Nicola - McGill University

B Arts
Semester 2, 2018

Academic experience

I studied four history courses. One examined the links between French New Imperialism and science/technology; one was on Canadian immigration and identity since 1849; one looked at the history of South America from colonisation to decolonisation; and one took a long duree perspective on the history of the Indian Ocean World, examining the historical trends that could be understood in relation to climatic conditions and shifts. 

I really enjoyed the range of historical foci and perspectives available in the curriculum, particularly the chance to focus more on colonial and post-colonial history. I found it very challenging at first when I was enrolled in five courses, since each course is the same amount of work (or in some cases, more work, counting readings, contact hours, and expected supplementary study) as the ones at UQ. McGill counts both four and five courses as a full study load, but I was led to believe that UQ required me to do five to count as a full load. I found that unworkable, but a four course study load was manageable and equivalent to my study load here.

The enrollment process was very similar to UQ's one; it was all done electronically, on a website called minerva. Course contact hours were structured differently from history courses here, though; instead of a lecture and tutorial, each did two 2-hour classes (closest to a lecture format, but with some group discussion of readings etc.) per week.

Personal experience

I started climbing while I was overseas, which was helped significantly by the McGill Outdoors Club, which is a really great club both for social events and to see more of the countryside around Montreal (difficult to get to otherwise, since exchange students tend not to buy a car). The forest and climbing crags around Montreal, particularly in Val-David and the Laurentians, were really beautiful, especially in fall. There was also apple-picking in the Eastern Townships. 
While the university did not speak French, and it probably would have been feasible not to speak much French in Montreal (since most people there speak good English), I found that I could improve my French significantly by using it as the language I would automatically speak to shopkeepers and people I met on the street etc.

Accommodation

I lived off campus, in a neighbourhood fifteen minutes on the metro from University (Verdun). This wasn't a student neighbourhood, and I think it would have been interesting to live in a more student-populated area, but the rent was affordable and it didn't take long to get to the university neighbourhoods. People looking to stay in student neighbourhoods should aim for the Plateau area or on-campus housing. It is significantly cheaper to stay off campus, though, and from what I heard the on-campus housing was typically quite college-y (which wasn't something I wanted) - unless you're after that experience, I wouldn't go with on-campus housing.

Costs

My rent was $325/month, which was very low (I had friends paying double that for places in the McGill Ghetto or the Plateau). With a student card you can get four months unlimited public transport for $200 (covering the term - you can't start the four months early, so if you get there before term, get a week's unlimited travel - about $24), which was really worthwhile (the public transport is pretty comprehensive over the whole island).
Food was expensive if you were eating at restaurants/stores, but there were some cheap supermarkets (Simmons in the Plateau, particularly). However, it was more expensive to buy groceries than I'd anticipated just because I didn't have the basics that you kind of assume you'll have around (e.g. soy sauce, spices etc.)

My main expense was trips with the McGill Outdoors Club and a climbing gym membership. Trips came in at around $40 on average for a couple of days, which was pretty good value and definitely worthwhile.
I'd recommend budgeting around $6000 for the semester, to have a little extra for emergencies and opportunities (e.g. going skiing for a bit at the end)

Challenge

The biggest challenge for me was living out of home for the first time, without knowing anyone in the area, and studying at the same time. I found it really stressful at first to keep track of all of my responsibilities, since anything I didn't remember to do would just not be done (forget you had to pick up some groceries on the way home/didn't get to the supermarket before it closed after class? no food in the house). A lot of the solution was just experience and getting into a routine, but it was also important to realise that there were alternatives for most of those tasks, if I forgot to do them (e.g. ubereats)

Professional Development

I'm better at making new friends and networks. 
I'm also better at organisation, both of my own schedule and of events (e.g. trips with a club - needed to organise transport, food, accommodation, gear, costing per person, and communication with everyone going).
I'm better at speaking and understanding spoken French.

Highlight

One of the club trips - either climbing in Val-David or camping/rapids-swimming on Rouge Riviere.

Top tips

Only do four subjects
Join clubs - McGill Outdoors Club is excellent
Go see some of the surrounding area - the forests etc. are really cool
Go apple picking
If you're Jewish, there are great student societies and groups for several denominations, which do free Friday Shabbat dinners and are great communities.