Cameron: First Impressions of Montreal

I made it to Canada!

My first two weeks at McGill University have been jam-packed with meeting new people, battling the cold and exploring the incredible city of Montreal. My main goal for the exchange was to go somewhere that is so utterly different to New Zealand and I have come to the right place. Here’s a breakdown of some of my first impressions of anything and everything important that has to do with going on exchange to McGill University!


Montreal is well known for its food. This is something I was especially looking forward to as I’ve always wanted to try the classic North American food we hear about growing up but can’t get in NZ. A Canadian dish I was excited to try was poutine. It’s hot chips covered in gravy and cheese curds – but you can get some insane variations. I made sure my first ever poutine was at the best poutine place in Montreal, and everyone Canadian I talked to recommenced a place called La Banquise. It was a half an hour walk away and then a 20-minute wait to get a table, but it was 100% worth the wait.


McGill doesn’t provide much information for exchange student housing on their website. If you’re interested in coming to McGill I’ll give you a quick rundown:

Exchange students can either go into their regular accomodation, which means you’re mixed with domestic students in flats or dorms, or you can go into 1 of 4 flats which house 17-30 exchange students in each flat. I’m in one of the exchange student houses, and it does, unfortunately, mean you end up living in an ‘exchange student bubble,’ but the major benefit is that you are living with people who are always keen to explore and go do something. The endless late-night conversations about slang and mocking each other’s accents are fun too.

The only major downside to this accommodation is the loft beds. This means that all the beds are above the desk. You have to climb a ladder to get onto your bed and you also can’t charge your phone and be on your phone in bed at the same time because the chord doesn’t reach that high from the wall. But the rent here is cheap compared to Auckland, and we live a 6-minute walk from campus, so I’m not fussy.


University life at McGill is very different from UoA. I’m taking all level 400 courses (equivalent to stage 3 courses at UoA) and in upper-year classes the class sizes are really really small and the expectation from the lecturers is high. In two of my classes, I’m 1 of 11 students. We all sit around one table, and the lecturer sits with us, and the content is taught to us like more of a discussion. We are expected to stop the lecturer to ask questions and give our own opinions on everything. None of my lectures are recorded, and most of them don’t provide slide shows, so if you miss the class you fall behind and it’s hard to catch up. Class participation is much more emphasised here than at Auckland and is worth 20% for most of my classes.


It’s pretty well known that Canada is cold. I can’t really describe what -21° feels like, and apparently, it’s going to get even colder. Every Canadian tells me that I’m going to hate the snow after a few weeks, but at the moment I love it. As long as you have snow boots (I found a pair for $60 on the first day I arrived), thermals and one REALLY good jacket (I got mine for half price during a Kathmandu sale) you’ll be fine. Going on exchange is all about putting yourself in a new and different situation, and this is definitely different from Auckland.

If you have any questions about anything related to going on exchange to McGill University don’t hesitate to reach out!

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