After two months, I’m still amazed by the magnitude of Montréal. I would be surprised if anybody from Europe would think differently! Let me start off by saying that it’s absolutely great to live here. It is very different from anything I’ve experienced before which makes it a worthwhile addition to the International Triangle Programme. People here are very open and multi-cultural and HEC is a great business school. Living costs are higher but that’s just one of the very few down points of being here. Before flying to Canada I figured I could improve my French language skills while being here, but this turned out to be an illusion. I am already happy to be able to say something back correctly if the miss in the canteen asks for ‘’un e quarante-cinq’’ for my cup of coffee ;). I throw the occasional ‘’c’est bon’’ or ‘’ah bonjour, ça va’’ in only to find out afterwards that I’ve got no clue what the person says back to me.
I just came home from going to the city centre, where I unknowingly became part of a parade of zombies. The Halloween fever reveals itself already for some time. I’m very curious about what more to come! What I just encountered may sound random, but in fact every day something new is going on. It’s a very vibrant city where, by just walking around, you could fall from the one surprise into another (I’ve already seen my share of super random but funny things). If you are used to Europe, Montréal will be an eye opener. Living here is different yet familiar in many ways. I’ll address this in the rest of this blog.
I live across the street from HEC Montréal. There are some areas in the city that are more preferable to live such as ”le Plateau” or downtown. If you’re going shopping or going out (untill 3:00 maximum; afterwards everything is closed) you’ll most likely go there. However, because of the long distances between parts of town and for convenience reasons I decided to live close to the University. It’s not hard to find a place here for about 500$ to 700$ per month, there is a lot available.
HEC is located on the other side of the Mont Royal if compared to the city centre. The Mont Royal is a mountain with park in the middle of the city. The picture shows a view from one of the tops of the Mont Royal, looking down on the city centre. This is just a small part of the island of Montréal, so you can imagine on how huge this city is (around 1.7 million people live on the island).
HEC has an impressive building and studying is great. The students come from all over the world and the university management really tries to connect the business world with the university. Also at HEC you get this feeling that it’s very ‘alive’ as well. A lot of things are organized for you to get you embedded in the university life. Next to academic things or presentations from business managers, there are also other things organized such as drinks in the university once or twice a week from 5 to 8. Great for informal meetings with fellow students 😉 ! HEC seems to truly act as facilitator in creating connections and getting you to do more than only going to courses and going home afterwards. I’m truly amazed to see this actually since I never encountered such activity and spirit in a university before.
I attend four courses related to Supply Chain Management: (1) Logistics, (2) Managing International Business Networks, (3) Internationalization of the Firm and (4) Planning and Control of Logistics Systems. Big part is doing group work (research, writing papers, doing presentations) and each lesson has a ‘traditional’ set up. One part is lecture and another part is more interactive. This makes me miss studying at Maastricht University a bit: There, all classes consist of a small group of students and they are completely focused on interaction and facilitating the discussion (called the Problem Based Learning system). With a traditional theory part embedded in almost each lesson here at HEC, it is a little bit more boring sometimes. The classes are filled with international students from all parts of the world. It varies from China and India to Germany or the U.S. The courses are combined with visits to workplaces and guest lectures from business professionals. For example, a Supply Chain Manager from Nespresso came by two weeks ago to talk about his responsibilities and the differences between the theory and practice. You get the feeling the teachers constantly try to make a reference to practice which is very useful. The courses are all one semester long and the workload level is somewhat less than I was used to in either Maastricht or Lisbon. What really stands out is the level of the teachers themselves. They seem extremely knowledgeable. It’s funny that now I’m here I sometimes talk in Dutch with a teacher (he is from Belgium), whereas in Maastricht I never did this.
As International Triangle student I need to work in a company and engage in a project that is related to the courses I attend to at HEC. Therefore I’m doing a project in the Jewish General Hospital in Montréal. This is one of the biggest hospitals in Canada and employs around 5000 people. I’m there together with fellow triangle student Max to set up Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) for their new logistics system. It’s a very interesting project for two main reasons: I can apply theory I learn in the classroom and the hospital is currently in the start-up phase of applying major transformations in its systems and processes. Therefore, the recommendations flowing out of this project can be used immediately by the management team. Our job is to map the relevant logistics systems related to the hospital and to figure out how performance in every step of the logistics cycle can be measured in the best way. Based on research we will recommend several KPI’s and show how to use them. We’ll also start implementing them.
As I said living here is different yet familiar in many ways. On the first sight it kind of looks like what I am used to in the Netherlands. It is only bigger and way less flat. With bigger I mean that they drive around in these big cars usually on big roads and live in big houses. I walked today through the ‘main’ street downtown which is several kilometres long. In the Netherlands we have one main ‘big’ warehouse (Bijenkorf) but here are loads of stores this size or bigger. It’s just as if everything is a bit extremer. It makes sense though; there is a lot of space to be filled up in this country as Canada is 240 times the size of the Netherlands while the population is only twice the size. It is clear to see that it is a city made for cars; I am lucky a supermarket is within walking distance but this is, together with HEC, the only thing of use that’s within walking distance. Montreal is very multicultural just as in the Netherlands. However, people have this common thing over them that I can’t really grasp. I thought it was a fable, but this Canadian ‘thing’ they have makes them say sorry for everything.
Furthermore, people here love their rules. Often heard this about the Netherlands as well, that there are so many rules, but here the regime is much stricter. An example, which I found to be completely ridiculous, was that I couldn’t eat during my exam. That sounds reasonable, rules are rules, but imagine this: I started eating an apple, the examiner walked to me and mentioned I couldn’t do that. Then I told her, since we are allowed to use the toilet during the exam, that I would go to the toilet and eat my apple outside while walking towards the toilet. To ‘approve’ this simple thing, the examiner went to the other examiner to discuss it, who in turn called to somebody outside. He later hung up, said something to the first examiner, who in turn went to me only to tell me I had to leave my apple on my desk if I wanted to go to the toilet, and of course that she was sorry.
Another example is that, as one of my roommates experienced, you will be fined no matter what if a cop sees you crossing the street in a non-designated place. Doesn’t matter if clearly there is nobody and no car is around as far as the eye can see; rules are to be obeyed. Try this in Amsterdam. This kind of strictness is, in my opinion, very strange and a bit silly.
You have to pay close attention to what food you are buying here. Most of the things in the supermarket come with a lot more choices than we’re used to in the Netherlands, but also mostly there are a lot of ‘bad’ things added (such as a lot of preservatives). The food is of less quality and almost everything is Canadian made. This makes sense when you research a bit on import taxes: for example for dairy products it is around 270%, which means importing things such as cheese are super expensive. Canada still has some progress to make in opening its markets I guess. New trade agreements are in the making (such as the CETA) so there is hope for more good and affordable food for Canadians. I switched to bagels for breakfast instead of bread with cheese. As a Dutch guy I really can’t appreciate the so-called ‘’Gouda’’ cheese here (liars!). However, a ray of hope comes shining out of the beef section of the supermarket; this is cheap and very tasty.
All-in-all I am having a great time here. Living is easy and you get easily ‘sucked’ into a rhythm of university – work – leisure time. It took some time to get adapted here, but living in Montréal and studying in HEC is truly a great experience and a lot of fun. Almost forgot to mention but yes, the weather is as horrible as you might think it is. While I’m freezing, Canadians don’t think it’s thát cold yet. Well, it is!! But maybe that is just because I spent a semester in Portugal before… My next update will be in mid-december!