What I wish I had known before starting to work in Montréal

January 21, 2021

Five years, or 1,825 days. This is exactly how much time has elapsed since I arrived in Montréal on July 21, 2015 and when I applied for Canadian citizenship on July 21, 2020.

I choose Montréal asked if I would recount, in this blog, my story as a French student who came to Montréal to study and start my career in Québec.

In 2015, one of my parents was offered a job in Montréal in the aluminum industry, a leading sector. This gave my entire family an opportunity to come together and have a unique expatriate experience in a stimulating environment where we would have a chance to meet new people and have new experiences. I was 17 years old when I set foot in “YUL” for the first time. Since I was far along in high school, for my final year I attended the Collège international Marie de France in Montréal.

However, my family’s expat experience soon came to an end. Having fallen in love with the city, I decided to stay behind and continue studying in Montréal. In August 2016, I enrolled in a four-year Bachelor of Business Administration program at HEC Montréal.

And I was right, because Montréal is a wonderful city in which to study and start a career.

For one, the job market is booming and, after four years of school, it’s always nice to know that you can easily get a job upon graduating from university. For my part, I did well in school in marketing and creativity. One day, I had the idea of applying for an internship in Montréal’s leading advertising agency. However, I wasn’t sure how my application would be considered given that I was a foreign student. The agency’s major clients were large companies whose culture I wasn’t necessarily familiar with, whereas my Québec friends had been exposed to them all their lives. Against all odds, and with several hundred other candidates applying, I was offered an internship. Once at the agency, I found out that it was my different point of view that allowed me to stand out from others.

After an accelerated week of training, I was put on projects for very large firms (Air Transat, St-Hubert, Samsung). In comparing my experience with a friend from Paris who was doing the same internship in a similar agency in France, he was spending his time making photocopies and serving coffee. Having to take on responsibility quickly was an incredible boost to my career. When summer was over, I said goodbye to the teams to complete my last year at HEC, and was told that I would be called back when I finished school and offered a job. I smiled, as I was certain that this was typical North American politeness. Three months before I finished my degree, I received a call. It was the human resources manager calling to offer me a job. He was offering me the same position as my internship supervisor had. Although this story may not seem very relevant, an overwhelming number of my friends had this type of work experience.

In addition to a booming job market, there is also an affordable standard of living that allows young professionals to live comfortably compared to other large cities in the United States and Europe. While on vacation in Paris, I rented a small apartment that was dark and had few amenities for the modest amount of €800 per month, or CAN$1,230. I’m sure that French people living in Montréal are smiling while reading this… For this price in Montréal, you can rent a three-bedroom apartment in a beautiful neighbourhood. When you ask a foreign student or foreign young professional what they take away from Montréal, it’s most definitely that the city is a great place to live. What Montrealers refer to as “chill” is not a myth. Montréal, both in winter during a festival or in summer in its parks, is a city that has added value through its relaxed atmosphere. Montrealers care about living life to the fullest, whether on weekends on an outing, in bars, parks and at outdoor events, or during “happy hour” during the week.

It’s certainly during the city’s myriad of events that a student or young professional can meet Montrealers who have come from all around the world. The city is teeming with foreigners from various backgrounds, and there is a reason why it’s commonly said that the population is bilingual!

The city’s safety contributes greatly to this healthy, pleasant and caring environment. In fact, The Economist ranked the city as one of the safest in the world. Men, women and persons who proudly display their identity can definitely feel at home in Montréal. Each person is free to do as they choose in this city, to the point that I would sometimes go shopping in my pyjamas, under the watchful eye of the store’s other customers.

So if you are a student or young professional searching for a French-speaking North American city with an international dimension like few others, that is caring, relaxed, with a thousand events every week, that provides opportunities to young people without judgment as to their identity, that is safe and, especially, one of the most enjoyable cities in the world…

Choose Montréal. I’m giving you some friendly advice: you won’t regret it.