Monday, 03 May 2021

Harry North (He. 2014-19) moved to Canada in January this year to study at McGill University in Montreal. He's shared his experience of his first weeks as an international student in this fascinating insight into life as a student during a pandemic.

After a negative covid-19 test, I arrived in Montreal on the 7th of January, in time for my second semester at McGill University. Unfortunately, I was unable to get out for the first term due to covid causing delays with visas. So I was delighted to finally get there. And after completing two weeks in quarantine, I was raring to go.

This year has radically changed the ‘traditional’ university experience. Classes are online and social events have been reduced. But you can’t dwell. A saying I have come to like is "if you can’t get out of it, get into it". So that’s what I have tried to do. Here is a brief account of my time so far.

Let me begin with the city of Montreal. It is very scenic with the tall buildings and the snow.  The city is right next to Mount Royal, which is a small mountain that overlooks the city. It makes for nice walks with stunning views. In addition, there is the older part of town, Old Montreal, which is lovely too. The architecture in Old Montreal is a mixture of different nationalities. You can see a bit of British, some French, and Southern Europe as well. I also have discovered a wonderful coffee place to maintain my coffee addiction. It’s called Pikolo Espresso Bar. Every morning I pop over to Pikolo. And I am greeted by Peter, the lovely man who runs Pikolo, with “is it the usual, Harry?” (a 10oz Americano with no sugar and no milk). “Is the Pope catholic?” I will normally remark. I enjoy my morning routine very much. If you are ever in Montreal and enjoy your coffee, certainly stop by Pikolo. It is the best coffee in the land.

I'm studying Economics and Computer Science at McGill. Classes are online but I have still really enjoyed them. My professors are both humorous and insightful. And for the classes I take, online learning has a number of advantages. In my maths classes, for example, I can stop the video and take a second to process what is going on. As you might imagine for long tedious math proofs, this happens quite a lot! Online classes also allow you to design your own schedule as the lectures are recorded. This is something I have enjoyed too.

There are however many differences between the North American and UK universities and this is part of the reason I came. Firstly, degrees in North America are mostly four years compared to the three years in the UK. Secondly, the structure in Canada is far more flexible. You choose your classes and pick your major and minors. These are effectively what you specialise in, with a major requiring more classes. This allows me to specialise in both Economics and Computer Science. It also allows you to try new things outside your main fields. Next year I am thinking about doing a beginners class in Italian!

Asides from my studies, the University itself is very pretty. It combines a city university with a campus-based one. You literally walk across the road from a skyscraper and into a campus filled with old historical buildings. It goes together nicely. Whilst my classes are online, I still enjoy using the university library. It provides a bit of structure to my day.

I love how extroverted people are in Canada. It’s very common for conversations to arise with people you don’t know, be it in your residence or out in the public. It definitely adds to a more positive environment. Though, there is a myth that North Americans don’t get sarcasm. I can confirm this isn’t entirely true! All my North American friends get sarcasm. Perhaps I have found like-minded people. Who knows! But this myth is exaggerated. Overall, I feel very lucky to have met so many amazing people. McGill is a very international university so my friends are from all around the world, ranging from Canada to London to Texas to even Karachi!

And that’s a wrap of my three months out in Canada so far. I plan to return to the UK for summer at the beginning of May. If you are in Montreal, please reach out. Likewise, if you’re interested in Economics, Computer Science, Education or even golf, do reach out too! I suspect many of you have received a vaccine by now. And with a bit of luck, we all will soon. Normality is on the horizon! In the meantime, stay well, stay optimistic and stay negative.

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