Stacey - McGill University

B Engineering/Science
Semester 1, 2019

Academic experience

I undertook a fulltime load of five courses (four science and one engineering) at McGill during my fifth year. It was initially a real struggle for me to match McGill courses to my UQ requirements (I thought more than once that I’d be delaying my graduation), but in the end it was absolutely worth all the stress. 
The other main struggle I found with courses was that McGill has limited spaces available in each course – meaning when my time came to enrol many were already full. I found the staff were super accommodating though – they made allowances for me to enrol without issue once I emailed letting them know I was an exchange student needing to match courses to graduate.
Actually taking the courses ended up being a breeze in comparison – just my experience, but I found far fewer hours were required for a good result compared to UQ. Classes were definitely a different experience from here as well – smaller class sizes, no practicals, marks for attendance, and no lecture recordings for my subjects. There’s also no study week before exams – but there is a midterm break which is great for travelling!

Personal experience

What I found incredible about the exchange experience was how much being away from my familiar life changed my outlook on everyday things. Being in a new place made mundane tasks (like walking to class) exciting. I found myself more open to meeting new people, and it was surprising how easy it was to form strong friendships with other students who were also away from home. Solo travelling especially was something I’d never imagined that afforded me a new confidence and has opened up so many new possibilities I’d not thought of before.
Montreal in particular is a fantastic student city – it has a really friendly and lively atmosphere, and so much to do it often ends up feeling like you’re missing out on something. Sometimes it felt like I couldn’t go anywhere without interacting with someone new. McGill is at pretty much the perfect location, right in Downtown amid heaps of nightlife, culture and food. The European feel of the campus was beautiful, as was its resident squirrels. I loved experiencing a real winter – at times the city felt like another world, and the icy streets and freezing temperatures made for some great stories! It was also spectacular to see how it comes alive in the spring - I would have loved to have stayed for longer.


I stayed in independent off-campus student housing which I came across through the McGill Off-Campus Housing Facebook group (La Marq). It was basically a complex of five-bedroom apartments with communal games and media rooms, gym and study spaces. It did lack the social aspect I was hoping for, but otherwise was great – I ended up knowing a lot of other exchange students living there, and it was a great place to meet up/hang out with friends. It was definitely more expensive than some of the other options, but to me it was worth it for the convenience.

I personally loved living in Downtown and would definitely recommend – it seemed to be where most of the international student population was, and was within walking distance to absolutely everything, which really helped to make me more spontaneous and adaptable. From visiting some of the McGill exchange residences they seemed like a lot of fun, so I’d recommend checking them out as well, and there are some gorgeous areas further from the city if you’re willing to commute.


For the most part I found that the price of living in Montreal was similar to that of Brisbane. The biggest expensive for me ended up being accommodation (about $900 per month), but it’s very possible to find cheaper alternatives. I also ended up spending more than I’d planned on eating out, as there was so much to try and many weekday catch-ups with friends, but I have no regrets there.

It’s helpful if you can book flights and accommodation early, but that’s not always possible (it wasn’t for me). It’s also important to consider the costs of getting good winter gear, as this can add up – there are some good deals once you get to Canada though (I got a great winter coat secondhand on Kijiji). In terms of budgeting, your local Dollarama is a lifesaver, particularly for stocking up your place with cheap items such as kitchenware, and for late-night snacks. I also loved that McGill hosts a lot for cheap, including outdoor trips and activities, campus functions on Thursdays, $5 university hockey games and weekend visits to the neighbouring cities.

I’d consider it well worth the money to travel while you’re over there – my tour of the Canadian Rockies and NY/Boston trip were among the highlights of my time away.

I also came back to Australia with a new appreciation that tipping isn’t customary here.


Easily the biggest challenge I found was gathering the motivation to actually get the process started. It initially seemed overwhelming to try to get my head around everything there was to organise, as well as how my courses were going to line up (and navigating McGill’s website was a nightmare). It took most of my degree for me to actually see studying abroad as a real possibility. Once I made the decision to get in and just go for it, and started looking at different universities and the process for getting approved, it actually happened. Other than that, the hardest thing was to leave exchange behind. (Also, the first 24 hours of actually settling in weren’t great, but once you get out and meet others in the same boat it quickly becomes a blast.)

Professional Development

Before going on exchange, I really didn’t realise how much of a bubble I’ve been in, and how many parts of my life I’d just assumed were universal (including Arnott’s bikkies). The whole experience was really eye-opening, to be able to get away from what’s familiar and meet so many different people.


A few of the things I’ll remember best from Canada include the treacherous icy walk to my 8:30 classes, attending the “coldest musical festival in the world”, walking through a snowstorm to get to my French class, watching the Montreal Canadiens play, canoeing along the Bow River in Banff, songs around a campfire with primarily French speakers, accidentally attracting a bear to our wilderness hostel with bacon, snow-shoeing through stunning national parks, taking a 3hr round-trek through the city to try Montreal-style bagels, and drinking maple whisky out of a glass made of ice. 

The real highlights however have to be the times I spent with the friends I made – whether talking until 2am in our tiny NY apartment, gathering to all watch movies off one of our laptops, group dinners after a day of bussing through the Rockies, midnight snacks at A&W, or trying to make the most of every moment in the lead-up to saying goodbye.

Top tips

Coming away from exchange, my main advice would be just to not worry about whether you’re going to enjoy yourself, whether your courses will translate perfectly, if you’re going to make friends, how you’ll cope with being away from home, and the many other doubts that went through my mind in the lead-up. No matter how everything works out, it really is a once in a lifetime experience, and I can’t imagine how it’d be possible to not love your time away.

And a few other random tips:
•    Even if you think you’re too busy for something, you’re probably not.
•    But it’s also okay not to feel like you’re making the absolute most of every single moment – it’s fine to take breaks or just spend a night chilling in your room.
•    Always stay open to meeting new people.
•    Also don’t be afraid to take advantage of being on your own.
•    Try not to lose your beanie when you’re out in -25 degrees.