“Why Ottawa Again?”-Debunking the Comments I’ve Heard Since the Beginning of this Journey

A lot of people (I’m not exaggerating when I say a lot) have said things that were similar, if not identical, to me about my decision to go Ottawa. I will be honest, Ottawa may seem pretty vanilla compared to other places I could’ve gone. In fact, I’m the first student from DU to go to the University of Ottawa (UOttawa). It hasn’t been a popular choice for a long time, mostly because it doesn’t fit the stereotype of “studying abroad”. A place such as Canada, doesn’t scream “adventure”,  “exotic”, or “diverse”. Often times, people will want to study abroad in places that offer all the above and beyond. Or, at least, that is what the stereotype of the studying abroad calls for.  Ottawa, nor any Canadian city is featured in any of the multiple videos that DU shows to prospective and freshmen students about the their study abroad options. People ask me “Why Canada?” and give me confused looks. In this post, I will address some comments I’ve received and offer explanations toward why they aren’t necessarily fair and viable.

“You’re not really going that far.”

No, I’m not going that far. In fact, the only bodies of water I will cross are the Great Lakes. Part of me is happy that I’m not crossing any oceans. My tickets weren’t terribly expensive and the flight isn’t too long either. What I like about Ottawa is that it offers a completely different dynamic than America, in terms of politics, languages, climate, and other factors as well. I realize that politics are a risky and touchy subject for some, but there is no denial that the politics of Prime Minister Trudeau juxtaposed to that of President Trump are radically different. Living in an environment sans Trump will be interesting, but I can only imagine I’ll be reminded of it on a daily basis. Ottawa is also officially bilingual and every thing on the UOttawa campus is bilingual. I would actually recommend students who consider Ottawa to take one or even two French classes. Some students on campus only speak French and it’s helpful to have some basic French in your pocket. Finally, in terms of climate, the warm, summer days of Denver will come to an end when I leave on September 2nd: temperatures will be in the low 60’s and 70’s and it will be rainy when I arrive. Moreover, on my first day of class, I will need to break out my jacket because low temperatures will be in the 40’s! It’s definitely a different climate to experience compared to the sporadic weather patterns of Colorado. Those are a few of the big changes I will experience, even though Canada is only north of the United States.

“Why not go somewhere exotic? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!”

I can understand the perspective of this comment. Some people never had the opportunity to study abroad. Perhaps, everything in the media about students studying abroad shows them going everywhere around the world and has set the stereotype that all students should go to “exotic” locations. The truth is that just doesn’t happen for all students. It takes a special type of disposition and personality for students to feel comfortable in those “exotic” locations. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and I am not an adventurous and outgoing person. Going to Ottawa and living there by myself pushes me enough out of my comfort zone. I’m also prefer to focus on my studies instead of adventuring in and around Canada. Again, trekking through downtown Ottawa and all it’s trendy neighborhoods is good enough for me. It should be noted that I’ve never been to Canada before. Thus, Ottawa is indeed an exotic location for me!

“It’s just like America, you wouldn’t need to adapt to anything.”

Canada is not America 2.0. It is indeed a different country! Just because Canada is above the United States does not make it completely “American”. Parts of Canada are indeed “Americanized,” however, Ottawa itself is not at all “American”. Actually, it is more identical to France and any French-speaking European country than it is America. It’s worth mentioning that my experience with registering and communicating with UOttawa resembled that of a French university instead of an American one, like DU. Some quick differences between Canada and the USA:

  • Canada has Canadian dollars (CAD) and America has American dollars (USD).
  • Canada has it’s own dialect of English and French, whereas America has only one official and de facto language: English.
  • Canadians write their dates with the number date first, followed by the month (an example is 29/08 for August 29th), but Americans write theirs in the opposite fashion (08/29 for August 29th)
  • Canada’s government is a parliamentary democracy and America’s government is a federal presidential constitutional republic.
  • Canada does not have a president, but the USA does.
  • Canada’s current prime minister is Justin Trudeau. America does not have a prime minister.
  • Canada has a monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. America has not had a monarch since 1776.
  • Canada operates on the metric and Celsius measurement and temperature systems, respectively. The USA operates on a customary measurement system and the fahrenheit system for temperatures.
  • And finally: Both the USA and Canada recognize red and white as their official colors, but add blue to the mix for the USA.

While the differences seem small, it is the combination of such tiny factors that create completely different societies all around the world.

People are allowed to have their opinions. I don’t have a problem with that. What is most important is that when you choose a study abroad location, make sure it’s where YOU want to go to and not one that you think with satisfy everyone else. You will indeed be the person living there, you might as well choose somewhere you want to go. Even after virtually everyone said those things to me, I still kept my program and stuck true to how I wanted to pursue this experience. That is truly the most important thing to remember.

In four days, I will finally be in the home of the Beaver (their national animal), singing God Bless the Queen instead of the Star Spangled Banner. That’s unbelievable! Until next time!

Sources for Facts: http://www.diffen.com/difference/Canada_vs_United_States

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What I’d Wish I’d Known…

One thing I wish I had known before I studied abroad was that culture shock can happen to anyone, even if you think you are familiar with the culture.

The program that I participated in took me to Alexandria, Egypt where I completed an intensive third year Arabic language program. The faculty member in charge of the program and his program chaperons were very informative. They were helpful about how to navigate daily life in Egypt and what to be aware of in regards to cultural interactions. Although, there was one thing that was not covered, and that was how to deal with culture shock.

The stages of culture shock are:

  1. Initial Euphoria/Honeymoon Stage
  2. Irritation and Hostility/ The Negotiation Stage
  3. Gradual Understanding/ The Adjustment Stage
  4. Adaptation or Bi-culturalism/ The Mastery Stage

Culture shock slide

I definitely experienced each of these phases despite the fact I was already knew what to expect with the culture of the Middle East. Here are some suggestions of how to curb culture shock in each stage:

  1. Learn as much about the culture as possible:
    1. Whether or not you have familiarity with a culture, there is always more to learn and explore.
  2. Ask study abroad coordinators for advice
    1. If you have a study abroad coordinator that is very familiar with your program location, ask them questions about what to expect. They are a wealth of resources to prepare for housing, travel, and daily social interactions.
  3. Write down what you love when you first arrive, and look back later
    1. Journaling is always a good for the mind and soul. This is a good way to release stress and remember joyful events. Writing down positive experiences can help when you have rough days and need to remember what you love about your programs location.
  4. Talk to other students about how you feel
    1. If you have other students on your study abroad program, communicate with them about your experiences
  5. Push yourself to make local friends
    1. Do not isolate yourself and try to stay social. Reach out to local students and make new friends and connections. This will help you in becoming more familiar with your surroundings and feelings of loneliness.
  6. Try to see things through host culture’s eye
    1. If you disagree or do not appreciate something from your host culture, take a step back and look through their eyes. There is always a reason for culturalisms.
  7. Get involved with the local community

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