Highlights of the Semester

After Boston, I never really spoke about what I got up to in New York, but it was definitely a highlight of the semester. Travelling with my Dutch friend, Margot, we took the $15 megabus to NYC. We decided to go couchsurfing, which you’ve probably heard of, but never had the balls to do. I was the same, but Margot persuaded me and I’m so glad I did. Our host, Tak, a product designer from Brooklyn. And what a host he was- I can’t recommend couchsurfing any more, Tak was extremely generous and gave us so many tips. One of my personal favourites was the High Lines, an urban redevelopment. He also took us to some awesome restaurants, and his Uncle took us for some proper dim sum in Brooklyn Chinatown-we were literally the only Caucasians there, that’s when you know it’s the real deal.

We did all the touristy things too (but you’re just going to have see it for yourself one day): Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Museum of Modern Art, Grand Central….etc, etc…. All in all, a great experience!

Another highlight was Science Carnival, a weekend full of fun & alcohol debauchery. Teams of around 20 all compete to be prized the ultimate carnival team. Points are given for tasks, such as drinking games and scavenger hunts all around Montreal. Be warned it isn’t for the faint hearted, but if you’re up for it, you’ll love it.I’ve said it before, but join the McGill Snowboard Club! If it’s the only thing you do at McGill, this is it!

Being a rugby fan, I had to find somewhere to watch the 6 nations games, so when England played Scotland, I headed to the pub to watch the ensuing action. The game was actually quite boring, but I did meet the coach of the Montreal Irish, a local rugby club. So, Istarted playing rugby again, and when they found out I was only 19, they signed me up to play for the Quebec U20 team. We ended up at the Atlantic Championships in New Brunswick, where we played and beat Novia Scotia convincingly. Then, 2 days later we had the epic task of playing the reigning champs Newfoundland. A bunch of tanks basically, with lots of players pushing for u20 Canada selection. Anyway, we lost by 11 points, but not without letting everyone know that Quebec rugby has some talent. We were down by 4 points up until the dying seconds, when we went all out for victory. It was a great experience and genuinely felt honored to represent. I was lucky enough to be spotted by one of the u20 scouts, but alas I’m not Canadian….or so I thought! My dad had always said that my grandmother had lived in Canada when she was younger, but he didn’t know much about her history. After searching the 1911 census, we found that she was living in Hamilton, Ontario, aged 2. Pretty astonishing really! So this made me ponder the question, was she born in Canada? And if so, am I therefore Canadian in some way?… After my parents searching the house, they eventually found her birth certificate and the excitement was over. She was born in Dundee!

Montreal has so much going on over the summer that I desperately wanted to stay, but without getting a job I wouldn’t be able to. However, McGill has a career planning service (CaPS) with a job search, so I managed to get an amazing job. I worked as a Lab Researcher, in the WOW Lab. Basically, we developed fun experiments to get children interested in Science. Remember all the cool experiments you did in school, the rockets, the volcanoes, the chemical reactions? We brainstorm ideas like those and develop them, so that teachers can use our blueprints in order to teach their students. One of the most popular projects being the Maglev Train http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHtAwQXVsuk , but we also have simpler ones such as a really cool digestion model using an elbow length vet glove (representing the oesphagus), cookies with baking soda, and a large balloon (representing the stomach) filled with vinegar.

So even though the semester has finished I still have the whole summer (it was a long time ago since I wrote this) to look forward to. I’m heading back to the UK at the end of August just in time for the start of next year.

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Go HABS Go!

Every baby in Canada is born with a hockey stick in hand. That’s how intense the passion for Hockey is here. None more so than the city of Montreal! If you’re unaware of what hockey is and who the “Habs” are, you will soon learn. Les Habitants, the nickname for the Montreal Canadiens Hockey team, are the city’s pride and glory.

