||Journalism and Professional Writing
Why did you choose your host university?
Concordia stood out early during my research process for a few reasons: its Journalism program is highly regarded; the available subjects for journalism and my sub-major in history highly appealed to me as they offer an extremely large range of topics; and the city itself is known as an incredible cultural hub with some of the world’s best music, food and festivals. I have travelled to Europe and other continents so North America seemed like a new prospect however Montreal offered the multilingual challenge I was looking for.
What was the university like?
Concordia University has brilliant resources for all students. Professors were all extremely enthusiastic about their subject. Each one had interesting experience in one or more relevant fields and they were passionate to pass on their knowledge to students. My professors were very open to meeting if I had questions or wanted extra assistance with assessments or examinations. There were more frequent assessments compared to UniSA however the work load was similar to manage. There is a big emphasis on attendance as the roll is taken most classes and readings must be completed as there was almost always a weekly test on them which went to our final grade. Readings were more often than not interesting and actually enjoyable to read. There seemed to be more freedom in assignment topics as I was able to choose my own question to suit my specific interests and therefore it was easier to complete and I felt that I learnt more. Professors want to discuss your interests to give the students the best experience possible. Journalism and history classes were structured differently than UniSA – Concordia has two lectures a week rather than a lecture and a tutorial. The lectures are not online so you have to attend in person. The classes in the history department and many other areas besides journalism are large and less personal however journalism classes are intimate and interactive. Class timetables are out of your control as most subjects have one class. To change your timetable you’d need to change your subject as there are no alternative times.
There are two libraries at Concordia which are easy to navigate and staff there to help you find resources if needed. You can borrow laptops, chargers, iPads and other electronics if you need but overdue fees for these and book are quite expensive. I forgot a few times and seriously regretted my bad memory. Textbooks can easily be found second hand on Kijiji (similar to Gumtree) and at the Concordia bookstores – the original and another on Rue Bishop selling only second hand textbooks.
Settling into the university is made easier with tours around the campuses and explanations of available services such as job interview training, CV writing and free medical appointments. It’s comforting knowing if something is wrong I can easily go to the doctor without fees. Concordia makes the student lifestyle social, enjoyable and varied. Student’s attitudes are inclusive with every sporting, art, intellectual, religious and cultural group you could think possible to join. The university constantly organises events to benefit the community. My history professor invited some classmates and I to a talk presented by Canadian journalist ____ who spoke about his experiences as a prisoner of war in ___ and his life as a journalist in war zones. As well as providing interesting and though-provoking ideas as a future journalist, the talk opened my eyes to events in war zones and political and social impacts in captivity situations. I also went to many talks and workshops arranged by Concordia Greenhouse ranging from mushroom foraging to sustainable landscape gardening to beekeeping. These talks and out-of-school activities made me feel part of the Canadian, Quebecois and Concordian community while providing me with different perspectives of the world and also Australia. Volunteers at People’s Potato and The Hive (one ‘restaurant’ per campus) prepare a free vegan lunch for students. There is a different meal each day and the only requirement is to BYO container, plate and cutlery. For poor students it is a great concept and way of getting yummy food with vitamins rather than ramen noodles out of a packet! They often use ingredients grown at the uni’s greenhouse so its super fresh. They have other really cheap but tasty and meat-friendly/vegan-friendly/allergy-friendly options across the campus if you can’t make it to the free lunch.
There are lots of student discounts to take advantage of including discount days at supermarkets and food places. Museums have great deals for students. Always ask for student discount wherever you go because there is a high chance you will save money as it is a huge student city.
What did you gain from your exchange experience and has it changed the way you think or altered your approach to life?
Before Montreal I could never have imagined the possibilities or opportunities out there – work, travel and socially. In some ways I feel completely changed in that I am more sure of myself, my interests, values and wants but in many other ways I am more confused than ever. Before exchange I had a clear plan of where I wanted to live, work and what I wanted to do but now I have seen the endless options available to me and I am not sure what to do first. I have also realised that I shouldn’t have a set plan but I should be more open to change. The world feels like a much bigger place with so many people to meet and things to do. Meeting so many different people with other views, opinions, experiences and interests has given me a broader outlook on things and a realisation that it is important to hear what people have to say even if it isn’t what you necessarily agree with. It opens your mind and cannot hurt to hear an alternative way of doing things.
What accommodation options were available to you? How affordable was accommodation and would you recommend the same option to others?
