The McGill community is one that attracts many. The university boasts its high academic standards, its long-standing history as one of the top universities in Canada, and its diverse student body. McGill’s reputation draws prospective students from not only Quebec and the rest of Canada, but also from many other countries. For those that cannot make the commitment of all four years, studying abroad is the perfect opportunity for a taste of Montreal’s unique culture and the experience of attending McGill. While students studying abroad at McGill immerse themselves in the same student culture that we are all a part of, their experience differs tremendously from ours; and to shine light on how they see both McGill and Montreal can act as a refreshing new perspective on what we have grown to consider the norm.
I spoke with Yijun Gu, a U2 Management student on exchange from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. She, too, chose McGill for both its academic and friendly, diverse reputation. Since arriving, she has come to enjoy the atmosphere of both McGill and Montreal and assures me that all the students she has met have been “friendly and warm.” It’s true that many of us chose to attend McGill because it seems to offer a nice balance between big city and small(ish) campus. While it’s all too easy for us to see familiar faces in between classes or make library-small-talk for a couple painstakingly long minutes with someone we met in first year, how does an international student on exchange navigate such a dynamic student environment and form those connections in their short term at McGill?
Luckily for Yijun, she’s been able to meet people through group work in classes, as well as through international student services at McGill, making her time at McGill not as daunting as it could be perceived. Despite all of this, Yijun finds it that she still hasn’t really explored McGill yet. Given the fact that all of her classes are in the Bronfman building, she spends the majority of her time either there or in the library adjacent to it. This routine of class to library is shared with the rest of the student body, many of whom (like myself) find it hard to make time to explore when there is so much to do. Yet, Yijun, being an international student, came to McGill not just for the campus and fun student life, but for Montreal itself. Seeking to explore and discover a culture very different from what she is used to, she has made an effort to visit “Old Port, the Notre Dame, Mont Royale and, of course, China-town”. But for her, exploring Montreal isn’t an effort. It’s considered a natural part of studying in a whole new place.
How is it such an accepted norm for McGill students to be stuck in the “bubble”? And are we really stuck?
Not confining herself to a five-block radius from the heart of McGill’s campus makes perfect sense. So, why do we do it? Sure, it’s nice to walk down to Old Montreal and visit a cute café, taking plenty of photos to prove that you are physically capable of leaving the ghetto; but why does it feel like such a big deal? Plenty of students, like myself, come from provinces outside of Quebec, so Montreal still has that feeling of novelty and possibility to it. It’s so easy to brag about going to McGill and living in Montreal, ranked last year as the top student city in the world but can we really say that we live in Montreal if we choose not to experience all that it has to offer? How is it such an accepted norm for McGill students to be stuck in the “bubble”? And are we really stuck? Montreal, with its many tourist spots and classic outings for the students that can find the time between work and classes, has far more to offer than what many students end up experiencing during their time at McGill. Yijun seems to think that “if you live in the environment, you tend to miss the beauty”. Maybe it is simply the fact that we are here for four(ish) years, so we don’t feel the same pressure as students studying here from abroad for just one short term, to see all Montreal has to offer. It’s easy to take for granted all that lays within our reach simply because we live in such an interesting, vibrant city when we have the time. For Yijun, there’s no such thing as a McGill “bubble”, but rather a university that lies in the centre of a city which is waiting to be explored.