The grass isn’t always greener (or the snow isn’t always whiter?) on the other side

It is hard to believe that I spent Christmas in Canada and there was NO SNOW ON CHRISTMAS DAY 😦 There was rain.

But, as I am writing this back in Halifax, there is a huge snowstorm going on outside, which is very exciting! Despite the fact that Canada failed to supply the goods on the 25th, I had an incredible Christmas. You could be absolutely anywhere in the world doing absolutely anything with any kind of weather and it really wouldn’t matter – so long as you are sharing it with the right people (and I am sure I will get enough snow to last me a lifetime this month!)

Most students went home for Christmas, but I was adamant that a year abroad meant just that – so no going home! However, a little bit of home came to me as my mum joined me for some travels. Of course, quite a few exchange students (a typically adventurous species) went travelling in the US on their way back, but I wanted to see more of Canada before going anywhere else. For me, the “should I stay or should I go” (home for Christmas) question was decided well before I flew out to Halifax, but if you are unsure about staying abroad for the break I would at least recommend you to leave your options open. It is never too late to book a flight home (and not necessarily more expensive) but you wouldn’t want to miss out on any opportunities for travelling that might (and will) arise in your first few months abroad.

Over the break we visited Montreal, Quebec City and Toronto, which are all places you will probably go to visit if you are staying in Halifax because they are all great cities and not too far away! McGill was actually my top choice for going on exchange, but my study abroad application was unsuccessful. As much as I would love to yap on about my wonderful holiday, I have too often been at the receiving end of such yapping and I know how dull it can be, so instead I will base this blog on why studying abroad somewhere that was not your first choice (or even your second/third choice) is actually not such a bad thing at all.

If you worry about what might be, and wonder what might have been, you will ignore what is – Unknown

On paper, Montreal ticks every box for me as a place to study abroad: it has great diversity, amazing food, a unique nightlife, gorgeous scenery and a university with an incredible reputation… but as I explored all of these wonderful things about the city, I couldn’t help but recall the moment when my landlord (who I had never met) picked me up from Halifax airport at 11 pm to drive me to my new home, and I laughed at the (very) slim chances of this act of kindness happening in Montreal. In other words, it really is the people that make Halifax such a beautiful place to be! I will always remember the warmth and hospitality that I have experienced since arriving here – it is the kind of lifestyle that you will never be able to appreciate until you are really in it.

Of course, it is impossible to say whether or not I would have preferred a year abroad studying at McGill, but once you are settled in to a life that you love and enjoy, you can’t even begin to imagine removing yourself from it in replace of something else – something that you dreamed of so much that it might have failed to meet your expectations.

That is not to say that I didn’t love spending time in Montreal – it is somewhere that I have always wanted to visit and it did not disappoint me – at least as a tourist for the week! We treated ourselves to some incredible food – there was such an endless choice of restaurants and little cafes that we never wanted to “waste” a meal, so we picked a few places that we had been recommended to try – one of the most authentic was Au Pied de Cochon; famous for their “poutine au foie gras!”

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Still has nothing on Halifax’s poutine from Willy’s at pizza corner (a landmark you will become all too familiar with after nights out)

We strolled around the old town and attempted some ice skating:

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Such ice, much wow

We took a snowy climb up Mount Royal, where some people were casually skiing:

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And we visited the Notre-Dame:

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In short, we saw (and ate) a lot of iconic and/or interesting things, but my concerns that I would be sorry not to be studying in Montreal actually disappeared once I had been there. Maybe it was a classic case of “the grass is always greener on the other side” syndrome, and all I needed was a comparison between the two places to put my mind at ease. In any case, after just a couple of weeks away, I was itching to get back to the laid back East Coast life that I have come to know and love.

When we asked for directions in Montreal, people would most often grunt or ignore us completely (it is a largely francophone country, and their hostility was probably because we were blatantly English speaking tourists.) When I first arrived in Halifax, people would actually walk with me to the place I was seeking directions to. The first time this happened, I felt weirded out and started asking myself questions such as “why would someone take the time out of their day to do this?” and “what do they want in return?” and “are they going to try to murder me if I walk with them?” Turns out, all of these questions are a reflection of my own perception of the world, most likely because I grew up in a city where “don’t talk to strangers” was a message installed from an early age. All they wanted to do was help – no strings attached (and no murder necessary).

Since then, these helping hands have become all too familiar in day to day life and I imagine I could be thinking the exact opposite after a year in Montreal. When I flew back to Halifax in the middle of a snowstorm with a god-awful cold and an old suitcase that had burst open during the flight, every single person helped me without me even asking. Whether it was the driver who let me on the bus (with a smile) when I couldn’t find the right change, the person who lifted my case on and off that bus, or the person who helped carry my case through the snow all the way home from the bus stop – the people of Halifax are a testament to the type of everyday kindness that the human race is capable of and why it might actually be a good thing to talk to strangers here.

I will always remember when the flight attendant on my way back to Halifax said, “Welcome to Halifax – if you are visiting, I hope you enjoy your stay in this wonderful city. If this is where you live – lucky you, and welcome home.”

Halifax is my home away from home, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

P.S. since I didn’t write a lot about my Christmas adventures, here are some pictures from Quebec City and Toronto instead 🙂 As always – get in touch via email amyburns3@hotmail.co.uk or Facebook with any questions at all. Happy New Year!

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Rainy Christmas in Quebec City!

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