For what seemed like ages, going on study abroad was my next big thing to prepare for and look forward to, but after what seems like a blink of an eye, it’s over. I’m still getting my head round this and will probably not need much prompting at all to talk about my year for the foreseeable future (hopefully not in too much of a gap-yah style).
My final exam was April 18th, as we didn’t have any Easter break apart from the bank holidays, so it was somewhat strange not having a month off before finals. Not completely sure how I managed to get it so, but I only had one final and then one coursework piece, which really helped being able to prepare for my following travels (priorities). I also had to move out my apartment, and I realised just how much stuff I’d accumulated despite being abroad. If you’re out for a year but come home for christmas, really try hard not to bring much back out to university unless you have taken that amount home already, as it is a nightmare!! At the end of finals, McGill holds its famed ‘OAP’ (Open Air Pub) with $3 burgers and drinks, so its a wonderful place to socialise with your fellow exchangers and say goodbye to friends.
I then finished my year by travelling in Canada for a month, travelling probably 70% alone, 30% meeting exchange friends along the way. I’m definitely more independent after study abroad and I had strong ideas as to where I wanted to go and it was just a happy coincidence that friends happened to be in some of the same places at the same time. I’d definitely recommend considering travel alone if you’ve got your heart set on going to particular places. I got into the swing of it and felt completely comfortable, but also really enjoyed meeting friends.
If it was not obvious before, Canada is a very, very big country. I’ve learnt that each province has its own character and that nothing happens in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and 95% of Ontario, so unless you have an undying wish to explore the nothingness of the Prairies, you can avoid. I flew from Montreal to Calgary, in Alberta, before moving into Banff National Park. After altering plans around, I spent about 8/9 days there, exploring many lakes, climbing mountains and also heading to Lake Louise. Despite it being May, it was still classed as winter, so we had to find areas that were not too snowy, not high avalanche risk nor in bear area. In no way did this restrict us really, though, but iconic Lake Moraine was blocked off and Lake Louise was frozen. I soaked in the hot springs and went on a cowboy ride on my trusty stead Baldy (a horse). I also did a trip up the Icefields Parkway, which was postponed as a massive avalanche, 100m long and 15m high had fallen over the road. Oh Canada. I stood on the Athabascar Glacier at the Columbia Icefields, which were so impressive but also freezing. I also fell waist deep in snow I struggled to get out of in front of a tour group I’d just met so that was really good, really sophisticated.
After then, I went to Edmonton, to catch a train from there down to Vancouver, the other side of British Columbia. The train took 31 hours in total, not including a stop in Jasper. 31 HOURS! I was in the cheap seats and it was amazing being able to see all the mountains and forests and how they changed as the journey continued. There was a special viewing cart so the hours could be easily whiled away.
I then had a few very busy days in Vancouver, before going to Whistler, back to Vancouver, then Kelowna, which it turns out is a middle-class haven 5hrs from Vancouver, before flying back to Montreal. Whistler was quite like Banff in that its a small, mountainous, outdoor sports town. I went as the ski season was ending, so everything was in a weird in-between stage. Saw a black bear up close, but clearly in Whistler they’re two a penny as locals didn’t really bat an eyelid. Kelowna is on a very big lake and it was really hot and sunny so it was nice and relaxed over May-long (bank holiday)
It felt like coming home when I came back to Montreal, despite not being able to go back to my old apartment. Due to flight costs for flying back to the UK, I only had a few days back in Montreal, so I hit all my favourite places for the last time. Montreal in summer is beautiful and a must-do.
After travelling solo a lot and packing riskily close to the luggage allowance, I was quite ready to be going home. I’d travelled Canada for a month after term finished but it was by no means enough. If I had the money I would have spent far longer travelling in Canada, but isn’t that always the case? I travelled for the longest of my friends who adventured, whereas others had year-long apartment leases so have stayed in Montreal for the summer. If I had one of them, I probably would stay out there too, but I also loved the travel.
I can safely say that this has been the best year of my life, apart from the one in which I was born, because I was born. Without a doubt I will be going back, either for more exploring, or even potentially emigrating (it is Trudeau’s Canada after all). I want to hop around the Atlantic Canada area and a dream would be the territories. St John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, is helpfully only a 4 hour flight from Glasgow. If you want to donate to this quest, I can give you my bank details.
I had to create a video on the academic, personal and professional positives and negatives of study abroad for Geography. I’m pretty proud of it, so this is the link if you want to see: