Studying en français
Two English-speaking students have different views of studying in Montreal
By BRIAN DALY / The Canadian Press
Thursday, September 23, 2004, The Halifax Herald Limited

Vanier College student Sean Cyrus in front of Vanier's main building in Montreal recently. Cyrus moved from Toronto to take his college studies in Montreal.

TORONTO native Sean Cyrus, who came to Montreal to study at an English college, often looks on in bewilderment as anglophone classmates switch to French in mid-sentence.

The sports management major, who speaks only basic French, is among thousands of English-Canadian students who brave culture shock and an unfamiliar language to pursue their studies in Quebec.

Some, such as Cyrus, look at their new surroundings with eager eyes and dreams of opportunity.

But others feel like outsiders and plan to leave as soon as they graduate, out of frustration at the high taxes and life as a perpetual minority.

Cyrus, a 19-year-old Vanier College student, says he quickly discovered that although Montreal was only five hours from Toronto, it was a world apart.

His English-speaking Quebec classmates, many of whom attended French school prior to Vanier, lose him very quickly when they speak in their second language.

"It's been a bit difficult," said Cyrus, who juggles intercollegiate basketball with his studies.

"I'm going to have to learn French terms because it's always being spoken. Everybody speaks French at a point."

Cyrus graduated from Toronto's Oakwood collegiate last year and soon began looking for a way out of town. Life in Toronto had become too intense - and too violent.

His former basketball teammate Justin Sheppard, the brother of NBA player and Torontonian Jamaal Magloire, was shot to death in 2001.

Cyrus decided to make the huge leap down Highway 401 to Montreal, in part to get a new start and experience life outside his sprawling hometown.

"The tension level is definitely lower," said Cyrus, who moved to the city with two friends.

"Might as well give it a shot to see whether I can make a difference, stand out in a crowd."

Standing out in a Montreal crowd is all too easy for third-year science student Jeremy Levenstadt.

The native of Thornhill, Ont., near Toronto, gets by without any French skills, which presents challenges as soon as he leaves campus.

"It's like you're in a different country and you have to struggle to communicate a point because of the language barrier," said Levenstadt, who is active in McGill's student association.

Levenstadt, like Cyrus, decided to study in Montreal because of the city's international character - something he said was missing at Ontario schools.

But unlike Cyrus, Levenstadt has also seen the downside to life as an English-Canadian in Montreal.

The 20-year-old aspiring doctor has been told by McGill's medical school about a quota for out-of-province students that severely limits his chances of continuing his studies here.

He has also heard from friends that some English-speakers have experienced discrimination when trying to find jobs in the city.

Some of his friends back home have ruled out McGill as a destination because of stories they heard regarding the language issue.

While Levenstadt has enjoyed his time in Montreal, he says there's no chance he would stay after graduation.

"You really don't feel like you're accepted," he said, referring to the vibe he gets from the larger francophone community.

"Because of these quotas and because of the language and because you're just a student who's visiting, you never really feel like this is home."