The NHL comprises of 30 teams from the States and Canada, all competing for the highly coveted Stanley Cup. Teams play over 80 games a season, so it’s a pretty big deal…

Anyways, this year, Montreal got through to the Playoffs, finishing in the top 8 in the Eastern Championship. They beat one of the top teams, Washington Capitals. I was lucky enough to be at a friend’s place who has a balcony overlooking the main shopping street, St. Catherines. 5 minutes after the final whistle, the streets were packed. Chants of “Go Habs Go!” echoed around downtown. The next challenge would be the reigning champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, with the Canadian Olympic Hero, Sidney Crosby, fronting the opposition. Again, Montreal shocked everybody to seal victory. This time, Montreal went even crazier; Pittsburgh jerseys set alight, shoulder to should crowds, even riot police!!!

I wasn’t expecting to be converted, but I can truly say that I’m a hockey fan now.

Skiing in Canada

Video Compilation of a Ski Trip to Mont Sainte Anne with the McGill International Society Network.

I also joined the McGill Snowboard Club for $90. http://www.mcgillsnowboardclub.com/

This price covers Transport costs to and from the Ski slopes. I managed to rent Skis,boots and poles for the season for $130, compared to $30 a day. Plus, because i’m so tall, the owner gave me a brand new pair of skis!!!  Because the McGill Snowboard Club takes over 200 students to the slopes every Saturday, they’re able to get huge discounts off ski passes. Typically, ski passes were around $25 for the day. Bargain!

Ski season ended a while ago, but that’s how I spent most of my Saturdays. This was one of the reasons I chose to come to Canada, and it didn’t disappoint. The slopes aren’t the best I’ve ever been on, but for the proximity to the slopes, the price, the social aspect- I couldn’t recommend it any more.

Next Winter- the Rockies? To check out some proper Mountains!

Spring Break – Boston, MA

As the title suggests I went to Boston for Spring Break! Not only did I venture south across the US-Canadian Border, but I experienced the home of some of the top Universities in the World, the Boston Celtics, Red Sox, as well as Irish Americans, the Freedom Trail, the Boston Massacre and many more historical sites associated with the American Revolution. For a complete American history imbecile like myself, it was a steep, but interesting learning curve.

So my journey began in Montreal at Lionel Groulx Metro Station, where Jonathan, a friend of an American I met last year on exchange at Glasgow, was driving two other Boston bound friends to the state of Massachusetts. This would be my first rideshare; a cheaper and faster alternative to taking the bus or train. The premise being that a driver is going from A to B at a certain time, he then posts this on Craigslist and passengers sign up, paying a reduced fare in comparison to Greyhound. For example, this journey only cost me $40 for a 6h+ one-way journey.

Anyway, the journey went much quicker than expected because of the awesome company, plus, Jon is a humanized version of Wikipedia. This is how I learnt about and even visited the border town of Stanstead. Due to a border surveying error the town is split in two, the international border runs through individual homes, so that meals prepared in one country are eaten in the other. Crazy eh?

The US border is pretty strict for foreigners, lots of questions and finger print taking, but if you’ve got the right documentation it’s legit. Compared to a bus, it probably saved me an hour because they have to interview everyone, so being in a car of 4 was pretty handy. Oh, and it costs $6 US to cross the border. They’ll give you a green ticket which they staple in your passport, which is valid for 3 months, but you have to hand this in at the Canadian border on your return, unless you know you’ll be back to the States before then.

Upon arrival in Boston, I was pointed in the right direction towards Boston College, where I would be staying with Andy and Rich, friends I’d met up in the hostel in Montreal. The public transport isn’t as good as Montreal, but they don’t have to suffer -30 oC winters, so it’s understandable. All I had was an address, as I didn’t want to use my cell abroad, but I bumped into some friendly BC students straight away who told me the way. I did however have to make a few phone calls eventually, which resulted in a $70 more than average bill- not cool!

So the 1st night, Rich took me and Margot, my Dutch travel companion who came down on a later rideshare, to a Frat-style party. The drinking age being 21, and me being 19, this made sense. Definitely an experience, but crazy busy, full of drunk freshmen. So afterwards, I went to find Craig- a fellow Glasgow Uni student, who showed me the delights of an alternative form of Beer Pong. I can’t remember the name, I just know that I’m a pro! It was short, but sweet. But, Craig’s coming up to Montreal next weekend, so i’ll be sure to show him a good time here.

