Monday, 9 September 2013

'Say yes to everything': arrival in Montreal

I have already arrived in my hometown for the year - Rimouski - but I thought I would dedicate a post to the few days spent in Montreal as I think it's integral to the whole experience.

My flight with Air Transat was relatively good. All in all, there were actually about ten of us assistants on there (i.e. a third of the group). I watched The Place Beyond The Pines and The Bling Ring and bits and bobs of other things but I got tired.
Entering Canada was not quite as straightforward as anticipated. We were standing in the initial customs queue - where most people get their passport checked and then they're all set - for an hour. After that, we were sent to the immigration hall and given tickets, where we sat on the floor for two and a half hours before being called to a desk individually to receive the visa itself. Then we had to go and collect our luggage, which was thankfully still there, and get a bus to the hotel. By the time all this was done, I was a sweaty mess with a headache.

The next day, I was stoked to be waking up in Canada so I went to Tim Hortons across the road (well, motorway) and had chai, a muffin and a doughnut for breakfast.

The induction didn't start until the evening so it was time to head into Montreal proper. What hit me this time was how anglophone it was. I hadn't esteemed it as the pinnacle of francophone Quebec anyway, but I turned out to almost exclusively use English this time around; once people realised I wasn't local, they just switched. I wasn't too bothered as I knew I'd be able to use French all the time in Rimouski.
Other than that, it was as if I had never left. The group I was with were interested in a smoked meat place for lunch, so I decided to go off and get some vegan food. After that I wandered some familiar streets for a bit while listening to my iPod, which was almost overwhelmingly lovely. I attempted to reconvene with my group but got lost; by that point it was time to get back to the hotel and I had to rely on the kindness of strangers to find the right bus and get dropped off in the right place. In the evening we had the welcome meeting and met the assistants from Germany, Mexico and China. I ended up practising a lot of German that night, which was good as I fear my skills will be non-existent by the end of this year. We were divided into teams for a Quebec quiz - my team were the runners-up and I chose this prize for myself (quizzes are my superpower, by the way).

On Thursday we received a lot of information about integrating into Quebec, the most prominent piece being by far 'say yes to everything'. Later, we hopped on a yellow school bus - which I still can't quite believe actually exists outside TV! - for what we all hoped would be our final brush with bureaucracy and waiting around: getting the Carte soleil sorted out. Basically, it's a health insurance card that only comes into effect once you have lived in Quebec for three months. The process wasn't too strenuous, but waiting for everyone to finish took a lot out of us. Afterwards we went to a sports bar downtown for dinner. It was pretty surreal to see American football as the sport of choice on TV. I had a vegetarian poutine with tomato sauce and vegetables as an ersatz for the gravy - what I later learnt is known as a poutine italienne - as well as a nice Alexander Keith beer. I'm a carbs / comfort food fiend so I can imagine myself gorging on it a lot in the near future.

Friday morning heralded a workshop about classroom management, then it was time for frantic packing. After lunch, we bade farewell to the people placed in western Quebec. I was sad to be leaving Montreal but I know I'll be back soon, and the prospect of not living out of a suitcase was exciting. In a way, it was good that we spent so little time there because I'd already seen most of the tourist hotspots and so didn't feel any regret, but on the other hand I've developed such an attachment to it that I just want to be there.
We got on a bus that stopped in Quebec City and dropped off people who were based in that vicinity. From there, we were divided into two Gaspésie minibuses, respectively driven by two of the great people who'd hosted our induction. Those who were not on my bus were going to stay the night in a town called Matane before continuing their journey to the very east of Quebec. That drive was quite fun even though I was tired; I think I'll remember that day for the rest of my life. It gradually hit me that I truly wasn't in England anymore - the scenery was beginning to get so vast and unlike anything we have there. For dinner, we stopped in Rivière-du-Loup for a visit to a restaurant called St-Hubert. It's a chain that specialises in chicken dishes but I ordered a Mexican salad. When we left, it had got very dark and the temperature had dropped dramatically. There were a couple of hours left to go before reaching Rimouski. We arrived at around 22:00, and Sarah and I were picked up there and each brought to the houses of our mentors. In due course I will tell of my first impressions of Rimouski!