I studied courses towards the Arts half of my Arts/Law degree (3rd year) at McGill in Montreal, Canada in Semester 2, 2012. I took mostly high level courses which were much more engaging and specific than similar subjects towards my Peace and Conflict Studies major taken at UQ. The fall semester is short, only three months plus revision and exams and does not have a mid-semester break or a swotvac, making it a pretty intense academic period (as well as fitting in all the travel and socialising as well as the baffling amount of clubs and societies McGill offers). Higher level subjects involve a much higher amount of readings and assessment pieces than at home on top of the 5 subject full time load. However, they are also very engaging and the lecturers are of a very high quality and exams are only marginally more difficult (there are just more of them). Other surprises include the lack of criteria sheets. I had two 5000 word papers (one on any topic of my choice, another from a list) which had minimal instructions. This is somewhat freeing though and allows you to develop your own ideas, using guidance from the TAs (tutors) and lecturer during their office hours. All of the staff are very approachable.

Montreal is definitely one of the best cities to live in in North America, particularly the Plateau area which is located outside of the 'McGill bubble', giving you a better sense of what life is really life for a Montrealais/e. In Montreal the law requires that in all retail or hospitality situations employees must begin every transaction/conversation in French. This provides a great opportunity to use French in a North American context or to learn some conversational French while you're there. When you're stuck, everyone also speaks English. McGill is also an English university and, though many francophones attend, it is fairly anglo-centric. $1 beers on Thursday nights, seminars/debates, wine and cheese nights with professors, huge amounts of club events and a great gym/many sporting teams are just some of the aspects which make McGill a fantastic community to be a part of. I also recommend living off-campus as I did for cost reasons and also because you are more likely to meet a diverse range of people who can show you the best of Montreal. My roommates were some of the best friends I made on exchange and I met many people through them, to the extent of being hosted by a roommates friend's family in Ottawa for a beautiful white christmas. Apartments are easy to find on sites like craigslist and kijiji. Also ask the current crop of students at McGill, whose roommates will likely want to replace them at the end of their exchange (a UQ student has taken my room for Semester 1, 2013).

Fall is a beautiful time of year in Montreal and its proximity to Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto, as well as Boston and New York make it an excellent base for weekend adventures. The McGill International Students Network runs a number of weekend trips which give you almost completely free time to undertake whatever activities you like. Highlights for me were the Boston trip, as well as a day-trip to Ottawa organised by a non-McGill student group Interstude, and a weekend to Toronto I organised with some friends. Rideshare is another way to get around and people looking to share trips/petrol can be found on craigslist, kijiji, and amigoexpress. I also recommend coming early to the fall semester to do some tourism/make the most of the summer festivals and beautiful weather as in the winter months people tend to venture out less. Being walking distance from all the Plateau has to offer in terms of great bars, restaurants and cafes was one of my favourite things about exchange.

5 Top Tips:

  • Poutine is delicious. Do not eat it sober. La Banquise on Rue Rachel is the most well known, but also try Patati Patata.
  • Talk to locals about the franco/anglo cultural divide and history which is long and still very present.
  • Eat cookies from Cafe Neve, chicken and portuguese tarts from Romados, hot chocolate from Cafe Laval, Timbits from Tim Hortons, bagels from Fairmount (24hrs, always order whatever they've just made), and burritos from the Icehouse on Roy.
  • Drink at Else's, La Distillerie, & Les Pas Sages. Dance at La Rockette and Panda Bar.
  • Use ratemyprof.ca as well as other McGill student recommendations to find courses you like and buy textbooks off McGill Classifieds and the Free and for Sale facebook group.

Have an excellent time is this amazing city!


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