On the 22nd of August, after 16 hours worth of flights, I arrived in Montreal. Words cannot describe how exciting but also nerve-racking that was. From making sure that I had all my documents for the study permit, to trying to find my way around Montreal for the first time.
I guess it may just be too much information and it may take too much time to actually go through everything that has happened since, but I’m gonna try to highlight a few things. Mostly because I feel that even though I was told “going on exchange can be tricky” in some way or another, the personal aspect of the experience is needed to understand that.
- Welcome week/orientation is much different. In Edinburgh, I felt that most of Fresher’s week was seeing announcements for pub crawls (which never appealed to me) and other small(ish) events. Here, we had some events like Discover McGill (huge stadium, lots of screaming, you need sunscreen), after which Science Exchange students like me got to meet with the Exchange Student Advisor. That was really helpful as it gave everyone a bit of a heads-up in terms of the academics at McGill. Also, events like Frosh are also organised for McGill students, so if you’re into outdoor activities or party after party you can definitely check that out. Downside: it’s a bit expensive and it does happen that the majority of people attending are first year students. I personally didn’t sign up for Frosh, but I recommend that everyone coming to McGill looks up the MTL Bitesize tours- I went to a couple and they were an amazing way to discover the city and meet new people!
- Course registration can be a pain. My first 2 weeks of classes was unfortunately marked by these painful things called registrations. Basically, many of the courses I wanted were reserve closed (for people at McGill enrolled in certain programmes) or had pre-requisites which I had to demonstrate. That took a lot of time, meetings with 3 student advisors here and lots and LOTS of emails (both to my Exchange Coordinator, who has been incredibly understanding, and to the advisors themselves). I also didn’t like some of the courses I had originally signed up for. That is completely fine but stressful at the same time because I didn’t want to be stuck with them for a semester. Truth to be told, other exchange students I met also had similar problems with courses, so it felt good knowing that I’m not the only one. But that also meant that I was going to 3 or even more extra courses each time to see how they are and if I should or can enrol in them. It honestly worked out in the end, but that being said, prepare lots of back up plans and try to get in touch with previous exchange students- that should help a bit!
- Phone plans are much more expensive in Canada. I used to pay 15 pounds for a decent amount of data and unlimited calls+texts. Here most of the ones cost above 45 dollars for limited data and texts. I ended up getting a plan and not just a SIM (if that makes sense) but the first month ended up being close to 100 dollars (cause there’s an activation fee involved). Some of my friends got cheaper options but after reading around a bit, I decided the best option for me was the 45 dollars a month.
- Textbooks and lab equipment. Back in Edinburgh, for most of my biology or biomedical labs, everything (from lab coats to gloves and googles) was provided. Not here. If I had known, I would have brought my lab coat from Edinburgh and not paid 38 dollars for one with a logo. Also, textbooks and course packs here are a thing. This is only my personal experience, but except for my language classes I wasn’t actually ever required in Edinburgh to buy textbooks. At McGill I signed up for classes which had required textbooks or course packs (put together by the lecturer and from which required extra reading can be done).
- Tax is not included. Add about 15% to the price you see. Also, adjusting to a different currency can be tricky. I thought I had spent a fortune on groceries and other stuff for my room but when I thought about it in pounds, it wasn’t actually that bad. Plus, you are expected to tip. 10% or 15% or 20%, deepening on the situation. I’ve been told it’s considered rude not to tip but I was definitely not used to this in Europe.
Overall, though, I’m really excited to be here for the next academic year. And I bet that the good parts will make all those new things seem insignificant. Bring on the winter?