Studying abroad can be quite an experience at any age. When I went to work on my Advanced GIS Diploma at the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS), an intensive year that condensed two years of hands on project work into one up in Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia, I was a seasoned graduate student. The Annapolis Valley is a lovely area, rural and green. It was an ideal setting away from the distractions of the city of Halifax.
I boarded at a bed and breakfast owned by a wonderful couple in the town of Paradise. So yes I can say that I actually lived in Paradise for a little while. They were a little bit older than me and we became fast friends. They were also a good source of cultural interpretation.
Although I was in a country that spoke the same language as me, there are subtle differences in our cultural approaches. Americans tend to be more assertive than Canadians. Or you can look at it from this perspective, American presidents have a historical tendency to get assassinated when someone does not approve, Canadian Prime Ministers tended to get a pie in the face. There was also a difference in cultural perception based on age group.
The student mix in the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) track group was represented by the UK, Switzerland, British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. I was the lone American. The Canadian population has a tendency to be centered towards the borderlands of Canada and the United States. Unfortunately, this is where the ugly American and ugly Canadian concepts tend to come out of the woodwork. Usually it is financially driven by the exchange rate. At the time I attended school the US dollar was equivalent to $1.50 Canadian Dollars.
The first few weeks, I was broached with questions from the other students such as “Why are Americans so fat?” and held accountable to American International policy for the past 50 years. One of the cartography tract students loved to show his contempt for the US by showing me his masterpieces, one entitled “Hate Crimes in Amerikkka” as if all Americans are traveling around with white Klu Klux Klan sheets in their car trunks.
As I had traveled abroad before, I knew that I was a representative for my country and put my best foot forward and tried to grin and bear it. However, at one point, I was pushed a little too far and told them if they had anything else negative to say about my country, do it when I was not present. After that I was given “compliments” like, “you are not very American for an American and I mean that in a good way”.
The older Canadians did not outwardly hold these views. Many military families were based around there. At the time, the Canadian military had been cut severely and that it was the US military that helped secure their country’s security.
Once my classmates go to know me, we spent what little precious time outside of the computer lab that we had together. The girls would get together for “Wine and Whine” girl bonding time since females were not so prevalent in the field of GIS. We would go celestial bowling which consisted of florescent bowling pins and bocce sized balls. After sitting in the computer lab so long, one night of bowling caused such muscle strain that we could hardly move the next day. Going to town did not refer to the city of Halifax, but meant going 15 minutes north to Middleton, home of Tim Horton’s coffee, donut and sandwich shop, a student social hub.
By the end of our program, we were bonded by the trials and tribulations of massive project overload and brain wear and tear. I am happy to say I still stay in touch with a few of my classmates. Some I consider to be lifelong friends. I would not have traded this experience for anything. I highly encourage anyone who hasn’t gone abroad to do so, either for pursuit of travel or schooling.
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