International students at this year's President's Reception, which was held on November 2. There are currently 318 international students from 64 countries at Ryerson. Photo courtesy International Services for Students

Canadian culture shocks foreign students

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By Samantha-Ann McClary

Everything I was ever told about Canada before I came here turned out to be wrong.

I had crammed my bags full of winter woolies, casually disregarding my favourite little summer dresses and T-shirts. Based on the recommendations given to me by friends, I needed to create ample space for that apparently essential 27th fleece outfit.

Each time I told people I was going to study in Toronto, I was greeted with the simple response: “Canada. It’s bloody cold there isn’t it?”

People conveniently forgot to tell me it actually gets rather warm here in the summer months. And when you only have insulated fleeces and thick winter trousers to wear, it gets bloody boiling.

That was my first experience of culture shock. There have been more since then.

Friends told me that Canadians aren’t all lager louts like us Brits. Of course, I don’t really drink that much, but I do like the odd tipple from time to time and I didn’t want to look like a failed AAer in Canada. Thankfully, there is little chance of that happening. Although my roommates tend to call me “boozetank” every now and then, they too are very experienced veterans in the drinking battalion.

It amazes me that cars actually stop for you when you’re crossing the road. In London, you’re lucky if they even stop at a red light. I have just about got into the habit of looking the opposite way for cars driving on the right when I cross the road. I can see myself going home in seven months, looking the wrong way and being run over by a speeding car on the left that won’t stop and will probably blame me for denting the car or damaging its paintwork.

The other great thing is everything is so cheap, especially alcohol. Clothes, food, CDs—everything is about half the price it is back home. One rather annoying thing we don’t have to deal with back home is the issue of adding tax to your goods. I often find myself forgetting about that, thinking I’m getting a really good deal when actually it’s no less than the price back home.

But what I find particularly hard to comprehend if the whole issue of tipping. Back home, if someone gets a tip it’s because they have been a bloody good waitress or butler and have made a particularly pleasant cup of tea and a truly superb cucumber sandwich. Just tipping someone for bringing you a drink from the bar or being good at their job baffles me. But, since it’s so cheap anyway, I guess I can live with it.

Although Toronto is the biggest city in Canada, it’s tiny when placed alongside London. It’s fabulous to be able to walk down the street without literally smashing into someone. London has a population of about 17 million so imagine what walking down Oxford Street (one of London’s main shopping streets) on a Saturday is like.

The sheer size of the buildings in this city amazes me. I’m surprised I haven’t bumped into anyone or strained my neck as I wander around the city in a zombie-like state, staring up at the high-rise office blocks. I often find myself back at Neill-Wycik, up on the roof, peering over the side, transfixed in awe of the city skyline. In London you just can’t do that. Buildings are big, but not tall.

University here is different too. Walking around campus, I feel like I’m on a film set. Obviously I always feel like a movie star anyway (due to those Hollywood looks of mine) but this place really is like the schools we see in movies. It seems like university here isn’t just a place you come to learn, it’s more of a community, something people are proud to be apart of. My university will try and organize things but they just never seem to get it right or the students can’t be bothered to do anything about it. It’s great to be a part of something people seem to want to be involved in.

Toronto is kind of like a pseudo-city to me. There’s crime, tramps and incessant police and fire engine sirens that come hand in hand with any major city, but if you’re down at the harbourfront or ar the beaches, you could quite easily forget that you’re just a $2 ride from the centre of Canada’s largest city. To get somewhere like that in London, you would most probably have to drive at least an hour and it would certainly cost you a lot more than $2.

Even though I’ve been bombarded with elements of Canadian life different from my life in England, I can’t really say it’s a total culture shock. I’d compare it more to a static electricity shock, one that lasts a million seconds and is quickly forgotten.

***

By Karen Challenger

I knew coming to Canada to become a journalist wouldn’t be easy. But I didn’t know how difficult the journey really was.

It was scary to leave my family and friends to live in a cold and huge country.

I’m from the beautiful twin-islands of Antigua and Barbuda, which are nestled in the heart of the Caribbean Sea. With a population of 70,000, the islands boast more than 365 beaches and has an average temperature of 72 degrees.

As an Antiguan, I had to travel overseas for a post-secondary education because our State College doesn’t offer specialized programs. I am now a second-year journalism student at Ryerson.

When I arrived last August, one of my greatest challenges was the culture shock. I knew that Canada was mostly white. I was coming from an island with a 90 per cent black majority. Another shock was seeing people smoking, and at such an early age. Back home, there are smoker but not of such magnitude and they start a lot later in life. When one of my Ryerson profs said, “It’s time for a smoke break,” I was flabbergasted.

If somebody smoked in Antigua, it was usually for one of two reasons: they smoked ganja because of the religious beliefs or smoked cigarettes because they had been exposed to the North American culture.

Being an international student, I am also burdened with the reality of higher tuition fees, limited job opportunities and a higher cost of living, not to mention the housing problem. Imagine being promised a space in residence and after a four-hour flight, you are told there are no rooms. And, at the end of each semester, students are asked to vacate the residences. What is the international student who is here all year round supposed to do?

Canadian students pay $4,000 in tuition. Last year, I paid $12,291.41, coupled with living expenses. Also, coming from the tropics, I had to spend a lot of money on winter clothes. This year my tuition increased by $1,147.60 to a massive $12,439.21. International students aren’t allowed to work off-campus, unless enrolled in a co-op program, adding to our financial burden. I am also restricted in seeking employment because I’m not Canadian.

Now immigration laws allow students from Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea to work full-time in general labour because of the recent Asian economic crisis. The rest of us are waiting for that luxury.

As an international student who brings so much revenue into both the university and Canada, I think it’s only fair to request a little more hospitality and opportunity to choose jobs anywhere they are available.

If Ryerson wants to encourage a more diversified university community, it should at least reserve a few jobs for students who are financially constrained.

 

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