During the day, we did all the historical sites, and there’s a lot! Just following The Freedom Trail takes up most of the day, but we also visited the prestigious Harvard University. It’s ok I suppose….it’s no McGill. Randomly we bumped into some fellow McGillers next to the statue of John Harvard, the founder. We went for lunch, shopping, and then back in time for dinner with Andy. Who then took us to an International house party somewhere near campus. I’m always amazed how small this world is, but Margot met a fellow Dutchman from her Uni, and I met another fellow Glasgow Uni student, Mark. It was definitely cool to meet all these international students from Boston College, but I also felt totally out of my depth, like being back in the 1st week of uni. I’m so used to knowing everyone, or at least recognizing some faces, but here, it was the complete opposite. It was cool though; I got chatting and met some French people who knew my French friends back in Montreal.

I have to also add that I met some fantastic Americans! Firstly, Andy and Rich our hosts, but also their roommates, girlfriends and everyone else who I met whilst at BC. Everyone was super-friendly and welcoming. And a word of advice, I think Americans like the British accent even more than Canadians, which I didn’t think was possible!

For our final night, me and Margot attempted to cook Fish & Chips as thanks, however, there seemed to be no supermarkets, so after half an hour of searching I found a Chinatown supermarket. Not recognizing the fish, apart from Cod, I ordered a couple of lbs, but, a fellow shopper translated the fishmonger’s response, “you have to take the whole fish”. The reason for this…The fish was still alive, in a tank. Soooo, I ended up with a 6lb cod and a sack of potatoes. On the tram back to Boston College, my plastic bag started twitching…strange because the man had just smashed a mallet over the fish’s head. It wasn’t just twitching though, my bag was physically wriggling, and all the other commuters started giving me “fishy” looks. Obviously the fish was dead, but it was still sending nerve impulses…Having never filleted a fish properly, I quickly decided to just oven cook this beast. And, eventually, the meal was a success!

Next Stop, NEW YORK CITY!

Tim Hortons saves lives

Something you have to learn about Canada. Tim Hortons. The place to go for your caffeine fix, donut binge or a sober up sandwich, 24/7. Lurking behind every street corner, even when you think you’re miles away from home, you can rely on a good old Tim Hortons to point you on the right path. I rave so much about Timmy’s because it’s probably what kept me going through final exam period in December. Even when it was -18oC outside, I’d still get my medium Iced Cappuccino to keep me awake the night before my Anatomy 214 Lab exam. Which was probably the hardest subject I’ve ever done- rewarding, but soooooo much to remember; all the muscle attachments, bone articulations, nerve supplies.

Anyways, exams take over a lot of people’s lives here at McGill. Lots of them are on scholarships were they need straight A’s to be able to afford to pay tuition, others need A’s to get into Med school or Law school, so as you can see it can pretty intense. The library’s open 24/7, there’s couches available in the Science Basement for a little nap, there’s TH’s as you already know. Everything geared towards constant study.

I’ve learnt though that if you keep on top of it during term time it shouldn’t be too bad when it comes to finals. But that’s a lot easier said, than done. There’s so many distractions in Mtl it’s unbelievable.

Intramural sports, Snowboard club (see later),  plentiful supply of Brunch spots, constant House Parties, Varsity games, Shinny Hockey, Beer Tobogganing, Mount Royal, Olympic stadium, Botanic gardens, Biodome, Biosphere, Canadian Grand Prix circuit, Just for Laughs comedy festival, Jazz festival,  Sainte Catherine shopping, Underground shopping (it’s HUGE!), Cheap Tuesdays cinema, Clubs and Bars to suit any tastes, Old Montreal, Notre Dame Cathedral, Chinatown, Le Plateau, eating Beaver tails (i’m yet to try, google it, if you think it’s animal cruelty)….I could on and on and on and on.

Just writing this makes me realise how much I’ve done, but how much more there is still to do. Every day counts, so make the most of your time, you might not have this opportunity ever again.

You simply have to come, if not as a student, a tourist. You’re missing out otherwise.

