Exchange to McGill

James Burley from Birmingham reports on his exchange to McGill.

"Mark Twain once said of Montreal that ‘you couldn't throw a brick without breaking a church window;’ I would include boulangeries, beautiful parks and colourful architecture in that assertion. The city and the McGill campus are both delightful places to live in, a curious fusion of the best of American, Canadian, British and French culture. During my year abroad at McGill I would regularly walk past groups of workman each with a giant coolbox stuffed with fresh fruit, cheese and even wine. I would overhear conversations which fluctuated between the French and English language and walk across the street from a fiercely French-Canadian shopping mall from the 1960s to an early 19th century British-inspired townhouse for a lecture.

With a bit of internet research and a few hours commitment I managed to find a room with five other third year students on Rue de Bullion, just off the pedestrianised Prince Arthur which was lined with cafes, restaurants and more boulangeries (I became a little obsessed with buying fresh baguettes). Their friendly welcome was matched by almost every student I met throughout the year and at no point did I ever become homesick: as a young British person in Canada you are certainly made to feel welcome.

I studied a number of Canadian history and literature courses along with a fantastic US Government and Politics course and in every class I was struck by how engaging and interesting so many of the students were in seminars. Perhaps bereft of the shyness which often seems to strike British students , seminars were always informative and occasionally involved very heated discussions. McGill is a very active campus politically and culturally and I attended a number of plays and speeches during my time there although the hour-long Puppet show I saw was maybe pushing the creative barrel a little too hard... However, the level of student activity at McGill made me understand for the first time that when acting together students do have the power both to challenge and successfully change things.

Above all, my time at McGill helped me to mature into an independent and responsible adult more than any other experience has in the past. Overcoming the fear of introducing yourself and opening your mind to a whole different culture and its attitudes is an intimidating yet important task to complete in your life. The year abroad is a perfect place to do these things. I believe I am now a more confident and hard-working young man and would highly recommend a year abroad to all students who have the chance to go."


James Burley
University of Birmingham