Liam - McGill University

B Agribusiness/Wildlife Science
Semester 2, 2018

Academic experience

Studying within the Desautel faculty of management was a unique experience. The vast majority of my classes were held within the faculty’s primary building (Bronfman) which gave way to a high school like community of students; dubbing the colloquial nickname ‘Bronfman High’. Each student possessed exceptional drive to succeed which was necessary given the unusual weighting of assessment and high stakes entrance to selective honours programs. This fortunately makes group work (which was around 50% of the credits for each course) less stressful and provides an excellent platform to schedule group meetings and study sessions. I did not find any issue with balance as I had saved the maximum possible amount of first- and second-year subjects for exchange.

Personal experience

Given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I decided to immerse myself in as much local experience as I possibly could. My primary weekend retreat was spending time at The MOC (McGill Outdoors Club) owned and operated house where you are able to go for hikes with some breathtaking views during fall, ice climbing during the winter, and if you’re really lucky, play some ice hockey with some locals. 

The snow gives the city of Montreal a certain magical quality, contrasting the brown-red brick buildings which really adds intrinsic reward to getting out and exploring the European inspired streets. Some of my personal favourite activities were roaming around old Montreal or getting a view of the city from above by summiting Mont royal at sunset and ice-skating old port which had frozen over. Between the hundreds of clubs at McGill there is always a new and exciting experience to participate in, and often a choice presented itself between two events I wanted to attend.

It seems cliché, but the weather was the primary difficulty throughout the semester, packing only my warmest clothes proved to be quite the misstep, as when I arrived in August, it was still frequently in the low 300C range. The weather however was quite volatile until winter set in mid-to-late semester where it consistently reached around -200C. This meant I had to recruit the expertise of my local friends to learn the art of ‘layering’.

Accommodation

Although not my primary choice, I lived within McGill managed residences and was pleasantly surprised. Solin Hall has a very inclusive culture, particularly of exchange students and although slightly more expensive (just over $900/month), took a lot of the guess work out of housing. These are self-contained apartments which are just in the same building, which gives it a very different atmosphere to dormitory style accommodation.

Located right next to a central metro hub actually made it a quicker commute than several other residences closer to campus.nThe area that I was located, Place St-Henri was a cute shopping strip with 2 equally distanced grocery stores, fast food restaurants and my personal haunt that I can’t recommend enough, Café Farina.  

There is a plethora of online resources such as McGill Free & for Sale Facebook groups which help connect you with people searching for roommates. This is definitely easier during the winter semester when there is not as much demand for rooms, however if you are willing to search hard and early enough, something will pop-up year-round.

Costs

Throughout the semester, my total expenditure whilst living quite frivolously was around $8500CAD and was broken down accordingly.
Housing:    $4000
General Expenses: (Food, Toiletries, Metro Pass, etc.)    $2500
Travelling and Fun:    $2000

Upon reflection however, I think with some discipline and frugality, expenses could quite easily be reduced. With the exception of fresh produce, Montreal’s expenses are quite comparable to Brisbane.

Challenge

During my first few weeks, my study plan was still up in the air due to class clashes and exchange restrictions. This meant that I was enrolled in 7 classes until I received approval from UQ for credit of my final course at McGill. Whilst pending approval, I really had to knuckle-down to keep up-to-date on the readings from my extra classes as well as almost double my time spent on campus.

Honestly, the main reason that this was not exacerbated was due to the amazing team of academic advisors in the Desautel faculty. Maintaining a positive relationship with these advisors certainly didn't hurt in my endeavours either.nMy recommendations to avoid the same circumstance are:

- Apply for absolutely everything on your study plan even if you aren't sure that they will get approved; I was very surprised by the courses that were approved for credit and the one's that were not.
- Stay ahead of the crowds, if you are having issues with timetables and enrolment, go to your faculty's academic advisors as soon as they open and as early as possible in the semester. (When U1-U3 students return in week 2, lines flow out of the door.

Professional Development

As management is not my primary faculty, I found that there was little opportunity for networking with industry professionals that applied to me, however Desautel frequently hosts professional mixers such as wine and cheese nights with platters of potential employers from all over the globe. Some of these events are even tailored specifically for exchange students which provides superb prospect to broaden your Linked In references.
There is also an employability office dedicated to refining resumes, interview skill seminars and staff specifically trained to point people down their desired career paths.

Highlight

The highlight of my trip was probably my Christmas weekend trip to the MOC house. In mutual home-sickness, my rag-tag team of exchangies enjoyed a budget Christmas Dinner around a warm open fireplace, played shinny (knee high only ice hockey) with a Canadian family and then went cross-country skiing along a gorgeous frozen river. The event, highlighted the similarities between festive celebrations all over the world but with a distinctly Canadian, albeit icy, twist.

A noteworthy mention was also orientation week’s ‘camping frosh’ in which I made my closest friends hailing from all over. Between Canoeing on gorgeous national park lakes, hiking through Mont-Tremblant’s untouched conifer forests and spectating emotion-fuelled ‘sock-wrestling’ matches, there was ample opportunity to meet local first years and globally-minded exchange students alike.

Top tips

I would recommend against purchasing the meal plan unless that is something you are absolutely set on, as it is expensive ($200+ / week), the quality is decent but not phenomenal and several of the residences have to walk 20+ minutes each way to get to the finite number of dining halls.
Meat and dairy are subject to strict regulation and therefore, their price is disproportionately high compared to Australia. My recommendation is instead incorporating tofu and mushrooms for home cooking and save meat eating to restaurants (plus you’ll be doing planet Earth a solid).

If you plan to catch a round trip, 6 or more times in a month, it is definitely worthwhile obtaining a student monthly pass from several of the larger metro/train stations (Berri-UQAM, Lionel-Groulx, Gare-Central). These passes also work with the local bus services (anything STM related) which means getting around the city is a breeze.

I definitely recommend that 5 hours outside of class time, per course is needed to maintain a comfortable position throughout the semester. (This is very comparable to my experience at UQ).Do your research, there is always a cheaper option when it comes to travel and living abroad; Montreal is no exception. The utmost important top tip is to enjoy it. The exchange experience is meant to be intense but temporary, take it by the horns and get the most out of it but when it comes time to go home, be glad it happened, not sad that it is over.