People say we cannot forget our first love. Montréal is my first city love. It is the first city I really felt home and safe. It is the first city I wanted to go back to, live and work.
I went once in 2009 for 6 months and as soon as I went home I wanted to leave again.
My first step in Québec was feeling as the first step on the “New World”. I was Jacques Cartier in 1854. I was eager to see and experience new things. I had been living in Paris for two years before and the city had started to suffocate me. It felt liberating to be in Montréal. I loved everything about it. The ordered and large streets, the Québéquers who were so nice to me, the crazy buildings, the school I was enrolled in (Concordia University).
The school system is very different than in France. It is like a university but the teachers actually care about how you are doing in their class. If you care enough to work, they will take time and help you. Also I should add something… As school is quite expensive, they assume you are here because you chose it so you don’t want to fail. It is not like in France at all where students go to school but don’t really care about the whole year, they only care about the “finals”. We don’t really have the continuous grading system in college. I think that’s a shame because I think it would encourage more students to stay focus all year.
Anyhow, the biggest cultural shock for me was the kindness of the citizen. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t scared that someone was going to steel my phone when I walked on the street, I wasn’t scared to be attacked for no reason, I wasn’t scared of burglaries. People in Québec are nice, they are very civilized compared to Paris where I was scared to walk alone at night or make a call in the street. One might think this is extreme but it is the truth of many people in Paris. Having your phone stollen in the subway is current money.
I didn’t have the chance to travel much my first time there because I had a lot of work for school and I wanted to success. I went to Québec, New York City, Toronto and Niagara Falls of course but that was it. That was one of my biggest regrets of my first time there. My second regret was that we didn’t really went out or enjoyed the life in the city that much because I was living with 5 friends quite far from the center so we often stayed together to do parties, play cards or visit the city on week-ends. And my third regret was to not have met that many people from Montréal, for the same reason as written before.
If I can give you an advice: don’t be roommates with people you already know from before. I know it can be tempting and I don’t regret doing it that time because it was like in the TV Show “Friends” but if you want to meet other people, you should have roommates you don’t know. It is not easy to live with strangers and it can go wrong but it is really easy to find a new place in Montréal (if you want tips, please write me, I will be more than pleased to help you 🙂 maybe I will do a post about it too), and soon enough you will find your new family. It does not mean you don’t want to live with your friends, it just means that you want to meet other people you won’t have the chance to meet otherwise. The friends that came with you will always be there as they will go back home with you, the others won’t. More over, you might learn stuff about the city, discover new places thanks to them. It does not mean you won’t hang out with your other friends! Invite them when you go do stuff with your new friends! If you only have few months there, MAKE THE MOST OF IT.
I went a second time in 2011 and love it even more.
I had a completely different experience the second time. I was living with a girl from my school that I didn’t really knew before. We decided to find a flat together because she was a friend of one of my good friends and she couldn’t find a flat either so we gathered forces. It turned out we became really good friends and I’m glad I had her as a roommate for six months. At school (because it was another exchange), I was alone in my class, I didn’t know anyone because I chose classes the others of my school didn’t chose. This is when I discovered the real university deal. I went to the first day orientation, thing I haven’t done two years before, and I met a girl that became one of my best friend there and that is still a very good friend of mine. I discovered an association that organized trips and parties for students. I had the chance to travel a bit more and meet new people that way. I had the chance to train my english this way too. My only regret at that point was that I couldn’t stay the whole year to experience the real cold and summer in Montréal.
I loved it so much that I did everything I could to go back again, but this time, I wanted to stay and live there for few years or maybe all my life. I wanted to try winter and summer before making my mind. It was a real battle but I succeeded in 2014. Against all odds and the 40 000 people that wanted the same visa as I, I got it, I got the 6,336th ticket out of 7,000ish to go work in Montréal for a year. It was a step towards my goal. This time, I was going alone. I knew people there, I had friends that went to Montréal with me in 2011 that were still there, but I found a place where I knew nobody. I got in a flat with four other roommates and soon enough, they became family. It wasn’t always sunny but I had the best of times with them. It was too short because most of them were only staying for a few months and we got new roommates quite often.
I had the chance to work and travel a lot during this stay. Thanks to a company called InterStude that organises trips around North America (from Québec to California) for internationals in Montréal (either students, interns, whv/pvt, or others), I could combine both. I discovered wonderful cities like Chicago or Philadelphia, I met incredible people and I found love. I can’t say how big I miss them. I discovered a Montréal I didn’t know about even if I had been there twice already. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a permanent visa and I had to go back to France but I miss wandering in the streets every day, I miss the barbecues in the parks, I miss my roommates and my friends, I miss the summer, I miss biking, I miss winter, I miss Wapi the cutest dog that lived with us.
I have nothing to regret this time. I will only add something: even though I love Montréal wholeheartedly, I am not sure I could live there forever. It is a great city if you are in exchange, it is a bit harder if you are not. As I stayed almost a year, I noticed that Montréal is quite an international student city. By that, I mean there are a lot of students from all over the world that are here in exchange for six months or a year and then they leave. So you meet people, you get to know them, they are your family for six months because you are with them all the time, and all of a sudden, they disappear to go back where they are from. You have to start everything all over again. I am not a very social person that got attached very easily and then forget about people. Having to start again friendships every six months is not why I was in Montréal. Each time someone was leaving, it was heartbreaking for me. I got tired of seeing everybody leaving. I am also sad that I had to leave the family I created there. We were a few to stay, I left them and I miss them every day. I am sure we will see each other again someday because it can’t be otherwise.
One thing I have learnt there is very well written in a quote that is all over InterStude: « You will never be completely at home again, because a part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place ». Thank you Montréal, without you, I would have never experienced that.
PS: I will talk about technicalities in another blog post.