Catherine - McGill University

Bachelor of Psychological Science (Hons)
Semester 2, 2016

Academic Experience

I took 5 courses in total at UQ: 4 psychology-related subjects, and one French language subject. The course load in general was quite intense, and at times heavier than UQ; more reading to be done, and more time spent studying. 

As the work piled up, I found it increasingly hard to keep up while maintaining my social presence in Canada and back home, cooking, and cleaning for myself - especially when most of my Aussie friends took four subjects. 

Despite all that, I made it through the semester unscathed! I learned some valuable lessons about time management, perseverance and hard work - lessons that my so-far leisurely time at home would struggle to teach me.

Personal Experience

Although I wouldn't consider myself a social butterfly, I made many friends, mostly from Australia but a few locals - that I will remember for a long time. With those friends came amazing travels and experiences I would never think of achieving on my own. Going to Niagara Falls, seeing snow for the first time in my life (and living in it for a month!) and cuddling squirrels were just a few of my favourite memories from exchange.

I also greatly improved on my French - but don't count on it to be perfect now! Immersion - even in a bilingual environment such as Montreal - works wonders for language learning, and I highly recommend it even if you aren't studying languages at the moment. I found that it opened my mind and made me look at the world differently.

Accommodation

I was lucky enough to score a place in McGill-organised accommodation (MORE housing: not quite on-campus, but far from off-campus). We didn't have things like meal plans or residence activities, but everyone in my building was an exchange student so it made settling in so much easier than if we were to find accommodation on our own. We formed a very tight-knit community and I would consider them to be like a second family.

The location of our house was also amazing - literally across the road from McGill, and close to city shopping, grocery shopping and the ubiquitous Mont-Royal - perfect for exercise. 

The proximity is especially helpful once winter sets in and you can't bring yourself to walk anywhere, so for those who are planning to come during fall or winter, consider your location wisely!

Budget 

Montreal is easy living if you aren't needy. Rent cost me just under $700 a month, but from memory, there are countless other places available just as close to uni at lower prices. Food was a considerable expense, probably costing me $300-$350 a month, factoring in takeaway and dining out. However, I cooked a lot and that helped to stifle costs. If you have roommates, simple costs like crockery and cutlery will be a lot easier to manage.

Montreal has plenty of free entertainment, and I took full advantage of that. I didn't experience too much of the nightlife, being a bit of a hermit, but as with any city you'll be able to find extreme specials!

Travel was also a large expense. Despite only travelling outside Montreal twice, I still spent a respectable amount of money on said trips. Try not to book around notable dates, and hunt around in "Free/For Sale" groups for potentially discounted tickets.

Professional Development & Employability

Exchange study made me aware of my expected position in the professional world. With time away from my family and more independence, I started to think deeply about my responsibilities, and more on the importance of hard work over raw talent. 

Being able to attend such a high-ranking research university was a privilege, and I constantly found myself in communication with (relatively) well-known professors and innovators. It inspired me to take the same path later on in my degree, and forge a name for myself in the world of psychology :)

Highlights 

The definitive highlight of my experience was seeing snow for the first time. I know a great many of you have seen snow before, but I was mesmerised. Snowy weather made even the most mundane task seem interesting - whether it was grocery shopping, walking to class, or even doing homework! I believe that the Fall semester is definitely the best to experience every facet of Montreal, whether it be the sticky humidity that's all too reminiscent of home, the crispness of autumn or the cold winter; each season is almost a new world.

Top tips

  • Pack light, especially if you plan on travelling. My suitcase gained an extra 7kg over the course of my exchange!
  • Try to keep communication with family and friends at home to sensible times. I found that too often, I stayed up much later than was healthy just to squeeze in a bit more with family - the time zone makes it hard.
  • Don't pass up any opportunity to get out there! It's been said before, and I didn't take this advice completely to heart. You're not just a student, you're a resident and a tourist, an explorer and an expert in this new country. Being an exchange student is a unique experience unlike regular travelling because you get to see it all as a local while still having time to do the things you'd do as a tourist. The two are not mutually exclusive!