So you’re going to Montreal? LUCKY YOU! Is there room in your suitcase? Can I come? On the off chance that you said no, and you’re going without me (rude), here’s my ultimate list of thing to do, see and drink in Montreal.

Like all good things in life, Montreal is full of extremes and the unexpected. Summer is hot hot hot. Humidity central. And Winter… Ice Ice Baby. It’s so cold that your nose hairs freeze outside. And fall is simply splendid. The trees explode with colour and make for some pretty popping Instagram pics. Regardless of when you visit, keep in mind that this will ultimately determine what you do and when you do it. Because you ain’t going to be walking the streets of Montreal for hours on end in freezing rain (I know this because we tried and I swear our veins were starting to freeze up). OK – so now I’m done being weather woman, here’s my ultimate list of things to do in Montreal!

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1. Mont-Royal.

This is my number 1 thing to do in Montreal, and once you do it you’ll see why. There’s not many cities in the world where you can feel like you’re lost in the woods when you’re actually just on a mountain in the middle of the city. You can do this in all seasons and it’s still just as magical. Mont-Royal was designed by the same guy that designed New York’s Central Park (that dude knew his parks). Not only is the walk up easy and beautiful, but the top hosts some of the best views in all of Montreal (plus it’s FREE). If you’ve got a few hours, definitely explore the rest of the mountain. There’s a beautiful old cemetery, L’Oratoire Saint-Joseph and Beaver Lake (which you can go ice skating on in Winter).

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2. Vieux-Port (Old Port).

This is the heart of culture in Montreal. Home to Basilica Notre Dame (Paris’ Notre-Dame’s little sister), Rue Saint-Paul (Montreal’s oldest street), and access to the Saint Laurence River, this is a place you simply cannot miss. In Summer there are markets, stalls and lots of street performers and buskers to keep you entertained whilst you soak up some sunshine on a Terrace. Exploring old port, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were lost in a little European town.

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3. Le Plateau.

This is for all you coffee lover, hipsters out there. The Plateau is an area of Montreal, kinda the equivalent of Newtown in Sydney, but French. Yea – I’ll let that sink in. And this is where I used to live so I think I’ve earned the right to say I know the Plateau pretty well. You can get off at metro station Mont Royal and explore Avenue Mont-Royal. You’ll find some beautiful little cafes, thrift stores, restaurants and houses. The architecture in the Plateau is really something special and you can feel the buzz and vibe in the air. You haven’t been to Montreal unless you dip your toes in the hipster hood of the Plateau.

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4. Parc La Fontaine.

This is one of my favourite parks in Montreal. There’s squirrels galore and you’ll see dogs running about like crazy. Summer is beautiful as you can sit under a tree and watch the fountain bubble over the pond. Winter is extra special because it honestly looks like something from a fairytale. If you can get your hands on a toboggan, you won’t regret unleashing your inner child and slipping and sliding down the hills. It’s located on Rue Rachel near Mont Royal Metro.

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5. La Banquise.

The best thing about travelling is trying new food, we all know this. And if you go to Quebec, especially Montreal, you need to try their specialty, Poutine. La Banquaise definitely has some of the cities best poutine. Whilst people will tell you poutine is just chips, gravy and cheese… it’s so much more than that. My favourite is called La Boogooloo, fries, gravy, cheese, pulled port, sour cream and cabbage… OMG, it’s bringing tears to my eyes just thinking about it. It’s right around the corner from Parc La Fontaine on Rue Rachel, so once you’ve finished exploring, you can stuff your face with Poutine. Make sure you look after your food baby accordingly.

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6. L’avenue.

Speaking of food babies… make sure you go to this renowned brunch restaurant on an empty stomach. Wait times, similarly to La Banquise can reach 45 minutes, but I assure you it’s worth it. After taking 15 minutes looking through the menu and finally deciding what to devour, make sure you check out the bathroom. Just do it. Again, I assure you you’ll leave that place waddling down the street.

Check out Ben Brown’s vlog from when he was in Montreal and go to experience the extravagance of L’avenue. 

 

7. The Gay Village.

One of the best things about Montreal is it’s liberal thinking, love and acceptance. They have an amazing gay village, right near Berri UQAM Metro. In Summer there were beautiful decorations lining the street that was closed off for pedestrians to stroll along. If you’re looking for some gay nightclubs, then this place has you sorted!

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8. Jean-Talon Markets.

Fresh food and produce your thing? Make sure you don’t miss these incredible markets! Again, ensure you’re got an empty stomach and follow your noses. Are you noticing a trend here? Yes, I love food. Yes, Montreal has f*cking good food!

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9. Boulevard Saint Laurent.

