Suvradip - McGill University

B. Science / Law (Hons)
Semester 2, 2017

Academic experience

I studied the full credit load at McGill University which is 5 courses. I took 2 Physics courses, 1 Maths course, 1 Physics research project and 1 French course.

I found the academic system to be quite similar to Australia with mid-semester and then final exams. The workload is also very similar as are the formats of the exams. However, none of my lectures were recorded unlike here. The students at McGill are quite hard working but also enjoy having a good time so it was a nice culture to be a part of. I found it a bit difficult to make friends in my courses as everyone is very focused on lectures but through designated social spaces in the university I was able to meet people in my classes.

Overall, the academic experience was very rewarding and I definitely recommend taking a French course there!

Personal experience

I had a range of diverse experiences on exchange. I greatly built upon my basic knowledge of French to the point where I could confidently converse with locals. I attended multiple French conversation groups and actually took a course at McGill. This made the whole experience a lot more enriching.

Of course, I made friends from all over the world, and now that I am planning my next exchange to Europe I have the luxury of having many friends over there. I also learnt ice skating, visited most of North America, had my first proper Halloween and Thanksgiving and worked for a travel company!

But my mum was the happiest when I came back knowing how to cook without burning the kitchen... I will cherish the friendships and memories created on exchange for a long time to come.

Accommodation

I lived off-campus in an apartment in the Plateau where I paid $475 a month sharing with 3 others. This was very much on the lower side of rent so I would say budget for about $500-$600 a month at least for rent unless you get lucky like we did! I would recommend finding an apartment before you go or as soon as you get there. While you are searching for an apartment the HI Hostel in Downtown is a great place to stay for a week or two as it is quite affordable and actually where I made a lot of my friends!

The colleges that McGill has have limited spaces for exchange students as it is an inner city university so they are mostly reserved for younger students and are also very overpriced at times. I would say student accommodations is also another option which is a nice way to meet people but once again it is more expensive.

Honestly, I found meeting people was never a problem with the vibrant and friendly culture there so I would definitely recommend the cheaper option of renting an apartment. Look around on the McGill website as they have apartment listings suitable for students and call the numbers on there to find one! It can be difficult to find a lease for 4 months - we got lucky. But you can always find someone who wants to sublet and a good place to find this is by joining Facebook pages like McGill Off-Campus Housing Group through which we found one of our roommates as we had 4 rooms and 3 people. Plenty of people are looking for places so it is not a problem at all finding roommates! The recommended areas would be the Lower Plateau or the McGill Ghetto for housing as anywhere else can get a bit difficult due to the snow.

Final thing is when getting an apartment make sure the heating works and electric heating is fine but it will just cost a tad more so try get an apartment with heating included if possible (we didn't but it was ok). So plan early and get an apartment as they go fast!

Budget

Living in Montreal was much cheaper than Australia and in fact all other cities in Canada. I think budgeting 14-15 grand is more than enough to travel before/after as I did and also complete exchange. Living in Montreal for the 4 months of exchange cost me about $7000 AUD including rent, food, transport, entertainment etc and I did live quite comfortably. In summer the Bixi system is good to get by in terms of transport if you are going in our Semester 2 or the Fall semester and we lived close to McGill so did not bother getting a STM Transport card.

The Bixi system is $32 for 1 month, $57 for 3 months and $78 for a year if you are going for a year - just check the dates they are available as they are removed during the winter months but they are great value for money! But if you do get one they are $50 a month so about $200 for 4 months but be careful you need to go line up to get your photo taken as an exchange student which can take quite a while! If you are going in the Winter semester you will probably want the transport card (but once again plan early for buses are they are often late).

In terms of food Seagull's or B&Y are good places to do your groceries and budgeting $50-$70 a week is more than enough for your groceries (you will probably spend less). We could also buy alcohol much cheaper than in Australia which was nice and it is sold in convenience stores there.

Do save money for a warm winter coat and winter boots as it does get very very cold to the point where you will start to feel pain but it's not for too many weeks (don't let this put you off normally it can be quite pleasant!). There are winter coat sale pages at McGill University Clothing Exchange or the International Student Services Winter Coat Project.

So in summary I would recommend keep some extra money in your budget and also a little note is if you do want to travel to America get a B1/B2 visa as the ESTA is valid for 3 months while you are in NORTH AMERICA which includes Canada. So your time in Canada counts for the 3 months - I was lucky a friend told me that before I went. So it is important to include visa costs in your budget and if you do want to work in Montreal you will have to spend about $270 getting a Study Permit and Quebec Certificate of Acceptance - so if you plan to work get it on your entry to Canada at the airport. There are so many things to do in Montreal in terms of entertainment so budget generously so you can say yes as there is nothing worse than missing out on something because you have no money. So go to an ice hockey game to support the local HABS (there are cheap tickets for students at $40), go see one of the many cultural events on display and for free go join the tam-tams during summer at Jeanne Mance Park.

Professional development and employability

I think I am slowly starting to recognise a lot of skills I learnt while I was on exchange as I resettle back into Brisbane life and I am sure there are many more I am yet to discover. Needless to say, exchange looks great on a resume as it shows you are willing to put yourself out there and have broader life experiences than your academic studies at UQ.

The fundamental purpose of exchange for me was learning to navigate the unfamiliar. This is a trait that requires great initiative, courage, willingness to learn and to make mistakes. These are all very attractive attributes for any employer. I would recommend thinking about, reflecting upon and collecting a set of stories from your exchange - as I am 100% sure you will develop. Then analyse these stories in a way that show you exercising these attributes to make for some great interview questions and cover letter additions. For me it was my work as a tour guide as one story amongst many others. Plus, exchange can often expose you professionally to various aspects of an industry, especially if you work there as I did as a research assistant at McGill University.

I was able to learn how a university system works in a different country and the fact that you are able to get a job in a different country will show you are very proactive. This was all summed up when I returned home to call about a job application and it turned out the human resources manager was a former McGill graduate - needless to say that pretty much guaranteed me an interview.

In summary, professionally exchange will create a great first impression, give you invaluable skills with evidence to back them up and most importantly broaden your horizons to even considering career options that you had never thought of before!

Highlight

This one is always a tough one I found to answer even as many people have asked me since my return home. I think the friendships I have made from all over the world would be definitely the finest memory I take away from Montreal. Amongst these friendships I was exposed to various cultures, traditions and languages which greatly broadened my mind but most importantly made me appreciate how similar we all can be despite our differences. This has meant I am now a lot less apprehensive when meeting new people and am much more willing to put myself out there as I have confidence in our shared commonalities.

On a more personal level I think a highlight would be swimming in a freezing lake with my friend at Mont Tremblant or guiding a group of 50 exchange students through Quebec City in my second week there on my first visit to the country at a time when I still spoke very basic French! But there are many more highlights.

Top tips

SAY YES!

I think it is very easy to find excuses not to do something but sometimes it is important to just say yes to seize your opportunity! That's what I did for my exchange and I have not regretted it for a moment.

There is so so much funding (e.g. OS Help Loan, UQ Abroad Funding, Centrelink etc.) so do your research and see what's out there. A lot of people say I do not have the money or the elective courses remaining but neither did I. It is possible to do it if you really want it and it isn't that hard!

I would say set small goals for what you want to get out of your exchange which for me were - come back with some stories and improve my French. Do not go in with a set idea in your mind as each exchange is different - set small goals and if you achieve them you will come back satisfied. And when you do get there remember to immerse yourself in the place and become one with the culture so you come back feeling refreshed and fulfilled.

It was the best 5.5 months of my life hands down and it can be yours too!