Dear Reader,

The fact that I am writing this blog while sitting in my comfortable spot on the couch back in Hungary on a sleepy Sunday morning, feels a bit unusual. The exam period had already started at Aberystwyth University and my fellow students are most probably finishing (or starting) revision for their exams. At this point last year, I was pretty much busy doing the same, going through my lecture notes and readings again and again, nested in my familiar room in Rosser, preparing for my first ever exam period at Aber. This year, however, I spent my first semester at McGill University in Canada as part of a departmental exchange program; an experience I have written about in my previous posts. Luckily, the exam period had started early December at McGill, so I came home knowing I would have time to unwind and simply enjoy spending the Christmas holiday with my family, without having to spend my time doing revision. And it had been exactly like that for a few days, after which doing no work at all started feeling weird. So I guess this post about my exams at McGill, in a way, enables me to do something productive for a change.

The exam period at McGill was largely different from what I had gotten used to at Aberystwyth. In my first year at Aber all the modules had an assignment, due approximately mid-semester, and a 90-minute exam at the end of the semester. At McGill, however, I have only had one “real” exam in December, but that one was three hours long so its kind of okay.

I have had numerous assignments for every module at McGill. I have taken four modules of different levels and in different fields (from Radical Political Thought to Contemporary Chinese Politics), each of which required me to submit an assignment almost every two weeks, be it a 2500-word essay or just a short news summary. It doesn’t seem to be too much, but when the deadlines are set close to each other, it can get a bit stressful. The results I got for my assignments counted towards my final degree which was based on an accumulated score of seminar attendance, participation and assignments, among other things. Thanks to this system, I had already finished my assignments and in-class exams for three modules out of four by the beginning of the exam period. Finishing in early December sounds good, but I usually had to work on multiple assignments at the same time, constantly switching topics, fields and interests in order to submit well-developed assignments by the deadlines. My modules at McGill demanded a lot of hard work and a large chunk of my free time, but I can confidently say that it was worth every minute I spent by writing essays, reading through extra materials or preparing for next week’s lectures.

All in all, I feel I have further developed my ability to work on different projects at the same time without much difficulty, and to manage my time more efficiently. It was stressful and exhausting at first, but my semester was not exclusively spent by barricading myself behind a tower of books. Montreal always found a way to take my mind off things simply by being amazing. Things like a surprise snowboard and free ski competition right at my doorstep that transformed Rue Saint-Denis into a freestyle snow park for two whole days at the beginning of the exam period.

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While it was good to have a quiet and more relaxed Christmas this year, I am very much looking forward to returning to Aber. My new modules, focusing on intelligence, espionage and international security, seem to be exhilarating and extremely interesting, and I can’t wait to catch up with friends over a pint of proper Welsh ale. I guess you know you are attending a good university when you are looking forward to getting back to studying, which seems to be the case with me. Only a week left now!

Dear Reader,

As you my know, I have written my previous blog to try and show the unconditional adoration I feel towards Montreal. Leaving this amazing city and my newfound friends behind and going home to Hungary for the Christmas holiday left me feeling gloomy and happy at the same time. Even though I know I have missed out on all the Christmas lights, decoration and sights that December brought along to Montreal, the feeling that I had gotten the most out of my trip has made me feel less downhearted. While I spent the majority of my four months in Canada studying at McGill University and enjoying the city, I would have felt incredibly guilty, had I not travelled around at least a bit. Since I was the first of my family to set foot in Canada and live somewhere not thousands of kilometres away from the USA, I felt sort of an obligation to take a break from studying once in a while and spend a couple of days knocking about. This blog is my way of trying to show the most interesting trips I have made during my stay.

-Celebrating the winter equinox on Thompson Island-

The decision for my very first trip was made in less than a minute. I was peacefully preparing dinner after an exceptionally long and tiresome Monday at the end of September when one of my flatmates suddenly burst into the kitchen and told me about this amazing opportunity to celebrate the winter equinox by visiting members of the Mohawk Indian tribe at the Akwesasne reserve. We immediately realised that this was no ordinary opportunity so it took less than a minute for almost the whole flat to decide to go on the trip. We have reserved our places the very next morning. The trip, organised by the fantastic McGill Outdoors Club, looked amazingly exciting and it was only two days long; exactly the amount of time I severely needed away from my books.

