Pippa MacNeil went to McGill University in Montreal, Canada for her third year of study on the History of Art – MA (Hons) programme at Edinburgh College of Art.
What were some of your first impressions when you started your time studying abroad?
It was fantastic getting to explore the culture of a new city. Montreal is similar to Edinburgh in that it comes alive with art and music festivals throughout the year, even when it is -30 degrees outside! I enjoyed the challenge of being exposed to an alternative perspective and academic system: the busy timetable of assignments, midterms and finals at McGill required me to be dynamic in balancing multiple projects at once. Although I enjoy the structure to the academic year at ECA, my time at McGill provided a productive and rewarding break that shall prove invaluable as I move into fourth year.
What activities outside of your studies did you get involved in?
During my time at McGill, I was appointed Head of Sponsorship at P[h]assion, an annual HIV/AIDS fashion benefit held in Montreal. Having participated and enjoyed my time at Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show, I was eager to join a similar organisation in Montreal in raising money for a great cause, Maison Plein Coeur. In my role as Head of Sponsorship, I was active in meeting people across the city in raising awareness and funds for the show. By collaborating further with a friendly committee at McGill, the fashion show provided an excellent outlet to meet fellow students and to work together on a creative project.
As well as this, I had the opportunity to volunteer at Papier 16, a paper-based media art fair in Montreal’s Old Port. This provided an insight into the internal workings of an art fair from the installation and curation of art works to the interaction with a buying public (in French and English!). As the art fair hosted galleries from across Canada, it was interesting to witness a broad, national span of works.
What places nearby did you visit during your time there?
In Montreal, I was fortunate enough to live with a roommate from New York City, allowing multiple trips there. Along with this, I visited two friends from Edinburgh on exchange at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. I visited during the Winter Carnival week in February where there are multiple ice sculptures and events for students to enjoy the snow. I also managed to visit Vermont, where I ice skated and witnessed the stunning natural scenery. The range and vastness of the North American landscape, along with the kindness of the people, is something that shall always take me back there.
How did your experience of studying abroad change from your first impressions as time went on?
Upon first arrival, it is easy to be apprehensive, especially when encountering a new academic environment. However, I found the atmosphere highly adaptive: tutors were helpful and encouraging of an alternative perspective from exchange students. Likewise, I found my peers friendly and I enjoyed meeting a variety of exchange students across McGill’s faculties.
Tell us about some of the people you met during your studies.
From my time in Montreal, I have undoubtedly made friends for life. In particularly, my flat mate Naomi was a fantastic friend throughout the year. As she is working towards her PhD at McGill for the next four years, I would be eager to return and visit her in Montreal. As Naomi studied as an undergraduate in New York City, I have also been able to meet her fantastic network of friends there.
As well as Naomi, I met great people on my course, many of whom were also exchange students from Europe. As well as sharing in our exchange experience in Canada, it was good to meet and engage with a variety of people who share an interest in art and culture.
What advice would you give someone who wants to study abroad?
Try not to worry too much about transferring academic knowledge between your exchange institution and ECA. Instead, focus on immersing yourself in an alternative academic and cultural perspective. Plus, take full advantage of everything you can see and do. Also, join a club! It’s the easiest and best way to meet likeminded people.