Student Life

Making Montreal your home away from home

McGill is home to many international students, with nearly 30 per cent of the student population hailing from outside of Canada. This is one of the university’s greatest strengths, and a key reason that I and many others chose to attend.

I visited Canada for the first time in January 2021, when I moved into residence in the COVID-quarantine-curfew-hellscape that was the province of Quebec as an international student. Although I feel represented as French and American in a province that is famous for its blend of these two cultures, it is still hard being far away from home; I can’t imagine the feeling of homesickness that international students without that cultural presence can face.  

One of the main ways you can combat homesickness is by trying to meet people who are from the same country, region, or cultural background as you. This can be done, among other ways, by joining clubs or associations through the university. There are over 20 religious and cultural clubs at McGill—from the Belgian Student Society to the Malaysian and Singaporean Students’ Association, you might just be lucky enough to have a built-in community to join. 

Thankfully, finding your community doesn’t stop at the McGill bubble. As an international student in Montreal, you are living in an immensely multicultural city. By some estimates, around 24 per cent of the Montreal population is made up of immigrants

Take my roommate Beatriz, U3 Arts, for example. She is Portuguese, and we serendipitously signed a lease to live in Little Portugal our first year. When we first moved in, she went to the hardware store closest to our house to pick up some move-in essentials. When she came back, she was ecstatic. 

“It turns out the hardware store is Portuguese, and the old ladies in there were speaking the same accent as the people from my mom’s region!” she exclaimed enthusiastically. 

The piles of Portuguese dried fish, Bacalhau, sold at Segal’s—the Plateau grocery store beloved by many students—also reminded her of home.

To me, this illustrates one of the greatest things about Montreal: That you can find a small piece of your home country, scattered throughout the city. 

Some international students will be more disoriented in Montreal than others. As a half-French person who had never been to Quebec before, I was shocked to find all of my favourite French pantry items stocked in the Provigo next to my house—it was so comforting. 

Food is one of the ways in which international students can feel more at home in Montreal. Taste and smell are the senses most linked to emotion, so you might be able to find your Madeleine de Proust in the city. 

Montreal residents pride themselves in having restaurants from nearly every cuisine around the globe, where the owners and employees faithfully cook their native dishes, often importing ingredients for authenticity. From the Za’atar in Lebanese restaurants to the legs of Serrano ham hanging from the ceilings of Spanish eateries, there is always a bite of your home country to be found through culinary experience. 

These details can make eating in a restaurant from your home country and interacting with the patrons a very comforting experience that can help to keep homesickness at bay. Personally, the smell of bread baking in Toledo bakery on Mont-Royal and the inclusion of taxes in their prices is all I need to feel like I’m back in Paris. 

If you don’t feel like going out or are trying to save money, you can still use food as a medium to combat homesickness. The many international grocery stores around the city are perfect for finding imported products from your home country. The McGill International Student Services website is a great resource for anyone trying to find food from home here.

At the end of the day, however homesick you might feel, you will eventually end up making Montreal your home. As an international student graduating this May, I think I will be homesick for Montreal wherever I move next. 

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