I had attended pretty reluctantly an exchange information session at my university, University of Turku. After that, however, I went to the office of international affairs to find out if there was any chance of going on exchange to Canada for half a year. One of the secretaries informed me about an exchange program called north2north, which could be the perfect exchange program for me. I found out that the University of Turku belongs to the UArctic network, in which I found two Canadian francophone universities where I could go: it was either Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) or Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR).

I decided that I wanted to challenge myself and go to a place I would have probably never gone to. UQAM was in Montreal, Canada, a big North American city, whereas UQAR was in Rimouski, the last ”big city” in the north of Québec. UQAR sounded interesting, and I loved the history studies they were offering, so my choice was clear.

Bridge at Canyon des Portes de l'Enfer
Bridge at Canyon des Portes de l'Enfer

Once I arrived to Rimouski, Canada, I realized that this was going to be the biggest challenge I had ever had during my studies. Despite the fact I had studied French for five years, my proficiency was very limited and the accent of Québec (le québécois) made it even more challenging. For the first month and a half I felt like a little child trying to express myself. I had to concentrate very hard to understand the teaching or normal speech. Despite the difficulties, I loved my courses and never skipped a class because the teachers and the studies were really motivating. I have never worked as hard as I have during my exchange, and all that hard work paid off: when I arrived to Québec my French was terribly bad, however, by the time I left I had become a very fluent French speaker.

All of my exchange was amazing: I did things, met people and went to places I could have never dreamed of.

My exchange also gave me a new perspective on northern regions. Despite the fact that Finland and Canada are really far away from each other, I saw a lot of similarities in the cultures, which I believe is something that comes from the environment and the conditions of both countries. The nature was very similar, and yet so huge and breathtaking.

Sunset at St Lawrence River, Rimouski
Sunset at St Lawrence River

My experience in Canada taught me that I should not be scared of going to new places, and that the language barrier can be defeated with a little bit of work and courage. Quebeckers are great people and they will help you express yourself, and will make an effort to understand you. I highly recommend the Université du Québec à Rimouski. It is a small, but great institution, with a very high teaching level and devoted, motivated and experienced teachers. You need to work hard, however, the teachers are fair and they are going to help you and encourage you.

If you are still considering whether going on an exchange or not, just GO! It is a great boost for your studies and it changes you. You will never be the same. I have had the most amazing experience ever, and I made many lifelong friends in Canada, who are now part of my life despite the distance.

Great experience – I would do it all over again!

The article was originally published in the Shared Voices Magazine 2014.