Montreal or San Jose?
December 28, 2006 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Studying Abroad? Montreal or San Jose

Previous thread:

Thanks to all this advice and lots of research I had decided on Montreal, preferable McGill, but with Concordia as a backup. (McGill is hard to get into apparently).

However, my Uni just added San Jose State as a partner.

Does anyone know what they're like for Physics? and more importantly, what the area is like?

Answers over e-mail ( or msn ( gladly accepted!
posted by chrispy108 to Travel & Transportation around San Jose, CA (11 answers total)
Ah, I remember this thread well. I was pro-Montreal then and I remain pro-Montreal now. I cannot speak to the quality of the Physics program in San Jose but I know the city (assuming you're speaking of San Jose, California).

San Jose is a sprawling, suburban mess of a city. It is not a very fun place unless you have a car. Even then, you will not get the urban experience that you would get in Montreal. You will find that you have to drive anywhere to get anywhere and the streets will be empty aside from lots of zooming cars. There are probably nicer areas of the city, maybe around the university (I don't know) but the overall character of the city is strongly suburban.

However San Jose, being in California, has certain benefits: easy access to San Francisco and Berkeley (1 hour away), surfing at Santa Cruz (30 minutes), hiking in the mountains (30 minutes), incredible driving down highway 1 along the Pacific Coast (1 or 2 hours), skiing at Lake Tahoe (3.5 hours), and lots of other stuff nearby. If you like the outdoors it's a decent home-base.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:27 AM on December 28, 2006

Montreal is an amazing city to be a student in. I have no idea what the guy in the other thread was on about in terms of it being "expensive": it's probably the cheapest big city in Canada, in terms of rents and restaurants, and your pounds sterling will go very far indeed. (Of course the same is true against the US dollar.)

I've not been to San Jose but I would guess it's sort of apples and oranges. Montreal is a city with a very cold winter and a hot summer. It's got a thriving cultural scene, a couple great parks, and a terrific, fairly European culture of cafes, terraces, people-watching, joie de vivre. San Jose's geographically very different, and I'd guess that it's not the cultural anomaly that Montreal is. In other words: if you want a quintessential American experience, or a very warm one, San Jose's the obvious choice. If you want Montreal, well, I couldn't recommend it higher. Try to live in the Plateau, rather than deep in the McGill or Concordia student ghettoes.

McGill's physics program is outstanding. I know nothing about Concordia's. But you'd not just be going to study, anyway!
posted by Marquis at 10:28 AM on December 28, 2006

On preview - ditto percusivepaul

I can't comment on San Jose State's physics program per se - but I can tell you that it isn't a particularly prestigious university in general. Its the kind of school where a lot of students commute in and there isn't a very strong student community. San Jose as a city is huge - but its a lot of sprawl without much to do when you aren't studying. You are about an hour south of San Francisco - not far from the coast - but without a car - and studying physics you won't realistically see either of those things that often.
I've never lived in Montreal but I've visited and if I had to choose - I would go there without hesitation.
posted by Wolfie at 10:37 AM on December 28, 2006

Montreal, Montreal, Montreal--and I can assure you it is much less expensive than San Jose Ca. If you go to Montreal you will not need to have other interesting places to visit. If you mean San Jose Costa Rica or other places in Central or South America you are on your own.
posted by rmhsinc at 10:42 AM on December 28, 2006

I don't know enough about San Jose State to say much - though I have been to the city of San Jose and it seems like a great place.

I did live in Montreal for almost 20 years and have both worked at and studied at both Concordia and McGill. I have friends who have studied at McGill Physics as well and found it to be top-notch.

The thing about McGill that I would think would make it appealing is that there are many different kinds of life that a student can lead there depending on your preferences. This is true about McGill even more than Concordia, by the way.

What I mean by this is that because McGill is a) a large school; b) centrally located; and c) host to many international students, there are just a ton of options. If you get there and decide to try out a very campus oriented life based around friends you make at school and McGill-related activities - McGill has that. Frat parties, intramural sports, a campus pub or two, lots of other extracurricular activities, international students' groups, etc. are all present at McGill as you'd expect at any large university. It is possible (though not preferable from my point of view) to live your time at McGill centered entirely around the university life.

