In the 2019 QS Best Student Cities ranking, Montreal defended its title as the best student city in North America for the fifth consecutive year. MBA students at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management flock to Montreal from more than 30 countries around the globe to enjoy the diverse culture, low cost of living, and strong job prospects—and they usually stick around long after graduation.
A Haven for International Students
For those who haven’t visited Montreal, the name often conjures up vague notions of a poutine-eating, French-speaking culture against an icy backdrop. In reality, the city is a diverse, cosmopolitan hotspot for culture and immigration. In a metro area of 4.2 million people, more than 22 percent of residents are born outside of Canada, and another 14 percent are the children of immigrants.
Sankalp Sachdeva, a McGill MBA student from northern India, arrived in Montreal with little idea of what to expect. He knew that McGill University attracted a large percentage of international students, but he felt nervous about his lack of French language ability. “Language was one of my biggest hesitations, because everyone back at home warned me that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with people outside my program,” he remembers. “But honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by the bilingualism in Montreal. Everyone in downtown greets you with a ‘Bonjour-Hi’ and quickly switches to your preferred language. I had no problem acclimatizing.” On his first day on campus, another MBA student introduced him to an Indian grocery store nearby. “Indians can’t live without their spices!” Sankalp laughs.
Another MBA student, George Oriokot, moved to Montreal from his native Kampala, Uganda, hoping to experience the same warm welcome as he received as an undergraduate exchange student in Ottawa years before. During his exchange, a group of Canadian students in his student residence took an interest in him and worked to initiate him into their local culture through ice skating, hockey games, and day trips. “I had moved 18,000 miles and these people who didn’t even know where Uganda was opened their arms to me and taught me how to be a Canadian,” he marvels. “Canada has a more open, accepting feel to it than most places in the world.” The summer of his exchange, George spent a weekend in Montreal. What he remembers most from his visit, aside from the smoked meat sandwich he tried at the iconic Schwartz’s Deli, was the diversity that surrounded him. “Until you actually visit Montreal, you can’t understand just how multicultural it is,” he remarks. “Just the other day, I met another Ugandan at a professional event.”
Since George moved to Montreal, his appreciation for Canadian culture has only grown. “Canadians embrace different views of the world,” he’s realized. “They’re also good at seeing the bright side of things, which is why they can enjoy winter sports outside, even in the cool weather.” During the final months of the winter, like a true Montrealer, George lives in anticipation of a beautiful summer season.
Low Cost of Living, High Quality of Life
“I often tell people that the best case I can make for relocating to Montreal is that I came from the Bay Area and haven’t regretted it for a moment,” says Professor John-Paul Ferguson, Academic Director of the MBA program at the Desautels Faculty of Management. Residents of Montreal enjoy the lowest cost of living of 20 major cities in the U.S. and Canada. Even in downtown Montreal, students pay less to rent their own apartment than they’d pay to share a bedroom in cities like London, New York, and Paris.
Before choosing to study at McGill, Sankalp considered a long list of MBA programs in North America. When he factored in the affordability of housing and heavily subsidized daycare options, he concluded that Montreal’s low cost of living would significantly reduce the financial strain of earning an MBA. For George, the cost of living creates endless opportunities to enjoy all the city has to offer. “You could go to a new restaurant every day and not go to the same place twice,” he says of Montreal’s standout food scene. “The nightlife is really great, and I try to hike and explore the city as often as I possibly can.”
Launching a Canadian Career
Both Sankalp and George moved to Montreal with the intention to establish careers in Canada. With the help of Canadian immigration laws and abundant networking opportunities, they succeeded.
Canada provides international students undertaking a two-year degree with a work permit following graduation that lasts up to three years. During that time, students have a clear path to permanent residence and citizenship. Canada’s generous immigration policies, which also include a work permit for the spouses of international students, heavily influence the decision of students like Sankalp to study in Canada.
Sankalp entered the MBA program with an eye on pivoting from the debt side of financial services to the equity side. “In Montreal, I enjoyed a close-knit business community where everyone knows each other and people are always willing to meet with you over coffee,” he says. One internship and countless coffee meetings later, Sankalp landed a portfolio management position in the Montreal office of one of Canada’s largest independent investment management firms. “I’ve had so many more doors open to me than I would have back in India.”
With a strong background in finance and accounting, George aspired to gain a broader, more strategic view of management through the MBA program. He successfully networked with local McGill alumni to secure a consulting position at Deloitte in Montreal. “It’s not difficult to find people who are willing to meet with you and help you implement the ideas you come up with,” he says. Of all the ideas he’s devised, he counts moving to Montreal as one of his finest. “Ultimately, you need to feel comfortable wherever you’re going to study,” George believes. “Any culture that opens up its arms to you, wherever you’re from, and helps you thrive deserves to be put up onto a pedestal.”