By Hannah Treanor
My name is Hannah Treanor and I am a PPES student in Trinity College Dublin. This year I decided to change my usual by-line and embark on an adventure to Montreal, Canada to study in the prestigious McGill University for the year. Political Science and Economics were to be my academic ventures. My reason for choosing McGill? I have always had a dream of studying in America and as I grew older and the politics in the US of A became slightly bizarre, I decided Canada would be a preferable substitute. Next step, in the summer of 1st year, was to look at the rankings, as I figured if I was going to travel to a country where I would not avail of the Erasmus grant, I should go to an amazing University. McGill stood out to me as a picturesque internationally-acclaimed university which was quite a bit smaller, population-wise, (at 40,000) to its 85,000 strong academic counterpart, University of Toronto.
I left Ireland on the morning of the 25th of August and my journey over the following 13 hours mostly consisted of me questioning my own sanity. I love travelling and have been in multiple situations before where I have had to build a support system from scratch. However, there’s something about travelling almost 3,000 miles to a place where you know no one that has a tendency to strike a chord of fear within you.
I did not expect the culture shock that Montreal greeted me with. For me, a move to North America was going to represent a change but not a significant one. However, I never accounted for the level to which French is a part of Quebec/Montreal culture. I did not expect people greeting me continuously with “Bonjour, Hi” and menus in French with no English translation. However, the 4 hours spent walking around the city the day after I arrived, attempting to find a supermarket so that I could get some breakfast or even a café where I could understand the menu resulted in a resolve to learn the language as soon as possible.
Furthermore, the city is the epitome of contrast. I live in the heart of the financial district where skyscrapers abound, a 20 min walk in one direction brings you to Old Montreal, a faux-European area which presents the weirdest mix of Parisian side streets, Italian cobbles and Dutch-style buildings. If you walk another direction and end up in the Plateau, you will find yourself surrounded by street murals and a skyline devoid of overbearing buildings. Another couple of quick differences are the costliness of going grocery shopping, the button-less traffic lights, and of course the constant knowledge that “Winter is Coming” resulting in everyone in the city wanting to make the most out of everything while the weather remains somewhat viable.
McGill is an adventure in its own right. Simply beautiful, it reflects Montreal’s reputation as intensely ‘Instagrammable’. Within my first day of arriving, I was at a mixer for International students. There were two further days of orientation which involved a pep rally, a festival with free food and samosas (which I would later find out held some sort of cult-like importance here). This was followed by Frosh/Fresher’s week. I had not signed up for a Frosh before coming due to the cost and the fact that I wasn’t crazy about being surrounded by 17 year olds discovering alcohol for the first time. But after a couple of interactions with exchange students, I realised everyone I met was participating, so I signed up for the Arts Departmental Frosh. It was the best decision I’ve made so far and I would highly recommend international students to do it. I made some incredible friends and experienced Montreal in a way I never would have. From pre-drinks in deluxe apartments overlooking the city, to boat parties, to beach parties, to breakfast on Mont Royal…it was something I’ll never forget.
Frosh ended on the Sunday and we started college on the Monday. The subsequent weeks have shown me why McGill is so highly ranked. The professors are fascinating and the choice of modules makes me feel like a child in a candy shop but the workload is significant. Time management becomes a major priority.
My hopes for the rest of this term are to ‘keep the balance’. This includes keeping up with the workload and obtaining the C+/2.2 I need to access my final year of study in Trinity while also participating in extracurriculars such as my position as VP External in a McGill society to which I was recently elected. I also want to get further involved in the McGill community, meet many more new people and fully embrace my exchange experience.
Note: The way the ECTS system works with the McGill system means that exchange students should engage in 5 modules a term and pass 4. However, I was informed at the beginning of August that 5 modules is not a feasible load in McGill. So I went and met professors while still in Ireland to obtain permission to only engage in 4 modules. Upon leaving the country, I believed that everything had been sorted out but two weeks into term, a change in departmental advisors and miscommunication resulted in Trinity wanting me to do 5 again. I got in touch with some previous Trinity students who had been on exchange to McGill and they informed me that this has been an issue with students going to McGill for at least the last three years and that they all had to drop down to four due to extreme academic pressures. Through lengthy daily correspondence and with the aid of the SU education officer, I eventually got both my departments to confirm that we could take only 4 a term. I would recommend future students who intend to undertake this exchange to get written confirmation of this agreement before they leave Ireland.