Harry - McGill University

B. Mechanical Engineering
Semester 2, 2016

Academic experience

For my exchange, I headed out to McGill University in Montreal, Canada. I studied mechanical engineering, which was defiantly a challenge in regards to getting course equivalency and signing up to subjects but the fight was totally worth it. I ended up getting into courses that contributed to my degree (MECH220, MECH292 FINM342, COMP208 and FRSL101). While five subjects may seem daunting to juggle, it is honestly easy to manage as long as you don’t let them get too far ahead of you while you are out travelling and having fun. You can still go on spontaneous trips all over the country. For example, I spent 4 days visiting Toronto and a week in Cuba (missing several classes). Remember you are on Pass/Fail, do only as much as you have to get through and spend the other time exploring your city, getting involved with sports or clubs and having some EPIC life experiences.

Personal experience

Dog sledding!
Dog sledding!

I played ice hockey and Quidditch (yep I’m a nerd –but also you should have guessed that seeing as I’m doing eng), joined the international students' society, the outdoors club (would highly recommend- they run some incredible trips and have such a great community). The boxing club and Ski club are also great. Get involved! The university clubs also run so many social activities from Apartments crawls and bar nights, so be prepared to be a part of a funloving community. That is how you make the most of your time - This University offers so many different opportunities. In saying this I would caution against playing competitive sports, as this doesn’t give you the opportunity to travel as much and you don’t really want to spend your free time training. Join the gym, it’s a great way to keep fit and it's super cheap if you are a McGill student (also HEC students have a similar discount for theirs). 
I arrived two weeks before classes started and had just enough time to find an apartment and get into the orientation week activities. I did spend most of my time in and around Montreal for the first 4 months. I spent as many weekends as I could going on weekend trips to Toronto, Quebec City, Mt Tremblant National Park, National Parc du Bic and down into America (Vermont, Pittsburg, Philly and DC). During the semester I even managed to slip away for a week to Cuba, which had to be one of my all-time favourite parts of the trip. After the semester finished I travelled over to the Rocky Mountains, spending a month hiking and skiing through BC. I then travelled down the West Coast of America, enjoying a month of stunning, sunny vistas. 

Accommodation

Quebec city skyline
Quebec city skyline

I waited until I got to Montreal before I started looking for accommodation. Personally I think this is the way to go, however you need to leave yourself plenty of time (a week at least) to find and check out the places. In the meantime book yourself into a hostel (would recommend Auberge St Pauls in Old Port Montreal). If you are someone who needs piece of mind by all means do your research beforehand and find a place but the people who came early and found a place here tended to do get more bang for their buck. I would also recommend looking into exchange student housing, I personally didn’t stay in one but they were a heap of fun and an awesome place to hang out and make friends. 
Regardless of the university (you are attending I would try to find an apartment in the Ghetto (Milton Park) or the Plateau. It is very easy to get around with metros being able to take you almost anywhere within the greater city. I stayed on Rue Clark, a 10 minute walk (max) away from pretty much everything you could need (uni, shops, bars and clubs, restaurants, metros). 

Budget

I ended up spending 18 grand for my 6 months of travel, you might balk at this but it is worth spending a little bit more to make the most of your experience. Living in Montreal for the most part was quite similar to here (food and accommodation wise at least), I pay about $3000 in total for accommodation while I was studying at McGill, including weekend trips and temporary accommodation (while trying to find a place). Groceries are your next biggest expense. I paid about $250/month but this is probably conservative (depending on how much you like food. Phone bills are one of the biggest differences. For the same service you would get here in Australia, be prepared to pay double. One way around this is to have a data only plan which is the cheapest way to survive ($15/month), vs $40/month for Fido- would highly recommend (this is what I went with or $70/month for Bell/Rogers.
Coats
Regardless of the semester you go, you will most likely need a warm coat (and I mean warm it can get down to -40 in winter). So many people go and pay for a new down jacket like Canada Goose ($750) or Moose Knuckle (up to $1500) but honestly it is not worth it. Go to an op shop or second hand store and look on Craigs List, Facebook or Kajijii (Canada’s Gum Tree) two weeks to a month before winter starts and find something in the $0-$250 range (there will be plenty of sales on around this time). 
For groceries 
For food head to Segal’s Market at 4001 Rue St Laurent. It is THE CHEAPEST food store that I found and a great place to bulk buy non-perishables and has a pretty good selection of fruit and veg although it is sometimes a little old. There is also a little market on the corner of Rue Prince Arthur Oest and Av du Parc, which is a great place to go for cheaper fruit and veg. Then of course there are Provigo’s and Metro’s which are like the equivalent of our Woolworths and Coles. You can find pretty much everything you need here, it is just a little more expensive. 

Professional development and employability

Visiting French Canada does expose you to a new language which I found exciting, however you can get by without a high level of language. Though arguing and bartering in French can be incredibly entertaining. I quickly learned to be self-driven and organise myself, fitting both travel and study seamlessly into my routine. I learned to be spontaneous and to travel as I lived, because traveling is as much a mindset as it is to just be in a new, different and exciting place.

Highlight

For me the highlights of the trip were playing hockey - a quintessentially Canadian sport, as well as my travels to Cuba, and through the rocky mountains of British Columbia and Alberta. I am lost for words trying to describe the stunning sweeping beauty of those mountains. In saying this, the best part of travel is always the people that you meet along the way and the stories about them and the world that you uncover.

Top tips

So if you are here you are considering heading out onto exchange. It may seem like it is hard to get over there sometimes but push through because it is one of the most worthwhile and fun experiences you will ever have. You will face challenges and grow as a person. The friendships you will make and the experiences you will have are priceless. In the words of the great Shia LaBeouf “Just do it!”, you won’t regret a thing. 
I’m just going to make this a list because there is just so much: 

  • St Laurent, St Catherine and the gay village – nightlife
  • St Denis- Restaurants
  • Mont Royal for you Fall/ Summer runs and just a generally great view of the city (also great of ice skating in winter if Beaver lake is fully frozen)
  • La Banquies – Poutine 
  • Buy a second-hand pair or ice skates or rent them for a season – play it again sports
  • The $1 store is your best friend
  • For travel around the east coast, use MegaBus and book trips early – it is soo soo cheap. 
  • Go to NY and Boston.
  • If you aren’t living close to Uni get a month long metro pass. If you are close walk or bike everywhere.
  • Buy a second-hand bike or get a bixi membership/ card – bikes are the best way to see MTL/ get to uni. 
  • Lastly, if you have even the slightest urge to do something, do it. There only regrets that I had was not saying yes to more. 
Harry - McGill University