Montreal Madness

This past month has been hectic, not because I’ve been busy off travelling around the States and Canada, but because of midterms. I only had 3 because Anatomy is 100% final and French is continuous assessment, however I found 3 tough enough. We didn’t have any study break because you’re supposed to be revising throughout the year, but who does that? So the past month has involved me cramming late nights in the library trying to squeeze as much information into my weenie little brain with not much luck! I now have my results in and luckily the work paid off, 3 comfortable passes, which may not be great in comparison to the people in my class, but Science students here are mainly wannabe Doctors, so they are ultra competitive and smart. The opposite to me then! So when the class average is an A-, I’m fairly content with my B.

So what have I been up to? Other than studying…

Well Halloween was great fun. I knew North America liked to celebrate it big, but not this big! Everyone puts in the effort to make a costume, and some hardcore Halloweeners will even wear a different costume for each night out. I, on the other hand, thought I should come up with one killer costume to impress all. So being 6’5”, the logical choice was to go as an old-school Oompah Loompah from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You know what I mean, the dwarf like workers that Willy Wonka employs to make his chocolate. Well, it was a huge hit!!! Most people got the irony, except for a few… And everyone appreciated the effort that some guy from across the pond had put in. I spent a while planning it, and going round thrift shops finding the final pieces to the puzzle, but I eventually got there.

The McGill International Student Network (MISN) arranges socials (pub crawls, weekend trips, movie nights etc) so there’s always plenty of things to do and people to meet, but getting stuck in the international clique is not why I came to Canada. I came here to meet some actual McGill students, rather than fellow Brits. No disrespect to them, I love my exchange friends, we’re all a very similar bunch of people, looking to travel the world and have an amazing time, but it’s very “same same”. You constantly have the same encounters with new faces at Pubs or Clubs and have the same small talk, like “Where are you from? What are you studying? Are you here 1 or 2 semesters?…” Ok, I might be exaggerating a tad, most of my friends are exchange students, but I’m trying my best to break the mould. I still hang out with my Frosh leaders, and I told you that I was in an Ultimate Frisbee Team. Well we’re all good mates and hopefully we’re going to set up a Basketball team next semester. That’s another thing, a lot of exchange students are only here 1 semester, which is kind of depressing because that’s only 3-4 months, whereas my McGill friends will all still be here next year. Phew!

Another thing McGill is great at is looking after its International students. International Student Services (ISS), the people you go to for important info like Visas, Study Permits etc, also organise free/highly discounted Montreal tourist trips e.g. Montreal Bus Tour, Free Museum Passes and just this week, Free Ice Skating. This would be my first attempt at hitting the ice, literally…. I fell over a ridiculous number of times, but it didn’t dent my confidence and I kept getting back up, then falling, again and again. At times I resembled a speed skater, zig-zagging my way between others, but mostly, I resembled a wounded animal after being hit by a moving vehicle. The song “I get knocked down, but I get up again” was a very apt summary of my night. Hopefully by the end of the year I will be a pro, but don’t count on it.

Harvard- America’s McGill

McGill is rated in the Top 20 Universities in the World, which undoubtedly means that the work is going to be tough. This definitely was a shock to the system and it’s really only now that I’ve started to get my head screwed on and knuckle down to do some work. I’m taking 15 credits per semester, which is a full load and is equivalent to 60 credits back in Glasgow. Generally, classes are 3 credits, so 5 classes in total per semester. Being a 2nd year Biology student doesn’t give me much leeway with what subjects I can choose, unlike Arts students. However, McGill does offer a broad spectrum of courses, so finding classes that I needed as pre-requisites for 3rd entry weren’t too hard to come by.

Harvard- America's McGill

I think, but am not entirely sure yet that I want to do a Physiology degree, but I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. Glasgow has allowed me to do 3 credits per semester as electives, so I can choose anything I like, therefore I only have 4 classes of Science. And seeing as though I’m in Montréal, the largest bilingual city in the World, I might as well learn the lingo- Français!