Think murals, street art, thrift shops, clubs, restaurants… the hub of nightlife in Montreal. Any good night out in Montreal starts and ends here. You’ll want to make sure you’re looking pretty flashy and jump in line pretty early for a lot of clubs, or you may find yourself just partying in the street. When you’re stumbling from the club at 4am, make sure you stumble by ‘Two Chow’ or ‘Toodles,’ $2 noodles. You’ll be devouring them in seconds and it will make the walk home much more entertaining.

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10. Sundays.

Sundays in Montreal are honestly perfection. Especially in Summer. To enjoy your Sunday afternoon you can either go to Picnique Electronique or Tam Tams. The Jean Drapeau park with the theme park. Sadly I didn’t make it to this place, but hey, you’ve gotta have something to go back for. You take the yellow line from Berri UQAM and jump off on the island. My friend told me they built this island from all of the dirt from building the metro (thanks Rosa), and decided to put a theme park on it. In Summer it hosts an EDM event every Sunday afternoon called Picnique-Eletronique. And if you go in Winter, you can go to check out the view of the city, I’m told it’s pretty spectacular.

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And to shake things up, you can spend your Sunday afternoon at this free unofficial community event called Tam Tams. Held in Mont Royal Parc near the big statue, every Sunday afternoon whilst it’s warm, you’ll see hundreds of people playing drums, Frisbee, hacky sac, and smoking weed. Montreal is pretty relaxed on smoking weed, especially at this event. Whether you smoke or not, it’s an incredible sight to see, people coming together to celebrate music, their community, friendship and good times.

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Tam Tams

So they’re my top 10 things to do in Montreal. There are sooooo many more, but that should keep you busy for now. Two pieces of advice, brush up on your French, and engage with locals. The locals of Montreal are so lovely and kind (and know how to drink), so to get the full Montreal experience, make sure you have a chat with some locals at a bar.

Well, get on out there! Montreal is waiting for you. Wait, I still need to get in your suitcase!!!!

 

Why You Should LIVE ABROAD At Least Once In Your Life

Every second person these days are posting their travel pictures or posting about their plans for up coming travel. Travelling is AMAZING and I love it, but when you’re living out of a suitcase, it’s difficult to genuinely embrace a new culture and way of life. In 2013 I lived in London for the year, this July I lived in La Rochelle, France and now I’ve just moved to Montréal for an exchange at university. Whilst I’m still adjusting to my new life here, it’s really made me appreciate my previous opportunities of living abroad. So this post is dedicated to those of you who have ever thought about living abroad and I’m here to tell you why you should do it and do it now.

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It’s one thing to move, it’s another to move to another country

Sure – you may just think that if you want change, you can just move houses in your town or city, or maybe even move interstate. Sure, that’s a big thing. But at the end of the day, you have a common language, culture, and have your support network not far away.

Moving to another country, even if they speak English, is overwhelming in every sense because literally everything is new and foreign. From big things like adjusting to a new culture, way of life or new language, to the little things that we take for granted like knowing where to do grocery shopping, what phone provider to go with, how to take out the garbage or finding the best cafe on your street.

Now is this exciting or scary? I’ll leave that up to you to find out.

Nothing is familiar and you’ll look like a lost puppy

Like I said… everything is new! Back in your home city/town, you know exactly what you’re doing and where you’re going… all the time. You walk through the streets without even thinking twice about crossing the road. But in a new place, you’re constantly looking at street signs, hesitating about crossing the road, walking for 10minutes up the street only to realise you’re going the wrong way and having to turn around and go back.

For me this is a really big adjustment. Is admitting that I have no idea what’s going on – but that’s ok because you’re not expected to magically know everything about a new city. I guess the transition from being so sure and confident walking down the street, to literally feeling like a lost puppy looking up at street signs, is a hard one to make.

Sure it’s damn hard, but when you start to familiarise yourself with your area and begin to figure it all out, it’s such a rewarding feeling.

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Your support network is 14hours ahead of you

Sure it’s beyond easy to keep in touch with people back home these days with the internet. But one thing the internet can’t change is time zones. Sydney is 14hours ahead of Montréal. 14 HOURS! Sydney is in the future! It’s always ‘tomorrow’ in Sydney. It’s not impossible, it’s just more difficult when you need to talk to someone.

I think this is one of the hardest things about living abroad, is that the life you had is 14 hours away. And when you don’t have someone to talk to, you have to learn to deal with your thoughts in a positive way yourself, which can at times be challenging. It gives you a unique opportunity to get to know yourself on a very personal, different and deep level. To understand your strengths and also acknowledge your weaknesses.

A new city, a new country, a new start

How often do you get to move somewhere and have a completely fresh start? You’re free to reinvent yourself in whatever way you choose! Usually when you move abroad, you don’t know many people in that city… moving to Montréal I knew of 3 people that lived here (when I moved to London, I knew 1 – my cousin). When you don’t know many people, you need to put yourself out there and say yes. By doing this, you’ll be surprised by how many people you’ll meet.

