Erica - McGill University

B Psychological Science
Semester 2, 2018
While I was initially quite nervous to go on exchange, it turned out to be one of the best and most rewarding experiences of my life so far.

Academic experience

While studying at McGill, I took a range of psychology courses including Personality & Social Psychology, Animal Learning & Theory, Health Psychology, and Child Development.  I also took an introductory chemistry course (World of Chemistry: Drugs) as a “filler course” to obtain my full 8 units of credit for the semester.

There is a capped number of students who can enrol in each course, so for some classes it was quite competitive to get a spot initially.  When I first went to enrol I only got into 3 classes, but I just kept checking back regularly to see if any spots freed up and managed to get myself into 2 more.  It seemed to be quite normal for students to change around their courses right up until the add/drop deadline which was about 2 weeks after classes had started.  So, if you don’t get into all your courses straight away, don’t stress, it is highly likely to work itself out.  

All my lectures bar one was recorded, and all lecture slides were posted online.  However, it is up to your lecturer as to whether they post their slides or recordings, this is not a given.  I found the content and difficulty level of the course work to be quite similar to UQ and all my lecturers that I had were very enthusiastic and passionate about their work.  So, even if your classes are recorded, I do recommend attendance in class to get the most out of what your lecturer and the school has to offer.  The school’s grounds and architecture are also incredible which made going into uni a truly enjoyable experience, I rarely found myself missing class.

Personal experience

Exchange was an unforgettable experience and something that I would strongly recommend to anyone.  Naturally, I was initially very nervous to leave my family and very tight-knit group of friends in Brisbane.  I didn't know anyone going to McGill or even living in Montreal which forced me to put myself out there and to get over my shyness quite quickly.  McGill is a very international school so a large portion of the cohort starting in the Fall semester were also exchange students or had travelled from a different city/country to go to McGill.  This made me quickly realise that most other students were in the same boat as me which made me feel way calmer and more excited about the whole experience. 
I did quite a bit of travel with friends during the semester to cities such as Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City, New Orleans, New York, as well as a ski weekend trip to Mont Tremblant.  We also went visited a nearby national park while the Fall colours were in full swing which was breathtaking and would highly recommend!  It was the best fun travelling with a group of your mates, no matter which city you went to.  However, travelling with a big group of people made me appreciate the importance of planning but also the equal importance of being flexible for when things inevitably don’t go to plan.

Accommodation

McGill offers student housing on campus but these residences were mostly reserved for first year students.  I ended up staying in student accommodation off campus which I found on a student housing website.  McGill provided some websites for housing ads but I found Kijiji and McGill/Montreal housing facebook groups to be most helpful.  I was walking distance from Uni, had my own room and bathroom, and shared a kitchen with the other students on my flat.  I organised this before flying over but some of my friends did take the approach of finding a place to live after arriving in Montreal.  This seemed to work out quite well for them and was cheaper than staying in student accommodation, despite the process being a little more stressful.  I personally really enjoyed staying in a student building because there was always someone around to have a chat to or cook dinner with.  It was also super convenient living so close to uni, especially in the colder months.  If you do decide to stay in accommodation close to uni though, make the effort to get out and explore the rest of Montreal!  It’s a very cool and unique city with lots to offer outside of McGill.

Costs

While Montreal is a very student friendly city, it also isn’t the cheapest city to live in.  I found that phone plans were quite expensive which seemed to cost about $50-60 per month after tax.  Groceries were very reasonably priced but some things like dairy products and meat were expensive.  In the interest of my savings I had to cut cheese out of my diet, much to my dismay.  I didn’t spend much on transport as I usually walked everywhere or took the metro.  Although, when it started getting colder I did spend a lot more on Ubers than I intended.  Also, if you’re going to Montreal in the winter months you’ll need to invest in a good winter jacket and boots.  Since I went in the Fall semester, I could get by with wearing my Dr. Martens but still had to buy a good coat.  Montreal has some great second-hand shops though so definitely go check them out before spending a heap on winter clothes!  McGill also hosts a free winter coat giveaway but be sure to get in quick.  Renting a place in a student building was a bit more expensive than renting an apartment/house with housemates, especially because I only needed a 4-month lease for the semester.  So, for one semester I would recommend having about $7,000 – 10,000 for living expenses plus additional cash for travel.

Challenge

A major challenge to overcome was the initial overwhelming feeling of being so far away from home.  When I first signed up for exchange I knew it was such a great opportunity that I probably would never have again in my life and was super excited about the whole idea.  Despite this, I also felt very far out of my comfort zone and worried how I would cope being so far away from all my friends and family.  I wouldn’t say I’m the most extraverted person but being on my own kind of pushed me to be more open and outgoing with new people.  I ended up meeting a bunch of such wonderful friends that I wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity of meeting and became so close with them in a matter of weeks.

Professional Development

The combination of living by myself, constantly meeting and talking to new people, and travelling with friends has definitely improved my problem-solving skills, adaptability, and confidence in myself.  While I was initially quite nervous to go on exchange, it turned out to be one of the best and most rewarding experiences of my life so far.

Highlight

I loved being able to travel and explore new cities on my weekends.  Some of the highlights was going for a road trip to Toronto and visiting Niagara Falls; Dog Sledding in the Rockies; checking out all the amazing music and night life New Orleans has to offer - just to name a few.

Top tips

- If you’re going to McGill in the Fall semester I’d recommend signing up for Frosh.  It’s a week of orientation events that majority of the new students take part in and is where I met most of my friends.  It is a bit of a party week but there’s no pressure to go to all the events!
- I did find it slightly difficult to find courses to study abroad that were directly equivalent to the courses I had left from my program at UQ.  I would highly recommend saving up your electives for exchange so it’s not so stressful to find exact equivalent courses. 
- Prioritise your health!  I found that I was always constantly busy during the semester - either with uni, friends, or travel – and really had to make a conscious effort to make time for myself.  Make sure you’re eating well, exercising regularly (McGill gym is really cheap to join!) and getting enough sleep – it will make it way easier to deal with everyday life stressors.