We left one of McGill’s parking lots 7 in the morning on the 21st of September and arrived a couple of hours later at Lake St Francis, where we were greeted heartily by our friendly guides. After each receiving a paddle and a life jacket, we grabbed our bags and walked to our boats. Soon after, our two canoes left the docks as we started rowing towards Thompson Island where we were going to spend our weekend.

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We have arrived at our destination after two and a half hours of rowing. Following a short break, we went on a hike around the island while Bob, one of our hosts, showed us the various medicine plants found on the trail. While it was relaxing to walk around and breathe in the fresh air, the most interesting part of the trip was when we kicked-back with a cup of hot herbal tea in the evening and listened to the adventures of our host, Bob. Bob grew up in the Northern parts of Canada and spent much of his childhood and adult days hunting in the wilderness with friends and clients. Naturally, all his experiences were highly interesting to a group of city dwellers so we listened in awe as he told his tales of hunting bears, beavers and moose, or getting lost in the forest and spending a cold winter night under a pine tree. However, Bob had also been exceptionally active on a political level, embracing the issues of Indian tribes living in Canada, aiming to help in various ways. While these kind of tales may not have been the most interesting topic for the majority of the group, the politics student found them enthralling. Hours passed like minutes as we sat in a circle asking questions and telling stories of our own besides the roaring fire. However, we have all started to feel drained after a while, after all, it had been an exciting day for everyone. After catching a few hours of sleep, our morning continued in a largely similar way, listening to stories and hiking around the island or playing games and talking to Bob and his wife.

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 After bothering Bob with my politics related questions for a bit, our guides told us that it was time to return to the Park. Since we have seen all the beautiful parts of the lake on our way to the island, the voyage back was a lot quicker, which proved to be a good thing as a huge rainstorm have decided to see us off and pursued our canoes relentlessly. The exciting weekend and all the rowing left everyone tired, so most of the car ride back to Montreal was spent by sleeping.

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In the end, my first trip in Canada was simply amazing and provoked some jealous Facebook messages from friends back in Hungary. Not only have I visited the beautiful Lac Saint-Francois and Thompson Island, but I have met new friends and listened to the tales of a man with an amazing life.

-A day at Mont-Tremblant-

The idea of my second trip came from my extraordinarily beautiful and talented roommates (just in case they happen to read this at some point). They have invited me to spend a Saturday at Mont-Tremblant hiking and taking pictures; a proposal that sounded particularly appealing as we were supposed to have glorious weather at the coming weekend. We arrived to Parc National du Mont-Tremplant approximately three hours after leaving our flat, getting lost at least two times along the way. The view that greeted us, however, was worth the trip on its own. The pictures I took have nothing on the real, picturesque scenery of of mountains, but they do give a sense of how beautiful our trip was.

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Even though it was the end of Autumn, Mont-Tremblant was still dressed to impress. The beautiful fading colours, the sparkling blue sky and the orange, yellow and red leaves stubbornly clinging to the branches or quietly rustling beneath our steps immediately cleared our minds. We took a handful of minutes to just breathe and taste the fresh mountain air before beginning our hike, which turned out a bit longer than expected: around 11 hours.

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 As we have made our way further and further up the hill, the view just kept getting better.

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 When we have (finally) reached our destination, a small clearing in the woods at the top of the mountain, we have decided to take a short break before heading back to the car and grab something to eat to replenish our energy. At this point, the local residents of the clearing appeared, demanding their fair share of the food in exchange for tolerating our presence. They were particularly fond of the bag of mixed nuts we brought with ourselves.

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Even though the walk back to our car took us around 5 hours, it was no less tiring compared to the first half of our trip. We took a couple of last pictures before thankfully slumping into the car seats, more than ready for some well deserved rest.

All in all, if you have the chance to go and spend a couple of hours marvelling at the beauty of the Mont-Tremblant landscape, do not hesitate to do so!

-A long weekend in the USA-

If there was one thing that I absolutely wanted to do while I was in Canada, it was going to the USA. Keeping the goal of being the first of my family to set foot in the country in front of my eyes, I have been constantly looking for opportunities to travel around a bit in the northern parts of the States. Interstude; a startup event team organising trips for international students who are only staying in Montreal temporarily; offered a wide range of trips to choose from. One of them, the “Yes We Can” trip was particularly appealing because it was at a weekend which was not immediately followed by any assignments or exams. During the four day trip, we have visited Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh, spending two nights on the bus and two nights at a hotel.

