Montréal – a truly life-changing experience

Tyler – HEC Montreal

Semester 2, 2019
Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Information Technology

Coming into exchange you have certain expectations about the experience that lies in front of you; the people you’re going to meet, the university that you’re going to study at and the path of the journey you’re about to embark on.

Part of you wonders if you’re making the right decision leaving your life at home on pause while you pursue a completely unknown adventure. I can tell you from first hand experience that these expectations are beyond eclipsed as when I departed in mid-July 2019, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the experiences, the friendships and the pure enjoyment and happiness that the next six months would bring in Montréal and at HEC Montréal.

Travel before your exchange begins (a huge recommendation):

Semester one at QUT officially ended on June 19th and my welcome week at HEC Montréal didn’t begin until August 20th which gave me approximately two months to do as I pleased before my semester of exchange began. Therefore, I budgeted for a month of travel pre-exchange and departed Brisbane on the 19th of July.

Within this month I spent two weeks travelling through the Rockie Mountains in a van with a friend from Australia. I then spent a week in Toronto going to a three-day music festival and a week in Montréal going to another music festival and getting my bearings of the city before my semester started (i.e opening a bank account, getting a transport pass etc).

This was the best thing I could have ever done as by travelling beforehand I had already met so many people and students from Montréal before my semester had even started as well as had so many unforgettable experiences

Frosh week/welcome week (the most important week of exchange):

Frosh Week is Canada’s version of Orientation Week at QUT however it involves an intense seven days of activities and wild partying during the nights where it is almost certain that you will meet your group of friends for the entire semester.

This is where HEC Montréal stands out from the other universities in Montréal (McGill, Concordia, l’Université de Montréal and UQAM). HEC has an incredible exchange program run by students our age, whereby our frosh week consisted of just exchange students (there were 400 of us).

This was a lot different to other universities which provided little support for exchange students meaning they had to participate in frosh week with first year students from the university (mostly seventeen-year-old students) making it harder to become friends with other exchange students and students their age.

During this week HEC took us to the beach, jet-boating, hiking, to a theme park and water park and organised parties every night including a party of 5,000 students inside the university one night. Spending seven days together, bonding, partying and having fun with the same group of 400 people meant by the end of this week some of my greatest friendships had been formed.

HEC Montréal – what was it like?

On the surface, HEC Montréal can look like quite an unsuitable university for an exchange student and it certainly did fool me. It’s small (only 12,000 students), it’s considered a French-speaking school (however there are plenty of English classes), it doesn’t have on campus housing, it has no ranking in the university system and it appears to have no facilities (such as sporting fields, clubs, gyms etc). However, if you do some digging you will find that HEC Montréal is the business school of the University of Montreal, one of the biggest universities in Canada. The universities are located directly beside each other and because of their affiliation, HEC students are able to utilise all of UDEM’s facilities (including clubs, teams, gyms, sporting facilities) all for free. HEC is also ranked Canada’s number one business school and the standard of teaching there was phenomenal.

You must undertake a minimum of four classes across the semester and each class has one three-hour seminar each week (meaning 12 hours of contact in total). The classes however are not recorded, and attendance is usually marked, equating to about 10% of your overall grade. Cohorts usually consist of an intimate 50-70 students meaning classes are highly interactive and hands-on. It was not uncommon for the professor to provide their number to students and meet up for lunch and coffee on a weekly basis as they were often highly experienced professors still working in their industry of interest and loved to provide ideas and support to students wishing to grow their career.

The intimate nature of the university meant that the culture there was something special. Every Thursday from 4pm – 7pm HEC held a party inside the university which pulled a weekly crowd of about 4,000 students to allow us to immerse ourselves with other students and embrace the culture of the university. This was a highlight and something to look forward to each week and I recommend that you avoid scheduling classes during this time.

The HEC exchange committee – organised trips to Cuba, Boston and Quebec

As mentioned earlier, the HEC Exchange program is like no other program in Montréal. Not only did they keep all 400 exchange students in contact with each other through Facebook, but they also organised some truly incredible trips with all the exchange students including a one-week trip to Cuba during the mid-semester break, a five-day trip to Boston and a two-day trip to Quebec.

If you had told me before I left that I would be on a plane with 400 exchange students to Cuba, I would not have believed you. On top of this, they organised weekly parties for us as well as a gala for all the exchange students at the end of the semester. This was the perfect way to spend one last time together and say goodbye to everyone and to top it all off, they even made an Exchange Yearbook that we could take back home and reflect on all the amazing people and memories that we had experienced over the course of our exchange.

