I remember the moment I got accepted to McGill University, how I anxiously logged onto Minerva for the thirtieth time that week and called my mom right when I received the news. What remains most vivid are the feelings of joy and relief that rushed upon me; the joy because of the school’s prestigious reputation, and the relief because I had practically grown up on McGill’s campus, right beside the Mclntyre Medical Building. Going to McGill was, without a doubt, the easiest decision I have ever had to make. It just felt right to attend the university that my parents graduated from and that I had wondrously watched from a distance for so long.
I entered my first-year feeling extremely hopeful, waiting for that big change — the “real university experience” that everyone kept talking about. However, I quickly realized that it was never going to come.
Quebec students enter the Cégep system for a minimum of two years before applying to university. We graduate high school in grade 11 and then enter, where we are granted freedom and independence for the first time. Similar to university, at Cégep one applies to a program of choice and makes a schedule based on core classes and electives that one finds interesting. Although I am grateful for having gone through the Cégep system, as it sufficiently prepared me for McGill, I admit that it took away from the novelty of university. My life has not changed dramatically; perhaps the only thing that has really changed is the number of readings I have to do. One of my friends said it best when he remarked, “McGill is like Cégep 2.0.”
It is bizarre to feel as though I am on the outside looking in, as if the very thing that made McGill so familiar to me is also what prevents me from fully participating.
While international and out-of-province students get the excitement of discovering a new city, hearing French in cafés for the first time, and walking the streets of the Plateau, Montrealers are already used to all that. We already know about the terrible winters, the construction that plagues the streets, and the excitement that comes with the summer months. Montrealers cannot join with new students and tourists because we cannot marvel with fresh eyes at the beauty–or the frustration–of this city.
Having McGill in my backyard but not having access to this particular facet of student life creates a strange dichotomy. It is bizarre to feel as though I am on the outside looking in, as if the very thing that made McGill so familiar to me is also what prevents me from fully participating.
For first-year students, living in rez seems like a rite of passage. I cannot help but feel jealous when I hear my friends talk about their dorm experiences. For one thing, my friends from Montreal and I don’t get their rez jokes simply due to the fact that it is not our reality. Just as they isolate themselves in Upper Rez, Solin, or Doug, Montrealer-McGillians also live in an insular world of sorts, revealing that there is much more to the university experience than first meets the eye.
McGill University feels like home, literally, and I must admit that my life has remained pretty similar to before. There are certainly some perks to being a Montrealer: most of my best friends go to McGill, and the ones who don’t are always up for an easy study date in McLennan. But since I have kept the friends that I made during high school and Cégep, I don’t feel the need to put myself out there as much. I have yet to find a balance between these two parts of my life; I’m learning how to push my own limits and make new friends while also staying true to my Montreal roots and comforts.
I have yet to find a balance between these two parts of my life; I’m learning how to push my own limits and make new friends while also staying true to my Montreal roots and comforts.
So there is a challenge before us locals: we need to work a little harder to enter the McGill bubble, and to somehow find a way to merge it with our own. Unlike everyone who newly arrives to the city and is faced with abrupt change, Montrealers need to find novelty in the less obvious and immediate elements of university. Attending faculty parties, joining different clubs and even participating in the intramural sports program are small but impactful ways to feel like part of the school’s student life. McGill’s vast internship and exchange programs are also great opportunities for Montrealers who truly want to get out of their comfort zones. I, for one, chose to move out with my friends in the Plateau in order to challenge myself and to gain a sense of independence.
Montrealers, jaded as we are, should also be able to recreate ant entrance into something exciting and new.