Thursdays have always been the most taxing schooldays for me, days filled with conferences and lectures back to back. However, the Thursday on the 14th of November was much more exciting compared to the rest as the convoy of Interstude buses left at midnight to Philadelphia. By the time our bus started to get more lively in the morning, we had already reached the outskirts of Philly.

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We started our day by roaming around the rooms of Independence Hall and marvelling at the sight of the Liberty bell, displayed only a few strides away on the other side of the street.

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We spent the whole day walking around Philly and managed to visit almost everything worth seeing. We even had the time to go to the “Rocky stairs” and the statue!

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Even though the whole city was breathtakingly interesting, the highlight of the day was when we went up to the tower of the City Hall. The view from the top blew away our small group, but sadly we had only eight minutes to take pictures and try to absorb as much of the view as we can, which was no small task given the immense scale of the city.

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 Following a long, but very much enjoyable day spent sightseeing and walking around, we grabbed some well deserved dinner at Jim’s Steakhouse, the place that serves undoubtedly the best cheesesteak there is in the whole of Philadelphia! Again, if you happen to be in the city, check it out, your tastebuds will be grateful!

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 After concluding our first day by drinking a couple of pints at a local pub we returned to our buses and started the next part of the trip: the journey to Washington D.C. We arrived to our hotel in Washington in the middle of the night and we were all excited to sleep in a bed for a change, even if it was only for a couple of hours. Even though the weather was a bit gloomy, Washington did not disappoint. Just like Montreal, it is a special and immense city with an atmosphere that is hard to describe, but is very pleasant and welcoming. We, of course, visited all the important sights: the White House,

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 all the memorials

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and we even found the time to go and see an NBA game between the Washington Wizards and the Cleveland Cavaliers!

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At this point, my friends in Hungary, who were following my trip on Facebook, started going mad.

The fact that we still had Pittsburgh left for Sunday was not helping either…

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 Even though we had less time in Pittsburgh compared to our previous stops, we still managed to walk through the Andy Warhol museum, a must see for anyone who is even a tiny bit interested in the artist and his works. The museum offered an amazing collection of his paintings, movies, short videos and other creations, presented in an interesting and engaging way.

After spending the rest of the day by walking around, eating a shamefully large amount of pizza and finding our way back to the buses, we set out for the journey back to Montreal. We reached our destination relatively on time, around 10’o clock on a Monday morning. I barely had the time to run home, grab a shower and make a huge cup of coffee to combat the effects of not being able to sleep on a bus before leaving my warm and welcoming flat for a conference I could not miss. After I was done with all my classes and other duties for that day, I went home and slept for hours and hours, trying to regenerate and get ready for the next couple of days at the uni.

Even if it was incredibly tiring and even if have learnt to feel an intense hate towards taking overnight buses, the “Yes We Can” trip was truly amazing and Interstate enabled me to fulfil one of the most important goals I set out for myself at the beginning of the exchange. If anyone who is going on an exchange to Montreal is reading this, go on trips! It is definitely worth it, even if Montreal is an amazing enough place in itself. I know the city is hard to leave behind, but don’t miss out on all the fun!

Dear Reader,

I would like to begin with mentioning that I have never written a blog post in my life, so this is kind of new territory for me. If you find the post lacking a specific “blog style”, this is the main reason for it. However, if you were willing to read this far, you probably are still interested in the time I spent on an exchange program at McGill University, Montreal. Please bear with me, I assure you it will only get better (I hope).

To kick this post off in a unique way, let me first introduce myself. My name is Akos Erzse, a 22 years old Hungarian student at Aberystwyth University, getting more and more entangled in the fascinating world of international politics and intelligence studies, which I have been lucky enough to study for the second year now. Last year I had chosen to apply to the exchange program the International Politics department had to offer and a couple of weeks later I have received an email saying that I have gotten the opportunity to spend a the Autumn semester at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Well—I thought—even though I am an international student already, I might as well take this a bit further, so I jumped in. I Even though I have just started in Aber, I left for the summer break in May knowing that I would only return next January, a realisation that was exciting and kind of sad at the same time. Aberystwyth really grows on you during your first year with all its small town charm and seaside walks…But enough of all the sentimentality, lets get to the point when I have actually arrived in Montreal!

