Kailin - McGill University

B Engineering
Semester 2, 2018
My exchange was an absolutely life-changing experience and I loved every moment of it.

Academic experience

During my semester at McGill I took 3 courses that were directly equivalent to courses I would be taking back home for my Chemical/Environmental Engineering degree, as well as an Engineering elective (introductory computer science) and a fifth subject to make up the full-time load at McGill of 5 subjects (introductory physics). I found these subjects to be similar in difficulty to their equivalents back home with slightly less intense assessment schedules, however I found that the difficulty came in the form of the lack of online resources provided compared to UQ – the majority of my lectures were not recorded and, for the most part, lecture slides and other lecture resources were not posted online following class. This made it really easy to fall behind in class, so I would try and attend all classes to avoid that.
I had been warned that spots in engineering classes were hard to obtain, but I didn’t have any trouble enrolling in mine. The add/drop deadline is quite late and it seemed commonplace for McGill students to try out subjects before switching before the deadline, so you have some flexibility there (for example, I originally was enrolled in a French course before finding the level was too high for me and switching to physics).

Personal experience

My exchange was an absolutely life-changing experience and I loved every moment of it. I had chosen McGill because of the good things I’d heard about Montreal, and I was not disappointed - Montreal is an incredible and utterly unique city. The blend of franco- and anglophone characteristics is found everywhere from the architecture to the food and coffee scene (I found Quebec to be the only region in Canada with coffee up to our snobby Australian standards) and makes for a truly remarkable cultural experience. There’s always something going on, especially in summer, from the Piknic Electronik music festival at Parc Jean-Drapeau that happens every Sunday to street food festivals on seemingly random weekends. The nightlife is outstanding, with something happening every night of the week, and the youthful energy of the city makes it the perfect place for students – probably why Montreal’s was rated the #1 student city in the world in 2017.

Taking the Fall semester like I did allows you to see Montreal in summer, autumn and winter all within the space of a few months. Fall is breathtaking with its autumn leaves and harvest produce, and when the snow comes (as early as November when I was there) it adds a whole new dimension to the city. I’d encourage you to take advantage of all the seasons; it gets cold fast so make the most of the long warm summer days and be sure to head to a nearby national park in fall to see the autumn colours in their full glory.

Accommodation

At McGill, students usually stay in university-run residences for their first year before moving into apartments after that, largely in the “McGill Ghetto”, which is what the area adjacent to McGill is commonly referred to. It’s very easy to get stuck in the “McGill bubble” and not venture far outside the Ghetto, however I’d strongly advise finding a place outside of this area so that you can experience some of the true Montreal – trust me, you’ll spend enough time in and around McGill as it is. I stayed off-campus in a two bedroom apartment in Le Plateau Mont-Royal with a friend of mine who was also on exchange. I would highly recommend this area, as it is one of the exciting and culturally significant neighbourhoods in Montreal. Close to everything, it’s full of cafes, vintage stores, bars and beautiful European rowhouses, and at night the area turns into one of the major nightlife districts in the city. I also met a lot of exchange students who stayed in special exchange residences, however these were always a lot more expensive than an apartment and never seemed very comfortable; as I live at home in Brisbane, I for one really enjoyed the independence of having my own place and learning some basic life skills like cooking and cleaning.

To find accommodation, look at ads on Kijiji.ca (the Montreal version of Gumtree) and sign up to any McGill/Montreal Housing Facebook pages you can find – this is how most of my friends found their accommodation. McGill also has webpages for helping students find accommodation with links to good housing advertising portals (this is how we found our place) and have a very detailed guidebook on the renting process in Quebec – read this as there as some funny laws in Quebec regarding that (e.g. it’s illegal for a landlord to ask for a bond).

Costs

I did nearly two months of travelling through Canada and North-Eastern USA before starting the semester at McGill and then another month-long snowboarding trip afterwards, as well as quite a number of weekend trips during semester, so my experience was quite an expensive one. Additionally, since my friend and I were looking for a 2-bedroom place with no other roommates, we were pretty short on accommodation options by the time we arrived so we payed a bit more than you probably need to for rent – I believe anything between $500-700 is pretty reasonable. I think $15,000 should be more than enough for the whole experience, perhaps a little more if you intend on doing a significant amount of travelling.

Challenge

My biggest challenge was adapting to the different university structure and balancing uni work with other activities. When the semester starts, there’s so much going on that I got a bit swept up in it all and had to work to catch up in some of my subjects. I think it’s important to keep in mind what your priorities and goals are when you set out for exchange and try and stay on top of your studies where you can so you can then take opportunities when they arise.

Professional Development

I think the most valuable thing I gained from my exchange was the ability to quickly adapt to new scenarios and situations I was placed in. Not only was learning to live out of home in a new city a big cultural change for me, but I didn’t realise how used to the UQ academic system was until I started my classes at McGill. As a result, I had to quickly get used to the new system and find the ways of studying that worked best for me within it.

Highlight

Some of the highlights of my trip were roadtrips to Toronto, Ottawa and Quebec City, spending Thanksgiving at Mt Tremblant amongst the autumn colours and going on a group ski trip. But more importantly, the one thing all these experiences had in common was sharing them with a group of incredible friends from all over the world – as cheesy as it sounds, I got so close to so many people in such a short time, and that’s what I’ve taken with me the most.

Top tips

-    Montreal is an extremely bike-friendly city – use the Bixi bikes to get around or buy a bike on Kijiji and sell it on afterwards (what I did, such a great way to get around and get to know the city)
-    Open Air Pub (OAP) runs at McGill in the first two weeks of semester – a great way to meet people and enjoy the summer afternoons
-    Sign up for frosh (fresher’s orientation party week) – this is how I met most of the other exchange students I became friends with