As an International Studies student with a major in French, France had always seemed like the obvious location for my exchange semester. After much deliberation and research into the eclectic bi-lingual city of Montreal I decided to try my chances on a new place and head to McGill for semester 1, 2013. What I discovered was a North-American city more quirky and colourful than I could have imagined, with a huge cultural life to boost!

I will be honest from the outset and say that McGill University was an amazing learning experience, but one that didn’t leave as much free time during semester to explore Montreal and it’s surroundings as I had hoped. Upon arrival at McGill I found that most of the courses I had elected were unavailable and ended up taking third year political science courses as well as advanced French language classes. While all of my courses were more academically challenging than at UQ, I found the learning environment to be incredibly stimulating with most students highly engaged with the subjects. For anyone interested in politics in the Middle East I would highly recommend taking a course while at McGill as the university has a huge Middle East Studies centre. I took ‘The Foreign Policy of the Middle East’ and highly enjoyed the open debates that would happen most classes on controversial subjects - while I felt my knowledge bank was lower than most of the other students (many whom were from the region) it was great to be in such an environment and soak it all in! I would also highly recommend the Octagonal room in the Islamic Library as a beautiful study spot under stain glass windows in a converted old chapel. For those wanting to pursue French, it should be noted that McGill is an English university so you will find yourself speaking less French than you may expect for a French Canadian city.

I lived in the upper Plateau, which was great platform to the francophone side of the city, but I found that I would have preferred to be closer to McGill to make the most of student life- while I would recommend the Plateau- the general rule would be to not live further into the Plateau than Rue St Denis!
I would recommend joining MISN, McGill’s international students group, as it was in this group that I met the friends that I spent the semester with! If you are in Montreal for the winter semester, make sure you go on the Skiing trip with MISN. Forest lined slopes, huge wooden chalets, fireplaces and spa baths make the perfect setting to meet new people and make some amazing memories! Montreal is well known for its brunch culture, so if you can brave the winter make sure you get out on the weekend for some of the best brunch experiences in North America! Check out L’Evidence on Rue St Denis or for something different Le petit Café Byblos in Av. Laurier Est. For a glimpse of Montreal’s renowned hipster culture head towards Le Cagibi on the far end of St Laurent Blvd where you will also find an array of vintage stores and quirky galleries! Go to Marché Jean Talon at least once during your stay.

Montreal is a great spot to branch out into wider North America, a train to NYC will only cost you $70 and take 7 hours, I would highly recommend it for the mid-semester break.

If you are considering going to McGill I would highly recommend to go during the second semester when the weather is warmer. While winter in Montreal is an experience, the best of what Montreal has to offer in my opinion comes out in the warmer months when the city streets and parks become buzz with musicians, picnickers, cheap festivals and summer merry-making like no other city in the world!

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