I am a 3rd year student majoring in Corporate Finance and International Business who went on exchange at HEC Montreal, Canada. My primary goal during the exchange was to find out if I can live independently while simultaneously trying to improve my communication skills. The program was one of the best and scariest experience of my life. Not only will it allow you to study in a partner institution it will force you to adapt to a changing and uncertain environment during the first few weeks. To make it a bit easier to read I have divided my blog post into three main parts which hopefully future exchange students going to Montreal will find it helpful.
Living in Montreal, Quebec
I decided to live in Montreal for a number of reasons. It has a diverse population, strong cultural identity and it was a major city (based on my assessment) with a reasonable cost of living compared to other Canadian cities. Before I left, other UofA students informed me I should keep track of my monthly spending since I would not be able to work without a valid work visa. Housing is not available on the main campus. Students must find their accommodation via getyourplace.com or you can find private accommodation once you’re in Montreal. I decided to use the former as it was safer for me to be able to pre-pay the entire semester rent once I was in Canada. The agency pretty much took care of things for me and informed me of my roommates’ backgrounds.
I found the local Quebecois(e) students in Montreal to be warm and friendly. I managed to get by, even without being able to speak French, but it is really advantageous if you can. When I first arrived in Montreal everybody spoke French because it is Quebec’s primary language. I did panic for the first few hours, since I arrived at 12am at night without knowing anybody. Although after talking to the staff at the airport they’ve informed me the city is pretty much bilingual. So if you can’t speak French but would still like to study at HEC there are challenges to overcome but language will not be too much of a problem.
Before uni starts, HEChange (The School’s Exchange Committee) runs a couple of paid events for a whole week non-stop. I recommend you go to these activities, as it is a major avenue to meet new friends during the program and it is really fun especially at night. Further HEChange is there to provide support for exchange students and they help you adjust to life in Montreal. Nevertheless I relied mostly on my very outgoing and creative roommates to form new friendships. But after learning from them I set out and continued to communicate with other people around the exchange community. However do not fall into a trap of just hanging out with exchange students try to find a few local friends as well.
Studying at HEC Montreal
Once I got my HEC acceptance letter I log into the HEC en linge and pre-loaded my course selection. The school offers courses in French, English & Spanish although my courses were all in English. I ran into a couple of issues as some of the subject on their list at UofA was not offered. Further after the first minute that registrations opened most of the classes were already full, which did not allow me to change my courses afterwards. There is a whole process at HEC if you want to change courses with a full class, but it will take up a lot of time and it is not guaranteed students will be able to get in. I strongly suggest you do a bit of research on the course curriculum that you think you would like to do before registration day as some classes only have 60 students allowed at one time. Fortunately for me the courses I registered in were core subjects at UofA.
HEC has two main buildings within close proximity of each other. The first is Cote Sainte Catherine (CSC) which is a newer building and the other is Decelles (DEC) around about 10min walk from the first campus. There are quite a few open study areas within the campuses however it may be difficult to get a spot during peak hours. Also always bring your laptop or device with you because it was really difficult for me find a fast computer in campus.
The school emphasizes effective group work, resulting on most of my subjects requiring some sort of group participation within and outside of class. Although don’t worry too much about your group mates try to have a small group with a mix of both local and international students. Group work at HEC will require more activities, meetings and participation than UofA. However I have noticed the attitude of HEC students and their culture towards group assignments is more effective and efficient than of UofA students. I felt like the overall course workload is very similar to UofA but take note of your subjects, some of them will have a proper mid-term exam which I was not use to in Adelaide. Also I found the assessment to be a bit easier than UofA as long as you show up to class and contribute to the group assignments it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll end up with good grades leaving you with more time to travel and explore Canada & U.S.A
Travelling Around Canada
There are a number of ways to travel around the country and even into the U.S.A. The HEChange team organizes a couple of trips around Canada and into the U.S. for a reasonable price. There are also a couple of tour companies that can take you around the continent. Personally I went with Iko Tours along with my friends. We were able to visit remote sites via a bus while traveling from Montreal-Toronto-Niagara Falls. Although the time is a bit limited to stay and look around the places. So a couple of weeks after the trip, I decided to plan my own travels back to Toronto as well as in Ottawa. However if you do plan to travel alone it might be double the costs than traveling with your friends or via tour groups. But the upside is you get to control your own schedule and visit specific places you want to see. Additionally I really wanted to travel around using the rail system, but prices can vary depending on the time you decide to leave. Rail prices is cheaper than air travel but significantly more expensive than just taking a bus. The good thing about trains are they are a few hours faster than ridding a bus and you get from one CBD to another.
When traveling to other cities one important experience for me was to watch my budget. I did not look at the prices when I was traveling and the prices was more than I expected. Toronto CBD is around 15% higher when shopping compare to Montreal. So if plan to buy a couple of things along the way just keep track of spending allocated for your trip.
- Plan your monthly expenditure before you go on exchange and stick to it
- If you are using getyourplace for accommodation try to pre-pay your entire rent as a hedge against currency fluctuations
- A 15% tax in Quebec is included in goods and services not shown on prices. Plus be aware of the additional 15% tip if you’ve received services in bars and restaurants
- You don’t have to tip large fast food chains and taxi drivers
- Pre-Load your course at HEC en linge & register at registration day (Some courses has high student demand)
- Travel around Canada and the continent
- Join the fun, wing it & build your own experience!