At the same time, it's in Montreal and Montreal has a ton of stuff to do - bands to see, great hang out spots, drinking holes with interesting people, good DJs, a great club culture and a great gay village, and tons of young people doing lots of interesting things. If you wished to immerse yourself in that side of Montreal and simply focus on McGill for school-related things like classes and such - well, that's a choice that thousands of McGill students have made for decades.

Concordia has all of that, to be sure, but it tends to be more of a "commuter" university, with students that come from the greater Montreal area and return after class, and so it has less of an integral student life than McGill. Also be aware that the Physics department at Concordia is located at their suburban campus, not downtown. There is a very efficient shuttle bus available so you can live downtown and still get to class easily, but it's that much more remote - your whole life won't be on foot as it can be at McGill.
posted by mikel at 10:55 AM on December 28, 2006

In my experience, the city of San Jose, California sucks even more than the city of San Jose, Costa Rica, and that says quite a bit.

Go to Montreal!
posted by trip and a half at 11:22 AM on December 28, 2006

One mitigating factor is that SJSU has an excellent aeronautics program and access to NASA in Mountain View, in case that's where your physics leanings lie. There is also Lawrence Livermore Lab 30 minutes away to the northeast if you favor the high-energy flavor of physics.

I'd imagine your "lots of research" would involve looking into their respective physics programs and talking to advisors, so maybe you aren't done with those phone calls yet.
posted by rhizome at 12:00 PM on December 28, 2006

San Jose is a city where you have to seek out fun things to do; it doesn't lay them out for you like San Francisco does.

Downtown San Jose is small, but here are some fun places that are within walking distance of the university:

San Jose Arena: Sharks hockey, professional lacrosse, arena football, large concerts, tennis tournament, large concerts.

San Jose Museum of Art.

Camera 12 Movie Theater: A good mix of independent, foreign and Hollywood films. They host the Cinequest film festival in the spring.

The Tech Museum, a hands-on science museum.

There are a couple of good microbrew restaurants downtown (Gordon Biersch, Tied House), plus the usual college fare (Pizza My Heart, La Victoria Taqueria).

Take a look at the Metro for an overview of things to do in the San Jose area.

The university itself is a commuter school, so there is not a great deal of participation in "School Spirit" activity. However, there is a student-run on-campus radio station, a student-run newspaper and magazine and an above-average mix of guest speakers and other events. I'd say that you can choose to participate in a good range of campus clubs and activities, but they will not sweep you up in a flood of college fever.

I don't have first-hand knowledge of the SJSU physics program, but you may see some career benefit by being close to Silicon Valley companies, as well as scientific institutions like Lawrence Livermore Labs in Palo Alto.

SJSU also has a large new library and brand-new residence halls for students and professors.

The university will provide you with a pass for all VTA buses and Light Rail trains in the county, so you can definitely travel around the area fairly easily without a car. Downtown San Jose is a hub for VTA, Caltrain to San Francisco, Amtrak trains for longer trips and Greyhound buses. I went to SJSU, and a combination of bicycle and public transportation took me all around the bay. The trips were not short, but they were often scenic and interesting.

To sum up, if you are willing to travel, explore and strike out on your own to look for fun, then San Jose might be your town. I suspect that Montreal might be more of an urban, dense "fun laid out at your feet" city.
posted by JDC8 at 12:18 PM on December 28, 2006

Current San Jose resident, I used to live 2 blocks from SJ State. San Jose is really more of a suburban sprawl than a city. The food and entertainment in the downtown area (where SJS is) is centered mostly around the big corporations that operate there. So mostly expensive lunch and dinner place and very little in the way of cheap street food. If you're looking for a music or cultural scene you'll have ot to San Francisco, Berkeley or Santa Cruz. It's also prohibitively expensive.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:22 PM on December 28, 2006

Hands down. Montreal all the way. I have family in San Jose (CA) and have lived in San Jose Costa Rica. Lived in Montreal for close to 10 yrs., studying and teaching at Concordia and McGill. Culture, diversity, good cost of living, I second living on the Plateau Mont Royal. You don't need a car. Great cafes, restaurants, bars, etc. etc. Go for it!
posted by kch at 2:10 PM on December 28, 2006

Response by poster: Well, looks like Montreal wins!

But only on the condition some of you guys go out for a beer when I get there ;)
posted by chrispy108 at 5:34 AM on January 2, 2007

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