The First Week

After spending ten hours in the air watching movies, trying to sleep (no luck there) and eating plane food, I have finally arrived at Trudeau International in Montreal on the 27th of August. Spending two and a half magical hours at the border while fighting the symptoms of jet leg was certainly a first for me, but after getting my luggage back, I catching a cab off I was to the youth hostel. I was planning on staying there just until I can find a permanent place for myself. However, if there is one thing I absolutely hate, its short-term uncertainty, therefore my first self-assigned task was to check out apartments the same day I arrived. I must admit, I was incredibly lucky: the first place I checked out was simply perfect! Lovely flatmates, huge room, good location and a decent price. I have moved in a couple of days later, not knowing that this place—and Montreal—would be a true home for me for the next couple of months.

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After taking care of every-day life issues like getting my McGill ID, or getting an OPUS card to use public transportation, I was ready to delve deeper into life in Montreal. The charming and spacious McGill campus is located at the heart of the city between a forest of huge glass towers and the Mont Royal park on a small hill. I have tried to see as many things as possible before lectures started so I walked everywhere, picking up the rhythm of the city. The view from the top of Mount Royal is especially worth the “hike” and even though I have already spent more than three months here, I still find new shortcuts and tunnels at the campus.

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I quickly realised that Montreal is nothing like any other city I have ever been to. It has the vast diversity and vibrating feel of London, but somehow it feels more like a smaller city that you can hardly get lost in. Even though Montreal is a bilingual community, you usually hear people chatting in French on the street or in coffee houses, so if you speak a bit of French you can actually take advantage of this and practice the language, despite the fact that the Quebecoise French is somewhat different from the one you would hear in Paris.
I think Montreal can be best described as a mixture of a North American and European city. It is hard to put your finger on why the city feels so welcoming, cozy and cosmopolitan at the same time. I am yet to meet anyone who does not like Montreal, however, my point of view is no exactly neutral. I fell in love with the city after my first week there.

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The First Month

September and early October was a period of relative calmness and peace. Midterms have not started yet, the books you need to write your assignments about don’t give you the evil look that can make the most proactive student feel guilty, so every university student tends to take advantage of these couple of weeks as much as they can. During these months, and maybe even more so later on, St Laurent street increasingly becomes the centre of student life on Thursday and Friday nights. After a long week of group projects and lectures, St Laurent street is the place to be with all the fun Montreal has to offer, be it great pubs, restaurants and a couple of fast food joints that can introduce a newcomer to the local specialties, such as poutine and freshly baked Montreal style bagels (huge rivalry with the New Yorker bagels by the way). St Laurent is an incredibly vibrant mixture of bars, clubs, gourmet restaurants and everything else you might need to unwind. Montreal also has a lively jazz scene and music life! One of my favourite gigs I went to was an A Capella concert by McGill students at a cozy jazz club on St Catherine street. At other times we would go and see one of McGill’s sports team play, be it hockey, football, or even quiditch.

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However, as the days slowly passed by the still relaxed masses of students, October came to an end as it got colder and more windy.

The First weeks of Winter

Even though the weather was incredibly warm and humid when I arrived (much more humid and warmer than anyone coming to Canada for the first time would expect), Winter arrived fairly soon as the first snow fell, covering the entire city in white.

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It is not that hard to get used to the cold, however, having a nice warm jacket does come in handy on sleepy Monday mornings. Even though I was very cold in the beginning, my veteran Canadian flatmates informed me that I am lucky I came here for the Fall semester as the temperature can get as low as -30/40 celsius during January and February! Somehow I don’t feel too keen on trying that out for myself, but I have been told that getting to school in such weather can be a very exciting experience. Montreal, however is well prepared with its extensive network of metro lines and a whole network of tunnels connecting the different malls, supermarkets and even university buildings together. “Luckily”, the exam period is well on its way so thats another good reason for not leaving the comfortable warmth of the flat or the library.

The Whole Thing

All-in-all my stay in Montreal has been quite exciting so far and I still have a couple of days to enjoy what the city has to offer. Now that I am almost done with all of my final exams, I will actually have time to catch up with sights I am yet to see in Montreal, like the botanical garden.
Anyway, I feel like this post stretched already way too long, sot this is all for now! I very much hope you have enjoyed reading about my general impression of Montreal. I still have a number of ideas for future posts, most probably about the trips I have made in Canada and in the USA, like my journey to Washington D.C, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, or the day I have spent with my flatmates hiking at Mont-Tremblant. Stay tuned for more!