Executing an international study plan during a pandemic

June 30, 2021

The plan to go study abroad was not an easy task, and then add a bit of COVID-19, border closures, and you end up with an explosive mix of doubt, self-questioning, fear and extra stress.

In these difficult times, which I hope will be soon behind us, do we just give up everything and abandon our plans? I want to just say NO! It’s actually worth the trouble. In fact, pandemic times have created lots of complications, but I can say today that once you arrive in Montréal, you (almost) forget all the trouble you had to face.

The beginning

When the plan started to mature in my head, the world had no inkling of the scourge that was about to turn our lives upside down. So I started the admission process with Université de Montréal. To my amazement, I received an admission offer, which I quickly accepted although we had just come out of our first lockdown in France and it seemed like a long journey before I would get to Montréal. Despite the borders had just reopened for foreign students, considering the sanitary crisis and long study permit application processing times, I asked myself if it was the right time to go study abroad. I had a growing fear of finding myself all alone without a solution. It would be easy to just give up in face of such challenges. But I had not yet considered the solutions Université de Montréal had suggested to its international students, such as the possibility of taking courses remotely or getting support from the international students office with my immigration process, so I fully committed to study in Montréal!

First, I took the risk of starting the semester remotely so I could iron out the details of my trip. Most of my professors adapted to this new situation by recording their classes, thereby allowing international students and Canadian students alike to take courses remotely despite the time difference, which was much appreciated. With the first part of the semester done remotely, I was able to discover a unique university system and good peer support.

Once all the formalities for the trip were completed, I headed off for Montréal.  I must admit that the Paris to Montréal flight was the most stressful flight in my life. Everything induced fear: closed borders, PCR test results, going through immigration with your fourteen-day quarantine plan. With the sanitary crisis, so many situations, albeit unlikely, go through your mind even before boarding the plane, despite all the different information from the international students office or information you pick up from other foreign students!

In fact, you need to be ready and organized, have your documents, but I assure you that all the people you interact with, in France or Canada, are very kind and understanding. With all the information provided by my university, I had no problems. It was almost jarring to have everything go so normally when we know there are so many potential pitfalls…

If you’re afraid of leaving, I have one piece of advice: Just do it! You will not regret it and you will be proud of the journey you made. Montréal is an experience you need to live and discover:

  • Being close with professors and teaching assistants. In Canada, the teaching staff not only transfer knowledge but they also allow for debates and discussion.  I quickly noticed that much leeway was given for discussion, especially on current events, and for debate. The professors and TAs are actually available and listen to their students. It is therefore quite easy to discuss matters with them, whether about the course itself or the teaching method, or just to ask a simple question.
  • There’s no judgment here. The age range, nationality, profile and culture are so diverse it’s impossible to say there is a typical student profile. At Université de Montréal, students come from all over the world and it’s quite common to see people returning to school. On the one hand, this makes the classes and exchanges quite constructive and rewarding.
  • Student peer support and group work. Firstly, student peer support, notably through social networks, is important. I was able to find so many answers either from student groups or the university’s Facebook group. Group work also encourages contact with other students and is a format Université de Montréal uses often. This type of work deserves much praise as it allows us to meet new people.
  • A good quality of life. Coming from the Paris area, I must say that the overall cost of living in Montréal is less expensive. On top of that, Montréal has a lot of entertainment. You can find lots of activities at very affordable prices or even some free activities. Moreover, there are quite a few discounts for Montréal students, regardless of their age, which is much appreciated. The quality of life in Montréal is also much appreciated as it is a safe city where you can go biking (in the summer, of course!). In Montréal, you can eat anything and enjoy new experiences. Besides, there are so many things to see and do, an impressive number of bike paths and parks of all sizes, each neighbourhood has its own distinct character and a friendly living environment. And when we go out of the city, there is so much to do:  less than an hour from Montréal are various national parks where you can enjoy the great outdoors, shop at the outlets outside the city and even go for a swim in the Chambly basin.