I’ve been in Montréal for just over a week now and by going out to drinks with my housemate and his friends, meeting up with girls from Facebook, or meeting some locals to take you to the best cafes in your area… I feel that I’m steadily building an awesome network of friends which I’m extremely grateful for.

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It will challenge you to your core

So thankfully in the few days I’ve been in Montréal this hasn’t happened yet (but I know it will come)… there will be times when everything seems too hard. When things go wrong, you don’t get paid right, you lose something important, you miss out on an important celebration back home, you spend a rainy day in your room, and get a bit lonely or homesick.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” These things are hard enough when they happen at home. Add the complexities of living in another country and it can sometimes become a lot to deal with. But it’s all of these little experiences, good and bad, that help you to become a better and stronger person. To be resilient, motivated, dedicated, strong and accepting or yourself and others around you. There’s not too many times in your life that you get to experience something like this.

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You never know what’s around the corner…

But why should you do it now?

I feel that the older you get, the more commitments you have, and the harder it is for you to uproot your life and move to another country. I’ve already found it significantly more challenging this time around. I think because I was so comfortable in my routine back in Wollongong. And I’m only 22! I barely have any responsibilities! Imagine when I’m 25, 28, 30, 30+… I would imagine it would only become harder with age and responsibilities.

Sure – the list above may not be all that encouraging… there’s definitely huge challenges you’ll need to overcome, there’ll be moments when you’re lonely, lost and just have no idea what’s going on. But for every challenge and difficulty there is… there’s about 50 positives. Like making lifelong friends, immersing yourself in a new culture, (sometimes) learning a new language, getting to discover new neighbourhoods, towns, cities and countries nearby… the list is endless.

So… the only real question left to ask is… where to?!

Arriving in MONTRÉAL: First Impressions

The time has arrived! I’ve finally made it to Montréal! It’s so surreal being here! After months and months and months of planning, emailing, organising, getting excited and nervous…. I’m here! Inspired by one of my blogger friends, Assia from Journal by Assia, I thought I would share my first impressions on this incredible place!

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The Architecture

The first thing that really struck me was the incredibly unique architecture! It’s a fusion of classic American red brick buildings, with cute French stair cases, balconies, pot plants and terraces. I really haven’t seen anything like it before and it’s quite amazing just wondering around and being constantly surprised.

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The French-ness & THAT accent

A lot of people told me that it will be useful knowing French in Montréal but no one ever said just how useful it would be! Literally everything is in French! Especially the area I’m living in – near the Mont-Royal metro – called The Plateau – it’s super French! It’s great because it means I get to practice my French on a daily basis!

I was also ‘warned’ about the Quebecois accent. But again – no one warned me enough! The first time I heard it I just assumed they were speaking a completely different language and were from out of town. Then I understood a word or two – then a phrase… and then it clicked that ‘oh my god… that’s French!’ It’s quite difficult to understand because they speak really fast and the accent is quite thick but I’m getting by!

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EVERYTHING is in French

It’s a good place to be creative

Even the streets of Montréal ooze creativity and artistry! There’s murals everywhere and they’re absolutely spectacular! On my first day here I went to a cafe to get some much needed coffee and read a book. In the cafe there were people filming a video clip for a song they were about to release! I said that I could leave so I wouldn’t disturb them, but they insisted I stay. It was pretty cool just chilling in this hipster cafe with such cool art everywhere, watching the making of a video clip! Definitely feeling the inspiration!

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Just a causal mural off of the main street

My apartment is simply gorgeous

It’s all well and good to see pictures of where you’re going to be living and thinking it looks nice. But it’s such an amazing feeling when you arrive to find it is even more beautiful than in the pictures! My room is ENORMOUS! I don’t even know what to do with all of the space! It’s got beautiful wooden floor boards, the wifi is fast, the shower is hot, and it’s in the perfect location! Literally 2 minutes to the metro and there’s coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques on each corner.

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My room slowly coming together with some photos, pillows and plants

Greenery is a must

Right outside of my metro is this cute plant store (picture below). And wondering around, the streets are lined with gorgeous trees, there’s pot plants and flowers on balconies they’re just absolutely adorable. Naturally, I had to get my hands on some!

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Flowers, pots, herbs and succulents galore!

So for just $3 each, I managed to get a cactus, a succulent and a purple thing (I forgot the name). They just make my room feel like home. Along with my cute candle, I also bought some incense too which is so soothing and relaxing! Positive vibes all around!

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So it’s only been 2.5 days here but I think I’m in love already! My housemate arrives on Monday (tomorrow) and I’m excited to meet him! It’s been good having these first few days to figure things out for myself. To speak franglais, to find cafes, supermarkets and my way around.

It’s scary and exciting at the same time! This place is going to be home for the next few months and I’m just so relieved I’m living in a nice place in an awesome part of the city! These are just my first impressions and I’m sure as time goes by, and I meet more people and get started at uni, my thoughts will continue to change and evolve!