Cai - McGill University

Bachelor of Science
Semester 1, 2017

Academic experience

At McGill, I studied a mix of biomedical science courses and electives, which because of the electives I actually found significantly lighter than my workload at UQ, despite taking 5 subjects. The biomedical science courses I did take however were quite intense and if I was taking 5 of them I would have really suffered - not because of the depth of content but the breadth. In my experience the courses taught at McGill vary quite a bit though and there doesn't seem to be a lot of standardisation between them, so really take the time to pick your courses to make sure you maximise your experience. You can also spend the first week going to whatever classes you want and from there narrowing it down to which subjects you pick as contact hours are quite low, so you can get a good feel of what the expectations for each subject are. This is especially useful if you are under the Faculty of Science at McGill, because you can study ANY course from the Science faculty AND the Arts faculty, opening up a lot of different options. In addition, McGill also has a system like Secat called Mercury which you can check out if you want to get other student's opinions. However, I would say McGill students are much more academically involved than UQ, and there is a strong culture of participation, so take their words with that in mind. If you have electives and are thinking of going to McGill, I would definitely recommend saving them as it really allowed me to spend my time enjoying Montreal and the exchange experience rather than studying all the time.

Personal experience

Being in Montreal for the winter is such an incredible experience. For the locals it seems so bizarre that we would come over for winter, but it is definitely still a great semester to go in because Montreal has so much to offer. I was constantly exploring and I still don't feel tired of the city and in fact I feel like there's so much I still haven't explored! Montreal is great because it is the perfect mix of the old and the new - with the gorgeous old town to explore plus the modern hipster Plateau area and Mile End. The McGill campus is also in a perfect location - right downtown, in amongst all the action. Transport is also very easy if you stay around McGill as you can pretty much walk to all the big places. In a way it almost feels like epicenter of the town, and in many ways Montreal is just a HUGE university town which makes it a great place to study. There are so many great cafes and restaurants to go explore and study at and the arts and culture in Montreal is top notch. Montreal is also known as the city of festivals and it still lives up to that even in the winter! They have Igloofest, a big electronic music festival in February, as well winter festivals and a whole lot more. There are a number of great music venues where you can see a whole range of different acts - you will be hard pressed to find a day where there is not something going on. If for some reason this hasn't sold you yet there are so many great winter activities that you can participate in, including ice skating, hockey (please don't call it ice hockey), skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, tubing, cross country skiing and so much more. And of course go see a hockey game - if you want to see the Montreal Canadiens looks for tickets through StubHub as they are a lot cheaper, but you can also see McGill's team play at the McGill stadium for only $5 and with a much more intimate experience. Also make sure to get involved with societies and clubs! McGill has a whole range of social sports teams which are a great way to make friends as well as a number of amazing societies. I was part of the ski and snowboard club which was a great way to get access to the slopes every Saturday - a definite highlight was our overnight trip to Jay Peak in Vermont. The MISN is also a great society to join as there are so many international students for you to befriend and they run some great events. You really don't need to worry about not making friends as McGill sets up so many opportunities for you to meet people. McGill also runs an International Buddy program which I highly recommend - my buddy Sarah was amazing and introduced me to so many great people and I even met her family in Toronto! Besides, there are so many Australians in Montreal so you will definitely feel at home. If you're desperate there is also Cafe Melbourne, who is run by an Aussie bloke and full of Australian trinkets (and vegemite), plus they have an amazing pop-up brunch where all the Aussie ex-pats seem to congregate. Montreal is also a bilingual city, so you shouldn't have any problems with language as long as you don't stray too far from the city centre - I didn't speak any French before I went and I survived just fine - you might even pick up a few phrases here and there. Finally, while you're in Montreal make use of it's location! It seems odd to leave such a great city but there are also so many other great places to explore - Quebec City is a must for the winter festival and it is also very easy to do weekend trips to Ottawa, Toronto, Boston and New York. You can even get to Iceland easily, which makes it an amazing spring break destination to travel around with friends. It's only a 4 hour flight away for such a beautiful and remote country - how often can you say that?

Accommodation

I lived on campus in one of the MORE houses that McGill provides. This was actually a fabulous living arrangement as I was only 10 minutes walk from the furthest part of campus and I got to live with other exchange students, which made it super convenient to make friends and to have people to do things with. McGill previously didn't have on campus accommodation for exchange students, but for the past two semesters have opened up the MORE houses and Greenbriar apartments solely for exchange students which makes them a great place to stay. The location is great as they are only 10 minutes walk from two major grocery shops as well as a number of different food locations and shops, as well as being sandwiched between the two main entertainment areas in the Plateau and Downtown. They can however be a little expensive for some of the rooms (Greenbriar and the large MORE rooms are very expensive and in my opinion too large) and you are paying for the convenience of being close to campus, so if you are on a tighter budget I would recommend looking for off campus accommodation. It is also a bit of gamble on the quality of stay depending on which MORE house you get. I got arguably the best house with a fabulous Victorian era house (522 Pins) with a sun room and pool table and normal beds and loved it, however, a lot of the MORE houses are quite squished and have weird bunk beds which caused some people a lot of strife. There are also a lot of people in the houses (on average 10-15) which can be good or bad depending on your personality - I thought it was great because I was never lonely in the house, but if you're a more private person you may find it tiring to to have a lot of daily interactions with your housemates. Also if you want to meet more Canadians, living off campus is a great way to do that. If you don't want to take a gamble with the MORE houses, living in the Plateau or Milton Park is a great place to be. It's only a max 15 minute walk from campus and a great student area with heaps of great places to study and plenty to do. In addition, rent is also a lot cheaper there (you can get a single room from $400 per month so it's definitely a budget wise area to be. If you're doing this wait till you go to Montreal and then have a look around to make sure you find a great place, as there are plenty of sublets available at this time of year that will allow you to find a great house to live in.

