Montreal – the number one student city!

Sneha M., Bachelor of Business and Laws (Honours)
HEC Montreal, Canada (Semester 2, 2017)

When I realised I was going on exchange I was a whole lot excited and a little bit nervous! I had never lived overseas before for starters and my best dish consisted of toast. My partner institution was HEC (Hautes Ecoles Commerciales) in Montreal, Canada. While my classes were in English, French was the main language spoken in Montreal. Equipped with about 3 duolingo lessons I packed my one suitcase and off I went! Luckily however, nearly everyone in Montreal speaks English, in fact, they want to practice English so much you may not always get to try out your French!

My experience did not start off on the best note. My flight from Brisbane was delayed by four hours, which meant I missed both of my connecting flights. When I arrived in LAX for a stopover my phone stopped working and my next flight was delayed. On my final leg from Toronto to Montreal, the passenger behind me was severely sick and had to get medical treatment before we could fly out! I ended up arriving in Montreal with no one to pick me up at 4am, a day later than expected. This also meant I spent the first and only day before orientation week getting my phone fixed, getting some warm clothes (as it was -14 degrees) and grocery shopping.

The next day orientation week began and it was jam packed full of activities including going to an outdoor spa in the snow, laser tag, snow tubing, pub crawls, hikes, ice skating, parties and much more. Needless to say it was really fun but so exhausting I caught the flu. I think experiencing challenges so early in my exchange made me take initiative and get organised really quickly which made the rest of the trip so much easier.

I was really lucky my roommates were also attending HEC. This made the whole experience better because we had similar schedules and could travel together. I definitely recommend going to Montreal if you want to travel. It’s only a short bus ride to New York and Boston and a few hours further to Washington DC. I also got the chance to visit the Rocky Mountains on the West Coast of Canada and Iceland during spring break which were both simply breathtaking .

Montreal was voted number one student city in the world for good reasons! It has plenty to do and a great atmosphere. While on exchange I went to Igloofest a music festival with intricately carved ice bars, bonfires and great music. It started snowing halfway through the night, which just meant everyone had to dance harder.

 

It can sometimes be difficult in winter where some days it was -19. It’s really important to layer, because underground and inside it can get really warm with central heating. Montreal has an extensive underground metro system as well as shopping centres and an underground mini city! Good shoes are also a must as you can be trekking through deep snow to get to uni! Canadians are tough and uni is hardly ever cancelled unless there is a major snowstorm.

A word of caution though, HEC has a very good reputation, but that also means the courses are quite difficult. Instead of using electives, I was able to complete compulsory finance subjects. The format is quite different with no online lectures and three hour classes that combine work as lectures and tutorials together. Take advantage of the consultations and make sure to study throughout the semester as most exams are worth 60%! One elective class I took however was Social Innovation in the International Area. This subject requires us to work with a Social Innovation group or project in Montreal to meet specific aims. It was amazing to see the social enterprises people from across the globe are involved in.

The friends, skills and memories I have gained from Montreal and my time at HEC was invaluable. I am so grateful and humbled by exchange experience. I can’t wait to visit again!

Nice – a nice change from Brisbane

Thomas M., Master of Business (Applied Finance)
EDHEC Business School, France (Semester 2, 2016 & Semester 1, 2017)

Over nine months, I spent two semesters in France at the EDHEC Business School campus in Nice from September 2016 to May 2017, completing the dual master programme in applied finance/corporate finance and banking. During this time, I lived in central Nice and studied at the EDHEC campus about 5km out of the city centre. The classes, assessment, academic organisation, cohort and campus at EDHEC were all quite different to my studies in Brisbane at QUT, with both advantages and disadvantages.

Firstly, at many French colleges, class attendance is mandatory and unjustified absences can result in academic penalties. However, the system of marking attendance is somewhat inefficient as it relied upon a sheet of paper circulated throughout the students and as a result, incorrect and unchangeable class absences are a somewhat regular occurrence. The campus itself is quite nice and modern but is much smaller than that of QUT Gardens Point or Kelvin Grove, lacking sports fields, bars or study rooms and having only a single canteen. The library is also quite small and finding a desk can be very competitive so many students tend to study inside vacant classrooms or at home.

Outside of the administrative aspects, the content and assessment of classes was overall more challenging than that at QUT and very case study-based. This was useful in gaining more knowledge in applicability of theoretical concepts to actual business cases. The school has quite a strong focus on case studies and recruits many lecturers from corporate positions for short stints of teaching, including from accounting and law firms, investment and corporate banks and consultancies. I found this a great way of teaching because it helped me to gain insight into the work-life practices of people within these careers and see what their roles really entailed, and it offered good opportunities for networking.

Living in Nice was obviously quite a large change from Brisbane in several ways. Firstly, it is much smaller in size and population than Brisbane making it quite easy to get around town without a car. While the general culture is also different, I found it generally pleasant and a fun place to live and didn’t experience much of a “culture shock”. The cohort of international students often has similar backgrounds and interests and there are often student-led functions and events, so socialising with other exchange students is easy and fun. While I tried to improve my French, nearly everyone understands English so getting around and meeting people is often easy. The city of Nice itself is also a great holiday destination and really fun to live in as there are numerous restaurants, bars and public gardens to explore, and the French Riviera has some great beaches and views of the Mediterranean.

