New beginnings as an international student in CEGEP

December 19, 2023

When I arrived in the city at the age of 17, it was love at first sight. Now 24 years old, I’ve started my career in Montréal and I’m still in love with it. Let’s delve into my memories and the reality of my daily life as a student in the city.

Studying at CEGEP

I started CEGEP in 2016. While this is already considered a major transition for students in Québec, was an even bigger one for me. It meant a new school, but also – and above all – a new country and a new culture.

CEGEP is something we don’t have in France. For those of you who are familiar with the system, it’s a mixture of première and terminale. For my part, I joined a CEGEP that uses “reverse pedagogy”. It’s a radically different system from the one I left, but the idea is simple: they assume that you are autonomous. In other words, you assimilate the material yourself before practicing it in class. The result? Very few lectures, lots of discussions, group work and active learning, and therefore much more interesting – in my opinion – than the incessant tirades of my former teachers!

Student residence life

As an international student, I had the opportunity to live in a residence, which was like living at school 24/7 – so yes, I got up 15 minutes before class, because who wouldn’t? Beyond saving time on commuting, the residence experience is unique: it’s like living with tons of roommates. This means evenings spent playing board games, watching movies in the communal lounge and playing poker, as well as discovering each other’s culture. We celebrated Candlemas, the opening of the sugaring-off season and El Dia de los Muertos. We had countless group dinners where I learned about Kraft Diner, shepherd’s pie and homemade poutine.

The school also organized a lot of activities! I took part in skating, skiing and snowshoeing sessions during the winter, as well as improv classes, field hockey game broadcasts and pumpkin-carving parties for Halloween!

Transitioning from CEGEP to university

I gained so much from CEGEP… everything I’ve just told you about, but also, and above all, so many friendships. I came to school knowing no one. I finished my studies alongside friends with whom I was lucky enough to live for 2 years and with whom I’m still very close, 5 years later. Some of them stayed in Montreal, some left. As for me, I decided to extend my experience here and apply to several universities before choosing HEC Montréal. I wasn’t necessarily dreaming of a career in business. It was just the only university that offered bilingual curriculum programs broad enough to satisfy those who, like me, weren’t sure where to go or what to do. And so, a new adventure began.

A new school, but the same culture and familiar faces. Unlike CEGEP, I began university with friends from Québec who already knew some people, who knew others… This made it much easier to hit the ground running and meet tons of people.

Although socially, university was easier than CEGEP, it was a new rhythm to get into: it was more demanding academically, with a more sustained workload and more pressure to succeed. I’d always been good at school, and I’d always given myself the means to achieve my goals, but university quickly made me realize that I shouldn’t rest on my laurels.

Fortunately, I had a group of friends with complementary strengths! After class, we’d usually stay for an hour or two to debrief the day, work on projects and explain more complicated concepts to each other. That is, until we all got hungry and went to someone’s apartment to order something. Know this: if you live next door to the university, your apartment will become the ultimate gathering place for any occasion! And you won’t mind in the least!

Thanks to my engaged friend group, I found myself on one of the school’s many committees, at conferences discussing obscure topics like web 4.0, or in a night race at La Ronde. I was often told that the university years were the best, and I never really understood why. Now that I’ve lived them, it seems obvious: university life in Québec is without doubt an unforgettable experience!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Montréal International.