Costs

Things in general are pretty similar in price to Australia I would say. Rent for me was more on the expensive side as I stayed on campus, but as I previously mentioned if you stay off campus rent can be a lot cheaper than Brisbane. Transport costs are pretty non-existent if you stay on campus or nearby as Montreal is very walkable, but if you do live further away you can use the metro or buses with an OPUS card, their version of a go card. If you go to the Berri-UQAM station you can get a photo version of the OPUS card, which gives you 10% off the fare. If you're going to use the metro or bus system regularly, there is a 4 month unlimited fare that you can get which is perfect for the exchange semester. Walking places though is a great way to find little hideaways which really allows you to fall in love with the city. There are also bixi bikes in the summer that you can rent which are another great way to explore the town for $5 a day. Dining out, groceries and entertainment are all around the same price as home - especially for dining out things often seem cheaper but don't forget there is the 15% tax and tipping to add on after the bill. A great tip is if you add up the federal and provincial taxes on your bill it usually adds up to just below a 15% tip so you can use this in a pinch. Tipping on takeout is also a lot cheaper as you usually only have to pay the driver a few dollars so if you want to "eat out" on a tight budget it's definitely the way to go. Another piece of good advice is to always check Dollarama first before shopping elsewhere - it always has more than you expect. Travel costs are not as cheap as say traveling in Europe but you can still get cheap bus tickets to most northeastern US cities and stay in cheap hostels. If you go straight for exchange and are on as tight a budget as possible you could probably get away with spending only $10,000, but if you want to travel anywhere or have any leeway with spending you'll definitely need a bit more. About $12,000 is probably around a good amount, but if you're planning on doing extended travel afterwards you will definitely need to account for more.

Professional Development

Through the exchange experience I definitely feel like I learnt a lot more about myself. Living out of home for the first time definitely was a challenge but was a great learning experience and helped me with so many skills, especially including my organisation, time management and general worldliness. It's so great to go and experience another culture and another learning style and to learn how other parts of the world operate. Having a greater understanding and appreciation of different practices is a great asset to have in the workplace and will definitely help with achieving my goals in the future. Going on exchange also helps your networking skills as you get to talk to so many new people and make so many new friends! In addition, it's a great privilege to learn from a world class institution like McGill (Justin Trudeau went there!) and the lecturers they have there, who specialise in a whole range of different topics and also allow you to explore a whole bunch of different areas than you might get to in your degree at home. Finally, I also feel like I'm also more motivated after exchange, because I've seen what I can achieve and want to go and chase more.

Highlight

The highlight of my exchange as I think with most people's exchange was obviously meeting all the wonderful people and making so many great friends. After exchange I have so many fond memories from all the great experiences I had with other people and to have the opportunity to build these friendships in such an exciting environment is really incredible.

Top tips

Top tips for me would include:

  • Take every opportunity you can to explore - if you've got any time, even just go somewhere new to study and get to know the city - there is so much going on.
  • Use electives if you've got them and wait till you get to Montreal to finalise your subjects!
  • Say yes to everything that you can - obviously don't run yourself into the ground but so many of my great experiences were had by not being afraid to try new things.
  • Get involved in clubs and societies - a great way to make friends - SSMU Ski Club or Outdoors club are definitely my top picks as they help you get out of the city and explore!
  • Make an effort to get to know the locals! It's very easy to just stay in an exchange bubble but really push yourself to get to know Canadians and really experience the culture - you'll never know where you end up. Getting an international buddy is a great way to meet the locals!
  • Walk places - you honestly never know what you find walking places and it's so much more fun - definitely recommend walking up St Laurent and St Denis as there are so many great places to explore there (plus you get to work off all that poutine).
  • Keep up with your classes - exams at McGill are on average much tougher than UQ so if you take a little bit of time earlier to keep up it makes it much less painful.
  • Look for second hand things and check sites like Kijiji and Stubhub - there are a lot of great listings and they can save you a lot of money.
  • Wait till you get to Montreal to buy your winter coat/boots if you're going in winter - they have much better quality gear over there and it's really not as bad as you think - McGill also runs a free winter coat project which actually sometimes has some really good quality stuff!
  • Wear a hat of some kind in winter - it's life changing how much warmer it keeps you.
  • Take every opportunity you can to travel - tag along with people and just go wild!
  • Over budget for fun times - it's very easy to get carried away when doing so many fun things with friends so it's always best to be over-prepared than under - if you end up with some spare money at the end you'll be so much more thankful!