Accommodation – cost of living and finding a house

I lived in a five-bedroom shared house in Le Plateau for the period of my exchange which I organised through the website GetYourPlace. I could not recommend this location and website enough as almost all students who went to HEC lived in Le Plateau and went through GetYourPlace. GetYourPlace is a company that partners with HEC and other Montreal universities to provide shared houses with exchange students that are going to your university.

Rent is relatively cheap, I paid about $720AUD/month for a very spacious, fully-furnished house including bills, internet and fortnightly housekeeping. The only downfall of this website is that you do not get to meet your roommates before moving in, however, being exchange students, almost everyone is open-minded and friendly, and I did not meet anyone who was unhappy with their roommates through this website.

I lived with a Spanish girl, an Australian girl, a French guy and a Peruvian guy and I really could not have asked for better roommates. As the exchange progressed, we became a mini-family and it was always so nice to come home to at the end of the day.

Montréal – transport, weather and french culture

Most people when they think of Montréal think of bitter and unbearable cold, snow covered landscapes and pure French speaking people. However, I experienced quite the opposite. By arriving in late July and studying during the fall semester, most of my exchange was spent in gorgeous 20-25-degree weather with beautiful lush green parks, outdoor cafes and terraces and weekly picnics in the park.

I’ve travelled quite a bit through my youth however this city is like no other city I have ever been to. It’s named the 2019 international student city for a reason whereby it breathes life and festivity on a daily basis. For example, every Sunday from 1pm-9pm there was an event on called Piknic Électronik in a gorgeous parkland where about 10,000 people would drink and eat in a park all afternoon before dancing to techno music until the sun went down. This is only one of the many events the city holds daily with others ranging from food festivals, to events in hidden locations to firework festivals.

The city also offered students unlimited metro and bus transport for four months for only $200. This made getting anywhere you wanted in Montréal so easy and affordable. There is also a bike company called BIXI (similar to Lipton iced tea bikes in Brisbane) that has stations pretty much every 200 metres. You can pay $30 a month and you have unlimited access to the BIXI bikes, and I couldn’t recommend this enough for getting around in summer and fall; not to mention everyone rides their bikes around Montreal.

Although the city is a completely French speaking city whereby everything is written in French and everyone speaks French, it’s not a requirement that you need to learn French. I did have an intermediate knowledge of French before arriving in Montréal which certainly helped, however it is a condition for everyone who works in the city to also speak English, so it is very possible to get by not knowing any French.

Highlights of the exchange

There wasn’t much NOT to love on my exchange. However the main two highlights that defined my personal experience was the university culture and the extraordinary relationships that are made over such a short period of time. The intimate nature of HEC and the strong connection between the large group of exchange students meant that when walking through the hallways or eating in the cafeteria, there would always be someone around to talk to. The learning environment was so encouraging and positive because of the smaller classes, providing a much greater feeling of importance and acknowledgement for students.

The incredible friendships I developed over the four-month period of studying are relationships I will have for life.

It never fails to surprise me how strong these bonds can be after only knowing each other for a short time. For example, I made two friends (from Switzerland and Austria) and over the period of our exchange we travelled through four countries together (U.S.A, Cuba, Mexico and Canada) even after only knowing them for a couple of months. These are experiences I will remember forever.

Tips and advice for future students:

As much as I would love to write book on my tips for future students studying at the HEC Montréal, I’ll try and narrow it down to some general points for those of you considering attending the university (the best university in Montréal for an exchange student):

  • Even if it’s the last decision you ever make, pay the money to attend the entire seven-day Frosh/Welcome Week. Not only is it one of your best weeks on exchange but this is where you will meet almost all of your friends for the next four months.
  • Do not plan anything in the mid semester break as a one-week trip to either Cuba or the Dominican Republic is organised by the exchange committee during this time and again this will be one of the best weeks you will ever have.
  • I would NOT recommend living next to or near HEC Montréal as there are no restaurants, cafes, bars or any form of night life even remotely close to this area. Almost all students live in Le Plateau, which is one of the most beautiful places in Montréal in my opinion.
  • Make an effort to go out and experience the night life as much as you can and attend every social event possible because these are memories, experiences and friendships you will never get to make back home (Sorry, I meant study hard!)

I can truly say the best experiences, friendships and memories of my life have come from my exchange at HEC Montréal and if you are having any doubts about applying, just take the plunge and do it. Nothing but growth, change and an abundance of fun lies ahead.

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