My other courses are: Molecular Biology, Physiology, Psychology and Anatomy. On average, I have about 3 hours of lectures per week for each, plus I have a 1.5 hour lab for Anatomy where we basically study cadavers. In Quebec, the education system is different from the rest of the country. They have something available to locals called CEGEP College, which if completed means that they can skip 1st year, U0, and go straight to 2nd year, U1. Basically the equivalent of Glasgow’s 2nd year is U1, so I’m mainly doing 200-level courses, except for Psychology. The level of work is a big leap from last year, which is to be expected, but as I was saying, I’ve only just realised how much work I need to do to keep up to date.

Here, they have mid-terms, which I’m not used at all. I’m generally quite badly organised, so I’ll cram really hard the month before Finals, but here it’s not possible. You have to constantly recap lectures and remember everything as you go or else you will fall behind. The mid-terms are generally worth 20-30% and some subjects have quizzes throughout the semester worth a few percent here and there, so mainly the bulk of your mark is from the final. A slight shock to the system, as at Glasgow my subjects were mainly 50% coursework/labs/assignments – 50% exam, which seemed so much easier.

Arts on the other hand is different, many of my Arts friends have essays every week etc. And in my French the 100% is split between many different things, such as attendance, quizzes, dictations, orals, presentations and various exams throughout the year. It’s a great class, with about 20 people of a similar level, but language lessons here are soooo difficult. No English is spoken whatsoever, so if you don’t understand you’re screwed. Even though I’m not selling it very well, I would still recommend you to do one, as it’s one of the most rewarding. I’m able to have basic conversations with friends, maybe not locals because they have a Québécoise accent (very different to French French). Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have a good grasp of the language.

The course catalogue: http://www.mcgill.ca/files/courses/UGCourses.pdf is vital to helping you pick classes. Once you have a few that you like you then add them by going to Minerva, McGill’s equivalent to WebSurf, and hey presto. It’s not as easy as back home because there’s so many courses to pick from that there are clashes sometimes and you have to add/drop courses to sort it out, but finally I got it done. Make sure to email your head of department and advisor of studies to get approval, or else, no getting back into uni!

My mid-terms are coming up over the next few weeks and I am not looking forward to them at all. It’s really stuffed up my travel plans because I wanted to go explore at the weekends, but now I have to stay home and study. Luckily, last weekend I managed to get out of town for Thanksgiving. I went to the oldest village in Canada, Tadoussac, an awesome spot for whale watching, black bear encounters, mesmorising autumnal scenery (i didn’t realise how many shades of brown and orange and coppers there were). I went to Quebec City as well, which is only 3 hours away, so I’ll definitely be heading back next year in the winter.

The weather over the past month has dramatically changed, it used to be shorts weather (for me at least), but now, it’s around 4 oC during the day, so I’m thinking a wee bit of winter shopping is required to keep me toasty. Down jackets are a must! But it’s cheaper and better quality here than back home.

I’ve been trying to stay/get (probably the latter) fit by playing some intramural sports. Back in Glasgow I was on the Ultimate Frisbee team and I knew it was big here. Unfortunately, with the stress of flat hunting, I missed out on the “free agents meeting”, where teams look for players and players look for teams. However, I managed to get on a team and because they’re a beginner’s team I’ve taken the role as coach, which isn’t bad going. I’m also now in an A team, so I’ve got the best of both worlds. Plus, I’m in a Volleyball team with some of my exchange friends. It’s quite easy to keep 3 teams on the go, as it’s very relaxed and there’s no need to train.

It costs around $10-20 to join a team and then you play 5 games to try and make it through to the play-offs to see who will come out on top. www.mcgill.ca/athletics

I was also tempted to join the Varsity Rugby team, but Varsity is taken very seriously; training several nights a week, matches every weekend. The level of play is not the greatest, even though the 1st XV are considered one of the best in Canada, but I suppose that’s Canada for you. Ice Hockey is the no.1 sport. Kids are born with a puck and a stick in their hand, and it’s like a family tradition to go see your local team. Tickets to go see the Montreal Canadiens start at $60, but i’ve heard the atmosphere is incredible, so I’m tempted.

My next big trip is to Boston to go see my friends from the hostel, hopefully they’ll show me around and I might even meet up with some fellow Glasgow exchangees.