Bachelor of Science, 3rd year
Bachelor of Science, 3rd year

Academic Experiences 

During my time at McGill I studied subjects predominantly from the Biomedical Science major. They were pretty difficult, honestly. The workload is very intense (you have to do 5 subjects - catching up on lectures is a nightmare) but I would argue that the courses taught are a little less in-depth than the ones that we study at UQ. In saying that, though, make no mistake - the exams are not to be underestimated.
For the courses I took, I noticed that there was little to no emphasis on practicals, which I thought was brilliant - the flip side is the three one-and-a-half hour lectures a week per subject. The key here is time management - build a schedule early on and stick to it - you'll be golden. Try and do all your work during the week so you can have fun on the weekends.

Personal Experiences

I went during the winter semester - it was my first time seeing snow - and it is just stunning. Montreal is an incredibly beautiful city, it's rich with culture and history and there is so much in the city to keep you occupied, even in the winter. A direct result of my dedicated exploration is that I can confidently say I know Montreal better than I know Brisbane, which is both shameful and hilarious. McGill has a beautiful campus, home to a population of squirrels which I was fascinated by. It's perched atop the steep slope that leads to the nearby Parc du Mont Royal, a mountain which is always good to hike for an amazing view of the city.
It is very easy to explore Montreal on foot, but if you're going in winter you might opt to catch the Metro rather than brave the cold. It's not that complex and you'll get used to it quickly - if you're using it a lot you'll want to get an OPUS card, which is their equivalent of our Go card but with less drama. You can also use the underground city, which is essentially a huge chain of connected shopping malls.
It's especially fun to explore if you have your friends with you! If you, like me, had concerns about making friends on exchange, worry not - you will have plenty of opportunities to find a crowd to hang out with, and will still be making new friends even in the remaining few weeks of your exchange. I probably ran into a billion Aussies, so you'll never feel far from home.
Mostly everyone in Montreal is bilingual so there shouldn't be any problems with communication. As long as you make an effort to speak a little French (even something as simple as opening a conversation with 'bonjour' or 'bonsoir') they will gently continue the conversation in English if they see you struggling. Just know that you might encounter more difficulties the farther you venture out of the city centre - some Francophones may refuse to serve you unless you attempt a little French. I went to Montreal knowing zero French outside of two or three halfhearted lessons on Duolingo but fared just fine.
There's also tons of opportunities to learn some French while you're there. I learned the odd phrase or two off of my friends, notably my roommate, who hailed from Quebec City. Many French speakers will be eager to practice their English on you, and even moreso to hear our brilliant accent, which has resulted in some incredibly amusing imitations.
You'll want to take advantage of your time in Canada to do a bit of exploration outside of Montreal as well. I did a few trips to do some skiing and stargazing with McGill's outdoors club, as well as an organized trip with some friends to New York and Boston over the week long spring break, which was incredible.

Accommodation

I lived off-campus, in the Downtown area. I stayed in a residence for college-age students that wasn't affiliated with McGill, and the location was brilliant. It was a 5 minute walk from McGill, along the main street Sherbrooke Ouest - which quickly became a familiar landmark for if I ever got lost. Being a residence, on top of exchange student friends, I befriended my brilliant roommate, our immediate floormates and even those several floors apart through community events organized by the building. Some of them were even students attending neighbouring universities! So when the weather outside was too cold to meet my exchange student crowd, or invariably our academic commitments would keep us with our noses to the books, I'd often kick back and eat a pizza with a neighbour or watch Netflix in the common rooms to kill some time, so it was rarely lonely.
I would recommend that you try and find accommodation in the Downtown area, lovingly dubbed the 'McGill ghetto', or Plateau - they are predominantly inhabited by (of course) McGill students. Cafes, corner stores (called depanneurs) groceries, and entrances to the underground city for all your shopping needs are in abundance.
My favourite part of living in Downtown was the proximity to everything and everyone. For me, who lives a fair 15 minute car ride away from the nearest friends back home in Brisbane, it was a new (and welcome) experience to hit up a group of friends to hang out and be able to meet within 5 minutes of strolling down the street.

