Surprise Culture Shock, Eh!

by Patrick Carrique, Canada

Hi, I’m Patrick Carrique, a proud Canadian citizen and an avid defender of the “True North, Strong and Free. ” My voyage to Northern Indiana takes a grand total of six driving hours. I live within 60 minutes of The United States, speak English as my first language and have been immersed in American culture since birth. Before travelling to study at Notre Dame I expected very little to be different from home.  In fact, “Culture Shock” was not something that even crossed my mind. Upon my arrival however, it took no more than 10 minutes for that to change.

While generally accepted with open arms, I soon realized that being Canadian would become an unexpected and unavoidable identifier for me. As I introduced myself (even to the people who soon became my closest friends), I couldn’t help but notice a kind of wide-eyed excitement.

You’re from Canada??” Like, actually CANADA?!”

As soon as my nationality was brought up I found myself bombarded with questions. It is kind of a fun social experiment when meeting new people here.

“Okay, not to be rude, seriously, don’t take this the wrong way, but how important is hockey in your life?”

“So, how does it feel having a Queen still? Don’t you guys want to become your own country one day?”

“Would you just say “Eh!” for me? Or “ABOOT”?

“So if global warming gets really bad, what will happen to your house? Will it melt?”

These are questions I hear on a weekly basis, even now in my sophomore year. I don’t take any real offense to them (for the most part), and I believe that most of them are asked in a light-hearted and truly interested manner. I simply did not expect this kind of response though. Our countries share the world’s longest land border, have one of the most active trading relationships on Earth and generally follow pretty similar cultures. For these reasons, I did not prepare myself for any type of cultural adjustment; I soon learned that this was a misguided mentality to follow.

In truth, Canada and the United States are different. Perhaps not always explicitly visible or universally recognized but these are two distinct places, offering unique and fantastic experiences. We are different people, with different cultural values, different customs and varied identities.

Alike to most college students, my identity changed coming into my freshman year. I was now the Canadian, “the almost-fake international student”, a man of skewed vowel sounds, a tendency to over-apologize and a charm that can only come from a Canuck upbringing.  My advice to incoming international students, whether from Canada or anywhere else is to realize that regardless of where you come from, culture shock might just rear its head. It does not have to be a negative experience though.

So if a nationality identifier gets tagged on you, rock it. Show them pictures of home, stay true to who you are and try to not take any stereotypical questions too seriously. If you’re Canadian, get ready for some questions about moose, keep using Celsius and make sure to get together with some friends to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving.

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About ISSA

International Student Services & Activities, also known as ISSA, supports and advises the international student community at the University of Notre Dame. ISSA staff members are deeply committed to fostering a campus environment that welcomes the international student community and promotes cross-cultural interaction and understanding.

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