Moving to France was daunting at first but overall, a great experience that helped me to meet people, make lots of new friends and learn finance from a European perspective. Finding a job in Europe is also far easier with a European qualification and while living in the region, which is something that wouldn’t have been as easily available from Australia.

Cultural Differences and People Management

Ok, so I’m enrolled in a unit called Cultural Differences and People Management. A lot of the course work revolves around writing about our feelings and such (BSB124 anyone?). It has a lot of self-reflection. I’ve just completed the homework for the first seminar (their version of tutorials). To describe it in a few words, I went from being very reserved in my answers to listing every difference or issue I have noticed/experienced since being here. I think it sums up well the time I’ve spent here so far, and thus I shall replicate it for all of your amusement (?):

“Seminar Week 2 – Cultural Management

1. From French, 2010:45: “How useful is it to view culture in Hofstede’s term as ‘the collective programming of the mind’”? Give examples of such ‘collective programming’ from your own cultures.

By assuming national cultures share common characteristics that are a part of their “programming” it allows managers and business professionals to make realistic assumptions about the people they interact with. It assists in both management of, and interaction with, people from other cultures. It also removes the barrier of cultures and ensures and insures human interactions are unhindered by cultural differences/biases.

What Hofstede provides is a way to examine culture in a general sense. Whilst he notes not all people, within a culture are the same, and that personalities/unique traits have a high variation within a population, he believes that there are certain core elements of a culture that are shared among its populace. As such, to think of it as a collective programming of people’s minds allows people to interact with another culture in an effective (and non-offensive) manner.

Examples of Cultural Programming within our own culture:
• Mateship – Australians are for the most part, all friends with one another, regardless of whether or not we know each other or are strangers. We will greet strangers on the street, ask them about their day, and offer assistance on trivial things if needed.
• Empathy – Australia is a very compassionate nation. In times of crisis, we will go above and beyond to help a fellow man
• Fairness – Australians operate on a fairness basis. To put simply, we believe in “a fair go” and that all people should be given a chance when it is due to them. We believe also in the fair value of things, that is, we believe that in all things there should be an equivalent exchange. For example, the Australian public believes we should not pay more for something if it isn’t worth something, we will pay only if the price is fair. We will complain about the rate of tax if our governments are not providing adequate services for the money we pay. We will voice our objection to any political policies that discriminate against the Australian people, and the concept of “a fair go”. On a side note, most Australians will look down on ANYONE who doesn’t contribute to society in some respect, as it violates this policy of fairness and equivalent exchange. We have a name for these people.
• Respect – We have a deep respect for our history and those who serve the country in some way.

2. What is meant by’ Culture Shock? Can you give any examples of it from your own experience?
Culture shock is the dissonance felt when experiencing a culture that is not one’s own. It manifests in a number of ways, most commonly feelings of anxiety and feelings of alienation within the foreign culture because you are operating within an environment that conflicts with your own perception of what is a “normal” society.

Some examples from my own experience would be some of the etiquette differences between Australia and the UK. Australian people will say hello to people on the street. That does not occur here. Other minor differences that made me feel a little alienated included the rearrangement of goods on supermarket shelves, not seeing familiar brands from back home, being scolded for things that are considered a must over here, but no one cares about in Australia (e.g. Over here it is expected you place a barricade between your food items and someone else’s. In Australia, we rarely use this, as we just leave a space for those behind us. I was scolded because I OFFERED the person behind me the use of the barrier). Other minor differences I’ve noticed include:
• Australians walking up stairs/escalators on a different side than the British
• The amount of foods British people smother with butter
Some minor things that I’ve been annoyed with since being here:
• The assumption that all Australians cannot be well spoken. No offence to any British people reading this, but I’ve seen more Australians that have a higher mastery of the English language than I have within the population of the UK itself, in fact, we butcher the language to a lesser degree than a lot of the locals within this country.
• We do NOT ride kangaroos to school
• We are NOT all uncivilised. Education has gotten better since federation
• We are NOT all convicts. Hell, a vast majority of people who were sent to Australia were jailed for stealing bread to support their families, because lord knows the UK’s economy couldn’t support them at the time.

3. Is ‘Culture Shock’ inevitable when you encounter a new or different culture?

After the above examples, I’d like to say yes to this question, however, just because I have noticed these differences/had these scrutinies, it does not mean I have not been able to cope, and for the most part, get along swimmingly with a lot of people. I have made a vast majority of friends since being here, and my interpersonal skills are just as effective in this country as they are in my own. I’d also like to note the best people I’ve met whilst in the UK, so far, are the French.

4. Describe some strategies that are useful in avoiding or minimising culture shock.
• Cross-cultural training or some program that enforces learning in diversity – To help understand that there are differences among cultures, and to harbor respect for all people
• Living in a multicultural society – Australia being largely multicultural, we don’t have an issue with being surrounded by multiple cultures, in fact as a general rule, we embrace having so much cultural diversity, as it forces us to understand that we are not the greatest culture in the world, nor the worse, and that all cultures should be respected.
• Researching the culture before entering the country – It may not be possible to know ALL the nuances in another country before arriving, but it definitely can assists in avoiding any largely awkward situations.”

I’ll admit it gets a tad whiney at the end. But it felt so good to voice those opinions on paper format. ALL IN ALL though, I am loving my time here. And I’ve made sure to correct many people about any misconceptions they have about Australia.

Stay classy Aus,

Tom