Even though I’m originally from Pakistan, I have lived in North America for most of my life. The only time I had experienced true Pakistani culture was before I moved to America, and during my occasional visits to Pakistan. Besides that, I had only experienced western culture firsthand. Furthermore, when it was time to apply to colleges, viewing it from a Pakistani standpoint was probably the least of my concerns. Like most people, I was only concerned with pursuing an undergraduate program from a well recognized university, which eventually turned out to be McGill University.
McGill is certainly one of the most well known universities around the world, and its undergraduate programs are second to none. Ranked as one of the top 12 universities in the world, alongside Harvard, Oxford and Yale, McGill University delivers a world-class educational experience. With over 300 academic programs and majors ranging from the Pre-Medical Sciences and Engineering to Middle-Eastern Studies and Economics, McGill gives you an opportunity to pursue almost anything you can think of. However, their educational standards are only the tip of the iceberg; I want to give you a glimpse of what students see once they get here.
First, McGill sits in the heart of downtown Montreal, one of the most cultural cities in the world. From food and nightlife, to music and fashion shows, Montreal offers something for everyone. Whether it is three in the afternoon or three in the morning, downtown Montreal is crowded with students. There is always something to do and somewhere to go; be it club 737 on the roof of the tallest skyscraper in Montreal, a McGill Redmen Football game or simply the movie theatre showing the latest Bollywood movie. In addition to its European aura, Montreal also has a huge Pakistani population. There is an entire bazaar, if you will, of Pakistani restaurants, shops and services. Given that food is probably one of the dearest values that Pakistanis hold close to their hearts, you can enjoy everything from tandoori chicken and seekh kababs, to lasi and samosas. Furthermore, there are countless mosques around every corner of the city. If you feel a little homesick, just grab a bunch of friends and head over to Jean Talon, Montreal’s touch of Pakistan. You’ll feel better in no time.
The secret to Montreal’s unique culture is the fact that it is home to one of the largest student populations on the continent. McGill alone hosts students from over 160 countries around the world. Thus, for international students, McGill is the perfect place. Not only do they offer millions of dollars in aid, it has vast university services specifically tailored to international students, like health care programs, housing and much more. There is nothing to be nervous about when coming to McGill as an international student, as the university will do everything possible to make you feel at home.
Apart from other South Asian populations from India and Bangladesh, there is a huge Pakistani student population numbering in the hundreds at McGill. There are students here from Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, and many other cities around the country. What this means is that there is a very active Pakistani Students Association (PSA). The PSA hosts countless events throughout the year, including barbeques, basant, Eid parties, and numerous other dinners and parties. As a Pakistani, I had forgotten most of these priceless cultural gifts that our country offers; away from Pakistan, McGill was the first place where I felt right at home. These parties remind you of the weddings in Pakistan, with top quality restaurant food, amazing desi music, and dance floors that can rival the extravagant mehndis of Lahore. In addition, the PSA hosts several discussion sessions on Pakistani politics, culture, and other Pakistani issues several times a semester. On a different note, there is an entire club solely devoted to cricket, which regularly hosts tournaments and televises live cricket matches on the big screen throughout the year. All this means that, here at McGill, you might even feel more Pakistani than in Pakistan itself, as the PSA works very hard to keep you busy throughout the year.
Furthermore, McGill has an edge over many universities, with its readily available Halal food, a benefit that many people tend to overlook. Students at McGill have unlimited access to Pakistani grocery shops and restaurants, which not only make food that rivals Lahore’s Food Street, but which offer food deliveries as well. Therefore, if you are tired of western food and do not want to cook, you can get weekly food delivered for relatively cheap prices.
There is an extremely active Muslim Students Association that maintains a Musalla, where prayers are offered five times a day, and arranges Friday prayers in a hall on campus which gets packed with over a 1000 Muslims regularly. Students have access to countless courses offered in Islamic Studies as well as the Middle Eastern studies, supported by an entire Islamic Library with over a 100,000 volumes. In a time where there is tangible racism against Muslims around the world, McGill is one of the few universities that not only welcomes Muslims, but does everything in its power to provide for them. It is not unusual to see students around campus walking in shalwar kameez or Muslim caps.
Lastly, although all admissions information can easily be accessed at the university’s website, I would like make a few comments on McGill’s admission criteria. Although it is a prestigious university, McGill simply looks at your grades to make its admissions decisions. McGill’s application is relatively straightforward; it requires no essays or letters of recommendation. If you’re a decent student academically, you have a great chance of being admitted. Of course, extracurricular activities, community service, athletics, and a diverse group of high school subjects all give you a greater chance of not only being admitted, but of receiving scholarships and financial aid as well. Finally, McGill’s tuition is relatively cheap as compared to some of the universities of the same calibre, like Princeton or Johns Hopkins. McGill’s ability to maintain a low tuition and extraordinarily high academic standards while still keeping their acceptance rates higher than most top notch universities is all the more reason you need to apply to make McGill your future home.
McGill University provides you with an experience that you will remember for the rest of your life. From its world class education, to its vibrant urban location, to its bhangra parties with all Pakistani food you can enjoy, McGill offers something for everyone. The people you will meet here are the helpful and the open-minded,the friends you make here will last you a lifetime, and the memories will be priceless. As a Pakistani McGill student, words cannot come close to describing what an amazing experience studying at McGill has been.
Source: Rehan Umar.