Catherine - McGill University

B Economics/Arts
Semester 2, 2018
Crazy drivers, too much snow, and proudly Quebecois. This is the essence of Montreal!

Academic experience

The standard course load at McGill is five courses, so I did two economics courses, a history course, a sociology course, and a gender studies course. Each of which I found generally more challenging to study than at UQ. Due to the intense study culture at the university, I found that I learnt a lot from each of my classes because of the large amount of content covered. 

There are a number of differences between Australian and North American study culture which I found contributed to the difficulty I encountered. For example, most lectures are not recorded and there are fewer teaching assistants to give individual advice or feedback. Therefore, to succeed at McGill I recommend working together with other students. Not only is this a great way to facilitate learning, but it also creates new friendships. 

The biggest challenge I faced, however, was the initial registration into classes that would match with my UQ degree. As an exchange student, I signed on after the regular students at McGill. Therefore, many classes that had been approved for me were filled up. The best way to counter this is to develop a list of as many suitable approved classes as possible to enrol into, and then keep a constant watch on which classes become available as students drop out in the first few weeks before and after classes begin. 

Overall, although I learnt a lot from my classes at McGill, the academic system can be very harsh for students. Much of my time abroad was spent stressing out in the many McGill libraries. Nevertheless, after persisting through the many assessment pieces, you find yourself with invaluable new knowledge, connections, and experiences.

Personal experience

I can definitely say that travelling to Canada has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The people were very kind and I made all sorts of new friends who came from all corners. For example, my fellow McGill housemates were Canadian, American, and Isreali. Furthermore, the McGill International Student Services (ISS) boasts how 30% of the student body come from 150 other countries. The university and the country itself embraces diversity in all its forms. 

As for the city of Montreal, there is truly nothing like it. Being in Quebec, the dominant language was Quebec French. My friends who spoke Parisian French described it as being very different. For example, a pain au chocolat is called a chocolatine instead. Nevertheless, I got along fine as a pure English speaker because much of the Montreal population is bilingual. The day I landed I was already incredibly impressed by the cosmopolitanism of Montrealers. The first waiter I met could speak French, English, Vietnamese, and Chinese! The weather throughout the year can swing from 30 degree summers with glaring sunlight to -30 degree winters with mountains of snow. But the locals manage to put up with it the crazy weather because they are steadfast. Finally, it is simply a beautiful city to be in. Old Montreal is the most famous example of this, having architecture and cobblestone roads resembling Paris. 
  
While abroad, I travelled across Canada as well as the United States, going to over 15 cities. My travelling highlights (other than Montreal) were Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, and New York City. It was astonishing to bounce between cities with such ease and to fulfil many of my travel dreams in such a short period of time. I saw landmarks such as the Empire State Building, CN Tower, Parliament Hill, Stanley Park, and countless others. Since I often travelled on my own as well, I found that I became much more independent too. I cannot recommend travelling Canada and the United States enough, whether by yourself or with others.

Accommodation

I lived off-campus just off Westmount, which is a wealthy and anglophone neighbourhood of Montreal about 25 minutes walk from the university. This was a downtown area close to a metro station and grocery stores, yet very affordable. Montreal is actually one of the cheapest major cities in Canada to rent in. You pay monthly instead of weekly, and I enjoyed a downtown shared apartment with 3 other housemates for about $650/month with utilities. I very much enjoyed living off-campus because you can find a home away from university stress and I had 3 amazing housemates to enjoy company with. They took me out to hockey games, restaurants, and Mont Royal too.  

Since I was staying in Montreal for only the Fall term, I sought a short-term lease of 4-6 months. It was incredibly difficult to find leases for less than a year so I would recommend going on all the McGill facebook pages for international/exchange students and housing to advertise that you are seeking a short-term lease. I found my accommodation after one of the old housemates reached out to me about an available room. Rooms are usually advertised 1-2 months before the Fall term begins, so I would search around then. 

I would also recommend living with other housemates from McGill if possible. They make wonderful friends and can also give you advice on how to navigate your studies.

Costs

I would say without extensive travel (i.e. only trips to the neighbouring cities), about $10,000 CAD per 6 months would be comfortable to use for a term of study if you budget well. Rent varies between $400-1,000 per month when off-campus if you are sharing an apartment. For me, groceries were about $60/week, and each month you will probably use the unlimited OPUS card to travel public transport for $50/month. However, since I also travelled throughout Canada and the United States, I estimate I spent about $14,000-15,000 CAD on additional travel and activities.

Challenge

The biggest challenge I faced was keeping up with my McGill study load. I often found it overwhelming and much more intensive than my time at UQ. However, I relied on my fellow students, friends, and housemates for emotional and academic support. While I worried about making friends abroad, it was very easy to make many good friends since McGill students work together.

Professional Development

I think the main skill that I took away from my time in Canada was being more independent. After living away from home for that length of time, I have become more confident in my abilities to sustain myself and manage my studies more efficiently. I am also less timid at the prospect of travelling alone now, which opens me up to many future travel experiences. 

Additionally, I feel that I am more open-minded after meeting a great many diverse people from different ethnic, cultural, religious, and class backgrounds. This can make me a better team player in my professional development since I more clearly see the benefits of collaboration.

Highlight

It is difficult to pick a highlight from my exchange because I had so many. One that sticks out in my mind was waking up one October morning with one of my housemates to see that snow had fallen to create an overnight winter wonderland in Montreal. The landscape had totally changed with the city covered in white, and I made a pitiful snow angel on the verandah that night. Snow is a rare occasion for me, so it was really wonderful living with it for the first time, despite how difficult it would make travelling sometimes.

Top tips

If I hadn't hinted at it already, my top tip is simply to make as many friends as you can. Canada, especially McGill, is filled with brilliant, wonderful, and generous people. There are plenty of opportunities to mingle since many McGill student societies, such as the McGill International Student Network (MISN), host events to travel to other cities, go skiing, eat food, and much more. Meet others and get to know their stories. After all, even if you fail at budgeting and find yourself without money, a friend can take you in!