Most people love us. Our hockey, our apologies, our friendly next-door neighbor vibe; all of it comes together in a cute little package. And besides, it’s a crowd-pleaser: I can just imagine one of my fellow moose-lovers flicking his Justin Bieber-worthy hair, beaming and saying, “I’m Canadian,” and watching all the girls come squealing and giggling.
But it’s strange being a Canadian student in the U.S. Besides the stumble of my tongue when I quickly correct “washroom” to “bathroom,” the horror that can’t be concealed every time I realize you can buy a gun at Walmart and the fact I hold a student visa, most of my friends don’t quite grasp the idea that Canada really isn’t just an extension of the great U.S. of A.
“But what’s your culture like?” people ask curiously. “Are you really that different?” Or, my favorite, “But what do you have that we don’t?”
Oh deer (or caribou), I think.
Canadian students might be the fourth largest international student population on campus, but that doesn’t diminish the guilt I feel every time someone asks me why we started a Canadian Student Association. You’re right, I apologize in my head, how dare we create a space for ourselves? After all, our home isn’t a bajillion time zones away, nor are we adjusting to a whole new language. Canada isn’t conflict-ridden in the least, and it’s a developed, wealthy country that is always a safe place to return to.
But we still have culture.
Recently, our immigration minister said in an interview with the New York Times that he “can’t provide refugees fast enough for all the Canadians who want to sponsor them” — that’s our culture. When 15,000 people take a day off work to clean the streets after a Stanley Cup riot, that’s our culture. When we refuse to use the term “melting pot” and instead call ourselves a patchwork quilt, realizing that multiculturalism means we all contribute to the bigger picture of what it means to be Canadian, that’s our culture.
And while I may have been grateful in my freshman year for how well I was able to blend into the 90 percent of my friends who were from this land of the free, sometimes I think back at my home and miss more than just the beavers and Tim Hortons. And I remember that maybe, the question isn’t what we have that you don’t, but rather what we don’t have that you do.
I wish I could tell my friends here that Canada’s population might be smaller than the state of California’s, but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel the concern behind every joke about a Donald Trump tweet when I go back home. I wish I could tell them that they might have no clue who the last Canadian prime minister was, but that doesn’t change the fact that classes stopped and everyone gathered around the lobby of my elementary school to watch Obama’s victory speech when he became president in 2008. I wish they could realize that when the American dollar weakens, it doesn’t affect anyone — but when the Canadian dollar continues to fall, a $8.99 meal at Gypsy’s to us feels really more like $12.
You’re right, there is no Captain Canada, I want to say. But superhero or not, everyone watches America. You guys have so many people. So many people! And not everyone may be cheering for Team USA, but with all your power, people, history and privilege, there’s no doubt that America has one of the biggest roles on the world’s stage. And even if I get kicked out after four years here, I’ll never forget that I came to the U.S. with the hope that a nation of 319 million minds, a nation that fought for its independence, a nation that is inarguably in the best position to make global change could move mountains.
And you might call me idealistic, naive or very, very Canadian, but I still have hope.
Contact Mikaela Luke at [email protected].