Before arriving in Canada I had connected with three girls via the Concordia International Exchange group on Facebook to find a house together. We signed the lease before we had met or seen the house. This actually worked very well for me as I got along super well with all of my housemates and the home itself was great and in a nice location. In some ways it was beneficial to arrive in Montreal relaxed knowing I had a home and housemates but it also could’ve been nice to look around upon arrival. My house came with furniture included which saved me a lot of money and time. I saw many houses that come fully furnished. Some friend’s signed a year long lease even though they were going to be in Montreal for six months. At the end of their exchange they had to find new tenants to replace them. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find someone when they left and had to pay an extra month of rent. They eventually found new tenants but if not they would have had to pay the rest of the six-month lease out. I therefore recommend signing a lease as long as you’ll be in the city.
However where you live is totally up you and what you choose will vary on your preferences. To help I did a pros and cons list
Other friends met their housemates in hostels and visited different places once they’d arrived. I think it could be better to find accommodation once arriving in the city to get a feel for different neighbourhoods and find people you know you get along well with. Typically, the earlier you find a place the less rent you’ll pay. I looked into staying in student residence however you aren’t able to cook any meals and most people staying there are first year students. This did not appeal to me at all and I found having my own house suited my lifestyle a lot more as we were able to host events but also make the place homely and intimate.
Describe your travel experiences; did you travel locally or to neighbouring countries?
Before the semester began I travelled to Alberta for a month visiting the Rocky Mountains with some people I’d met in Montreal’s Osheaga Music Festival. During the semester I went camping with my housemates and some friends to national parks in Quebec and Ontario – it is easy to buy cheap camping gear on Kijiji. These trips were some of my favourite weekends on exchange and I’d really recommend getting to the national parks before or after Winter as they are beautiful and home to lots of moose, bears and chipmunks. On weekends and between classes I visited surrounding cities: Quebec City, Toronto, Mont Tremblant, Ottawa and other smaller towns in Quebec. Travelling is easy and cheap if you use the rideshare website called Kangaride or rent a car with mates. During Winter we did some snowboarding trips to surrounding mountains. It is cheap to rent snowboarding gear and with many people driving from Montreal to the various mountains you can hitch a ride for cheap.
After finishing school for the year I backpacked around America, Cuba and Mexico. Each of these countries were completely different from one another but all incredible. Cuba and Mexico were nice options to escape the freezing Montreal temperatures but also accommodated my extremely low budget after seven months abroad!
Describe how you adjusted to life in a different country and how you met new people.
Adjusting to the Canadian and Quebecois lifestyle was surprisingly easy. I met many people in hostels when I first arrived. Once classes started I made an effort to start conversations with people sitting next to me and eventually these people became close friends. I went to some language exchange events which was good for meeting people and practicing new languages but it was fairly easy to meet people. Making new connections with locals introduced me to Canadian customs whereas being with international students was nice as they were going through the same thing as I was. I found it easier to meet international people and people from other provinces as they’re more open to meeting people.
I kept in contact with family and friend’s through sending postcards and some photos home which was sweet telling them about my new life. I didn’t speak with home maybe as often as I should have because Montreal began to feel like home quite quickly and I was very busy. I think it’s important to not focus too much on things people are doing at home, especially at the start, as you’ll probably feel like you are missing out on things.
Can you see any benefits from this exchange to your future career?
Exchange has opened my eyes to so many new options and career prospects over the world. I feel like I’ve also gained confidence in my abilities and self-awareness. Exchange challenging at times and brought up many questions which helped me to find things in myself I can improve upon but also how I work best. I’m able to adapt to new, uncomfortable and challenging situations and can interact with people very different from myself.
I also had opportunities to write for various Canadian magazines which was great experience. I was open to learning about Canadian politics and news which was interesting. Working for another news outlet with different laws and requirements taught me new skills and adaptability.
What advice would you give to a student who was hesitant or considering joining the exchange program?
Exchange is nerve-wracking, unknown and the biggest but best decision I’ve ever made. Usually it is relatively easy to see what step is next – university, graduation, work, etc – but exchange is completely unknown. Its thrilling to do something without certainty. Out of everyone I met in Montreal not one regretted exchange but instead were already planning their next one. This challenge you wont regret!
Its hard to narrow it down to one tip… Enjoy the unexpected because many things will happen that are out of your control and not part of the plan. These things are usually the most fun and memorable. Try and adapt to your surroundings rather than bringing every habit and routine from home because then you will get a real feel for the place. And most importantly… BRING WARM CLOTHES TO MONTREAL OR YOU WILL DIE FROM FROSTBITE.