Nicole - McGill University

B Psychological Sciences
Semester 2, 2018
“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world” – Freya Stark

Academic experience

Studying at McGill University was an amazing but daunting experience. The class and assessment structures differ greatly from that of UQ. Some courses are lecture-only, while others are tutorial-only. Most classes also have weekly assessments; whether homework, tests or both! However, once the initial shock wore off, I found that the format actually suited me better, as it provided me with the opportunity to stay on top of my coursework and limited opportunities to procrastinate! I undertook mostly psychology electives but I also took French 101, in the hopes of being able to better immerse myself in Montreal culture.
Enrolling for courses was a bit stressful, as registration opens later for exchange students, so many of the courses I had approved were full and I was unable to enrol in them. My advice is to get as many subjects approved as possible! I had about 12 subjects approved by UQ and, in the end, only 5 of those were available for me to enrol in.

Personal experience

Montreal is a beautiful city; you almost feel like you're somewhere in France! The architecture is stunning, the people are friendly (but horrible drivers) and the range of available food for vegetarians and vegans is fantastic. I used the French I learned in class as much as I could in shops and restaurants, and I found it really helped me feel more at home and less like a visitor. I became obsessed with Canada's favourite pass time (hockey - GO HABS!) and attended regular games both at the Bell Centre and at McGill's McConnell Arena. I was weary about trying the local staple of Poutine, but it soon grew on me (I recommend Hippi Poutine on St Denis) and it's definitely a must-try if you want to call yourself a true Montrealer. 

McGill University organises many outings for international students - hiking at Mont Tremblant, trips to Maple Syrup Farms ("Sugar Shacks"), hockey games, etc - so I tried to do as many as I could. I highly recommend it; it's not only a cheap way to see cool things, but also to make friends with other international students, who will quite often get together to share the cost of day trips. Quebec City and Ottawa are also must-visits when you're in the area; gorgeous, quaint and friendly.
I was so sad to leave Montreal, and I can't wait until I can go back again.

Accommodation

As an older student, I chose to live off-campus and rented out a studio apartment via Air BnB. The cost was about the same as student accommodation and I wanted to have my own space. Unless you are keen to live in student res, I would recommend booking accommodation early, as soon as your travel is approved by both UQ and your host institution as it becomes a lot harder to find something well-priced later on. My apartment was in an old traditional Montreal street, which made me feel more at home and immersed in the city.

Costs

I found that the cost of food was cheaper than Australia if you shopped at the supermarket and cooked for yourself. Eating out was more expensive once tax and tips are added, so if you're not much into cooking, you might want to budget extra for meals. Public transport is fairly cheap if you get the student discount and it's very easy to get around on the metro and buses. 
Megabus travels between most major cities in the area, so if you plan a day trip in advance, you can get $5 fares to Toronto, Quebec, etc. On the train you'd be looking at $30-$40, so it's definitely worth it.
If you're a sports fanatic like me, McGill has a card for students for $25 which gives you entry to ALL McGill sporting events for the year - hockey, football, basketball, lacrosse, etc - otherwise tickets are $5 each. NHL games at the Bell Center are much more expensive (best seats can be over $300) but they do Tuesday University nights where you can get a cheap seat with a beer included for $40.

Challenge

The biggest challenge for me was probably leaving Montreal. I settled into overseas life quite easily and quickly called Montreal home. The last few weeks were extremely sad for me, knowing that I couldn't stay. I had to remind myself that Montreal will always be there and I can always return in future. As the saying goes "Don't cry cos it's over, smile cos it happened".

Professional Development

Through my exchange experience I learned that I am far more capable and adaptable than I thought I was. The hefty study load, new location, new language and lack of connections seemed daunting at first, but I overcame them quickly and embraced the challenge. It made me more confident about my future beyond university, knowing that whatever challenges work life will present, I have what I need to tackle them head on.

Highlight

The highlight for me was probably the snow. Waking up to the city covered in white was truly beautiful. Mont Royal, behind McGill's campus, is a great place to explore both in summer and in the winter snow; there are so many activities such as tubing, ice skating (which I failed at miserably) & tobogganing which make you feel like you're in one of those "winter wonderland" Christmas movies.

Top tips

I highly recommend McGill University to anyone considering an exchange to Canada. My advice would be to immerse yourself in local culture and attend as many exchange events as you can. Making connections, whether with locals or other students, can really enhance your experience.