Caitlin - McGill University

B Environmental Management
Semester 2, 2018
Looking back, it was the first step to overcoming my fears and meeting friends I will cherish for a lifetime.

Academic experience

During my semester exchange at McGill, I undertook a range of science courses including Conservation Biology, Understanding Planet Earth, Environmental Systems and Oceanic Science. Only 1 of those courses translated to an on-list compulsory course here at UQ, while the remaining 3 had to be taken as electives. For this reason, I would advise anyone considering going on exchange to keep their electives open. Exchange at McGill would not have been possible for me had I not done so. 

The enrolment process at McGill is overly complex. Many of the courses I had been approved to take were split across two campuses (Downtown and McDonald). Additionally, there is a capped number of students that can enrol in each course, which made organising accommodation and my timetable difficult. My advice for anyone in a similar situation would be to choose a campus before choosing your final courses, as it can greatly narrow down your options.

The content, work-load and overall ‘difficulty’ of my selected courses were comparable to that of UQ. It’s worth noting however, only 1 of my classes was recorded, and while the lecture slides were always posted online there is no set timeframe for this. This can open the door to ‘falling behind’ for the more organisationally challenged of us out there.

Personal experience

Prior to exchange I had never left Australia. It was daunting to leave my family and friends behind. I didn’t know anyone that was going to McGill. These doubts pushed me to go outside my comfort zone and get out there, attend events and meet people as quickly as possible. McGill is a very multicultural and social university. It didn’t take long till I discovered more and more people who were in the same position as me. Friends form fast on exchange, and this aspect of exchange is it’s most important draw.

Make sure you set time aside to explore the city in both the summer and winter months, as it is vastly different! The city comes alive in the summer, with laneway festivals, food stalls and markets on almost every corner in the Plateau and Downtown. Take advantage of the hundreds of bars and cafes in the warmer months, especially the ones with views or gardens! 

I was lucky enough to do extra travel with a group of other exchange students; Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City and New York. Beyond glowing reviews, take advantage of your time overseas and explore your new temporary home, especially before it gets too cold! A personal highlight was nature-walking when the fall colours are on display. Otherwise, any ski villages (such as Mont-Tremblant) is a must once snow has fallen, especially with a good group of friends!

Accommodation

I arrived in Montreal 3 weeks prior to the start of the semester, and stayed in a hostel for the first 2.5 weeks until I could find permanent accommodation for the duration of my stay. This is a great way to go for anyone who wants to ensure that they get along with their potential roommates and enjoy the area in which they’ll live. I found the McGill University Free and For Sale and Montreal Housing Facebook pages to be the most helpful, as it enabled me to find similar-minded people within a certain area and price range.

I chose to live in the Plateau right off St Laurent Boulevard and was a 15-minute walk/metro ride away from campus, which was very convenient. Segals, the local discount supermarket, post office, chemist and metro stations were also all within a 10-minute walk from where I stayed, something which became increasingly important when the temperatures started to go below freezing. It has a very youthful, fun vibe.


Additionally, most my friends also lived within the Plateau, making it the perfect location for visiting and hosting friends too! St Laurent Boulevard also has some of the most popular bars, cafes and restaurants among McGill students, and having the ability to walk everywhere (as opposed to Uber) was very convenient and valuable to me.

Costs

On average, I found that I was spending about $500 a month on rent and $60 on my phone plan. For the first few months, our electricity/water bill was about $70 a quarter (between 3 people), however this jumped up to $200 once the weather started to get cold - which was a rather unwelcome surprise towards the end of my exchange as this price jump was not considered in my budget.
    
I found that the cost of groceries was quite comparable, however I only shopped at Segals, the discount grocery store. Dairy and bread are also quite expensive. I didn’t spend too much on transport as I enjoyed walking everywhere, and would only get the metro/uber if it was a few degrees below freezing. 

I was lucky enough to find a winter coat for $50 from Eva-B (one of the cheapest and biggest local op shops), however winter boots are hard to come by and Dr Martens are not appropriate once ice covers the footpath. Be prepared for lots of near-slips and to cut down your regular walking speed by half if you do not invest in a pair of winter boots. They call them ‘Death Docs’ in Canada for a reason!

Challenge

My biggest challenge was to overcome the fear of leaving Australia for the first time and moving across the world, where I knew nobody. However, once you get past the first few weeks and meet people, everything becomes easier. Reach out to your new friends, because chances are they’re feeling the exact same way as you and having a support network really helps!

Professional Development

I think the greatest skill I learned from my exchange was strengthening my ability to adapt to any new and foreign situation that I am thrown into. My confidence flourished, as well as my problem-solving and communication skills.

Highlight

It is impossible to choose just one highlight of my experience, but noteworthy memories are road trips with friends to places such as Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City; as well as a ski-trip to Mont Tremblant and a weekend away in New York. As long as you’re with a good group of people, you’re bound to make some lifelong memories and friendships. Make sure you say yes to any opportunity or experience that comes along, even if you aren’t initially that excited for it. Chances are you’ll have a great time, and meet some new friends along the way!

Top tips

•Montreal is a very bike/pedestrian friendly city! I chose to walk everywhere and was constantly surrounded by beautiful architecture and parks (this also allowed me to quickly learn how to navigate the city)

• Frosh / OAP (Open-air pub) – both run just before the semester starts. I met most of my exchange friends through these events, they are a bit cheesy, but it’s a great ice-breaker, so make sure you go along!

• Eva-B is a great place to check out if you’re short of some basics or in need of a cheap winter coat. I found a winter coat for $50 and snow boots for $15. 

• Say yes to every opportunity thrown your way, you’re bound to get a good memory or laugh out of it!