It’s been now more than one month since I’m back in France, and I am now able to provide you a debriefing of my semester abroad so you’ll know what to expect if you choose Antigonish as your destination! 🙂
1. Do not go there if you’re a city person.
Yes. And I am… Antigonish is a very small town, and whatever that’s interesting happens on campus or on Main Street. There is no bus network in town, and some places, like grocery stores, are not always close by feet, so you might require a taxi ride for every big move: it’ll cost you $7 for a one-way trip. However, despite this, you can find whatever you want in Antigonish. There are some very good restaurants (I personally recommend Pizza Delight, the Tall and Small Cafe and Sense of Japan), 3 pubs (I recommend the Townhouse for its quality drinks and Irish feel) and a mall where you can find several clothing shops, a bookstore, a pharmacy… You won’t find any nightclub though: two pubs have a dance floor but they close at 2 am at the latest.
So being stuck in Antigonish is not really a problem: as long as you have some money, there are things to do. Money will also allow you to get out of Antigonish: for example, if you wish to explore Nova Scotia, the only way is to rent a car: you have to be at least 21 to rent one, have an international driving license, and prices start at $42 per day. There is a railway crossing Antigonish but no train station… It is also quite easy to go to Halifax and its airport: 2 buses per day take you there, for $35 (one-way trip). Once there, you can go anywhere in America – there were even some interesting rates for the Caribbean while we were here 🙂
Personally, even if I had a good semester in Antigonish, I really missed the city life while I was here (that’s maybe why I wrote so much about New York and Montreal). I spent several days doing totally nothing apart from watching TV series because there was nothing to do… So maybe if you plan to go to Antigonish, try to prepare a budget for travelling around.
2. SNOW. Everywhere. Every time.
To put it in a nutshell, I met snow the day of my arrival in Antigonish and left it when I left the city! While I was there, the average temperature outside was -10°C. And we had maybe 5 or 6 big snow storms – basically, once we thought we were going to see the grass again, there was one. We even had a snow storm that made the campus closed on April 1st!
But I got used to the cold weather, and even to the snow. Canadians are used to snow, so the roads and paths are cleared very quickly and you don’t get in trouble for walking to your classroom. I went to Antigonish with my French winter coat, some hot gloves, scarves, a woolly hat and lined boots, and I was okay (I didn’t buy anything there). The part of me that was the coldest when I was outside was my face, but there’s nothing much you can do about it, apart wearing a hood on it (which is something I didn’t resolve myself to do). So it takes a bit of time to get used to it, but once you are, you are fine. I really got tired of the snow though.
3. People are so nice, but…
This is not proper to Antigonish, but to all Canada I guess: Canadians are so nice and friendly. For example, if you’re walking far behind them and they are opening a door, they will wait the 10 seconds that separates them from you by holding the door. They also open the door of their apartment or house very easily: they are very welcoming. I also felt like they don’t judge people at first sight, as we are
sometimes often doing in France. They have no problem with going to class in pajamas, which is impossible to imagine in France!
However, even though they are really nice during a group work in class, I feel like (this may depend from the persons) they don’t really ask you questions, you have to do all the talking. And once they exit the classroom they are not talking to you anymore: they already have their friends and don’t really try to talk to the foreigners. So that’s why I personally did not friend any Canadian while I was in Antigonish.
4. This is not a vacation
Nope, not in St. FX. Even if at first, it seems like it: you have very few class hours in a week and a three-days-long weekend every time. But you have to be well organized: when we went to New York during the Reading Week Break, and at the end of the semester, we were all overwhelmed with work, and I really thought I wouldn’t be able to handle everything (I even asked for an extra delay for a paper work).
When it comes to midterms, don’t expect a preferential treatment, you’ll be marked as Canadians are. The questions are also very precise, and can be either about the lesson or either about the readings you had to do. You better have a good knowledge of what you are talking about, because it is very hard to babble. The good thing is that in some topics, you can choose if you’d rather pass an written exam or an oral one: if you have some difficulties when it comes to speaking in public, this is a good option. The professors are very available to answer your questions, in real or by e-mail, and the exchanges are sometimes informal. But in my opinion, St. FX is a university in which you have to be very serious if you wanna get all your chances to pass your semester.
I had a great semester in Antigonish, where I experienced the North-American way of life one more time. Choosing Antigonish also made me able to go to New York twice in a semester, and also Montréal and Boston, which has to be considered!
However, if there is something I personally regret about this semester, it is not choosing a city instead of a town: I really missed the city life while in Antigonish; Montreal may have been a better choice for me. If I had to reorganize my semester abroad again, I’ll think I’ll choose a country where the culture is a bit more different, probably in Asia. The Canadian culture is different of the French one, but it keeps being an Occidental one, which means the differences were a bit predictable. Next time I’ll look for a bigger change of scenery! 😉