Mandatory Exchange Training

I had to complete this rather involved form through Queen’s for my exchange, it’s basically for their high-risk activity stuff, and all activities involving undergraduates not being in Canada are considered high-risk. However, it is fairly clear that an awful lot of their safety stuff is a bit beyond what I’ll be doing – I am of a nationality towards which most others have neutral or pleasant relations, and I am travelling to a safe city in a safe country to which I also have citizenship. Side note on that, the form required me to state what kind of citizenship I was travelling under (UK), except for that UK wasn’t an option, and I had to choose between England, Scotland, and Wales, which is stupid because that’s not how citizenship works. I am not remotely Welsh or Scottish, so given where actual family members come from, I had to say I was…hrrrrk…English (there was an involuntary full-body shudder of the type that usually happens when I try to drink orange juice). Now I feel like a dirty imposter. There was no place in the form for comments, so I couldn’t correct their weird mistake or write “I’M CANADIAN, IF I LIE MAY I BE SUBJECTED TO PANCAKES WITHOUT SYRUP”. Of course if I lied and wasn’t Canadian, I might not care about the lack of syrup, but I can’t imagine pancakes being properly enjoyed without it. (I’m going to suppress early memories of young me happily eating pancakes with granulated sugar piled high) DAMN IT, DO YOU SEE THE HORROR I LIVE WITH?

The rest was short slides with stupid true/false quiz questions like “The academic culture of your host institution will always be similar to that of Queen’s University”, “If you are travelling to a country, you may be required to obtain a visa”, “Many travelers spend more money than they intended”, and “I will always have access to ABMs while abroad”. Sheesh. But it was mostly stuff like “be prepared for different standards of living”, and “cultures are not better or worse, just different”. I objected to that last bit. I don’t think for a second that all cultures are ethically equal, and they did mean better or worse in that sense. Overall, the whole thing seemed to be aimed at people who are traveling to less modernized areas, or places where there is a huge cultural gap.

They did talk a lot about homesickness, which will be relevant in my case. They also talked about culture shock, and reverse culture shock upon re-entry. It’s really hard to know how much I’ll be culture-shocked. It’s easy to read some brief summaries about the differences in culture between the UK and here, and think that as an incredibly socially awkward, reserved person who has a weird, dry sense of humour, and avoids physical contact and outward sentimentality, I’ll be fine. However, I have also read many accounts of Canadians going to England or elsewhere in the UK and not expecting culture-shock, and then being culture-shocked. That said, from their examples of what particularly surprised them, I’m coming from a place of more knowledge. Even so, I should expect some degree of it. After all, I am extremely ill-traveled. On the other hand again, I have a mind like a sponge, and tend to adapt to things fairly quickly.

Here’s some things international students at Queen’s have said about Canadians:

Canadians Smile a lot and are very friendly

Accept differences and are truly multicultural

Require at least 14 inches of personal space

Always think they are busy

Are so polite it is hard to know what they really mean or really think

Are time keepers and rule followers

Live in a beautiful and clean country

Don’t like to be mistaken for American

Talk a lot and interrupt other people

Finish our sentences even though it’s not what we meant

Avoid disagreement or argument

Jealously guard personal space

Stick together and speak English

Ask lots of questions to fill up the silence

They talk a lot about their own abilities and accomplishments

Expect others to make choices (i.e. “Do you want to go to the movie?”)

Bolded for being particularly true. Though the one about living in a beautiful, clean country made me proud. Another funny one was a quote from a different section that was about how a Canadian will invite you into their home and be extremely hospitable and friendly, while cheerfully insulting and inflicting mild cruelty on their own family members.


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