Phoebe - McGill University

Bachelor of Arts/Laws (Hons)
Semester 1, 2018
"It's a bit nippy today" - Me everyday in January

Academic experience

McGill itself is an impressive institution. Besides the plethora of extra-curricular activities and Quebecois culture I immersed myself in, I really enjoyed my global politics courses. I found it relatively easy to balance academics with other aspects of my life but assessment pieces were still quite labour-intensive. It was a bit of shock to find that the standard length for research essays was 5-10 pages. I found the best places to study on campus were the Arts Lounge which had a very comfortable couch and the Birks Reading Room which had a kettle (BYO teabags though).

Personal experience

During the Winter term, I was able to spend my weekends doing winter sports like alpine skiing, cross country skiing, tubing, and snowshoeing or visiting different cities like Toronto, Ottawa, and New York which are all a bus ride away. There’s a whole range of winter sports that as an Australian I just never knew existed, so I recommend joining the Ski Club and Outdoors Club.

As long as you prepare for the Montreal winter, you’ll be fine. However even with a good coat and plenty of socks, I still found myself locked outside my apartment in a -22 blizzard because the cold had shrunk the lock and my key couldn’t fit. It’s true what they say: Montreal winters are cold. Yet I found spring the dreariest season since everything was grey with no snow to make things look a bit magical. Montreal livens up again in late May and there’s nothing like seeing Montreal in the summer.

The friends I made in Canada were the best part of my exchange. I made them mostly through the exchange student welcome brunch as well as in my lectures. It was with these friends I enjoyed two summertime roadtrips: one to the Canadian Maritimes where I tried lobster for the first time in my life and another to the USA that took us around California and the best national parks in America.

Accommodation

During my exchange I lived in the up-and-coming suburb of Saint Henri which was about 30min commute by the metro to McGill. I loved this area since it was full of quaint little shops and eateries, it was close to the Lachine Canal, and it was nearly half the price of the rent than accommodation downtown. However, if you are someone who likes to stay out partying you might find it more convenient to live in the Plateau or the McGill Ghetto since the metro closes at midnight.

Costs

Unfortunately, phone plans in Canada are expensive and you’re looking at probably a minimum of $50 for not a lot of data for a prepaid plan. 

The cost of living in Montreal is both better and worse than Brisbane. The rent is affordable, the McGill gym is cheap (only $40 for the whole semester!) but some groceries like dairy or chicken are very expensive. With a bit of frugal planning, I was able to stretch my OS-HELP loan to cover all my expenses, including all my weekend trips, without touching my savings.

Professional Development

The experience has broadened my mind to the realities of living in a different country and I appreciated the distance from Australia which allowed me to re-examine my worldview. I have no doubt that I have improved my ability to keep cool under pressure, to problem solve and to always be adaptable.

Highlight

My most memorable experiences would have to be doing yoga on a frozen lake, spending a weekend in a stereotypical Canadian wood lodge with the fire roaring while snow fell outside, meeting Justin Trudeau, and hosting a Superbowl party. However, whenever I think back to my time in Montreal I just think fondly of the countless midnight dep (short for depanneur – the Quebec version of a convenience store) runs, watching NHL games with my friends on a Friday night, bilingual wine and cheese nights, and visiting underground jazz bars.

Top tips

Living in a different country involves a lot of paperwork and the best advice I can give is: use Transferwise for money transfers, Scotiabank for your bank account, and Fido for your phone. At the time of my exchange these services had the lowest fees.