Budget 

 

I spent a fair amount of money on exchange, the majority of which I attribute to rent and travel. From what I've heard, Montreal actually has really good rent compared to Brisbane - it's just that I chose to stay in a residence, so it was a bit more expensive.
I was still able to travel quite a bit despite the dent in my savings - I went on a few trips during the semester and a big one to New York and Boston during spring break, so it wasn't a big deal.
Food and entertainment weren't really that expensive - you just have to be mindful that in Montreal there is tax and tip additional to the price tag. 15% tip is expected for your average service. The challenge for me was knowing when to tip. Off the top of my head, you're meant to tip for things like haircuts, taxis and uber, wait staff, delivery, etc.. Don't tip for over-the-counter services, like groceries or buying from depanneurs or metro tickets, or you'll have a very confusing, awkward and embarrassing experience.
Travel expenses were almost a non-factor (aside from the odd Uber) since living in the Downtown area meant that everything I needed was within walking distance. I used the metro occasionally to get to attractions that were a little outside of the city centre - such as the St. Joseph's Oratoire - but it was never a consistent expense. I found myself using it less as the city grew warmer.
The amount that UQ Abroad recommends (I believe around 12,000) is a good ballpark, but if you're planning to stay back after the semester ends to travel or to enjoy watching Montreal come into bloom (which I recommend) you might want to bring a bit more.

 

Academic Development and Employability 

My time at McGill was an educational experience - I had never lived away from home before, traveled all that much, seen what's out there. The sudden independence left me in the midst of an admittedly jarring learning curve. My time management skills, organization, and multi tasking capabilities have seen some pleasing improvement since my time abroad, but the most notable change has been rather introspective. After living like away from home for months you get used to it, and going back can be an equally jarring experience. For me, It left me hungry, more motivated than ever to get back out there and travel again. This can translate to a very beneficial professional mindset - a strong drive to succeed, for one.

Highlight 

For me, the highlight of studying abroad was the people. You meet all sorts of friends, from the kind, the funny, to the wonderfully weird and everything in between. I met some of my favourite people in the world during exchange and I can't wait to see them again, scattered around the world as they are. Our travels to New York are amongst some of my happiest memories. By going on exchange you are offered the rare opportunity to connect and build a rapport with people around the world, so make the most of it!

Top Tips

Join the McGill International Student Network (MISN). This is where I made most of my friends. They organize trips to go to ski resorts, Quebec City, Cuba, etc. and you'll be seeing a lot of the same faces by doing so.

Don't be put off by the idea of going to Montreal in the winter semester! I had similar reservations before going but I don't regret it, even if I did whine a lot about slipping on black ice. If you're from Brisbane like me you rarely (never) see snow, and one winter in Montreal will keep you good on that account for probably your next two lives. But if you choose to go during the winter, JOIN THE OUTDOORS CLUB! I had so much fun going out of the city and engaging in the smorgasbord of winter sports available (especially dog sledding).

That being said, the cold is no joke - you will need a winter jacket, thermals, waterproof boots, gloves, scarves - the works. I would actually recommend buying some of this stuff at Montreal - searching for winter stuff in Brisbane that is up to par for Montreal is going to be a mission.

Don't do what I did and spend a lot on accommodation - if you make the most of your time in Montreal, you won't be spending too much of it at home. Go to the library or a friend's place to study instead, or have dinner at a friend's place every now and then!

Try doing new things - you are in a new city, at a new university, with new friends - it's still not enough! Make your time memorable, because it's over before you know it, and it's hard to leave. It's cliche, but it's true.

Don't leave it to the last minute to explore the city - try and visit something new every day, if not every week. There's lots to see, you'll find. I don't have a lot of photos of Montreal in the snow since it was too cold to venture outside for too long, but I find myself wishing I could compare how some of my favourite places looked between seasons.

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