♦ Ailsa Jones – Queen’s University, Canada ♦
First and foremost, know that all of the major Canadian stereotypes are true. Everyone is exceptionally nice, the winters are bitterly cold and Tim Hortons is everywhere.
Before I had even stepped off the plane, the Canadian passenger sat next to me insisted that she gave me her gloves as soon as she found out that it was my first time in Canada (an offer I politely declined in true British fashion). The kindness continued throughout the rest of my journey on public transport as I made my way to Queen’s, making friends with a man in the train station with whom I discussed Brexit and the royal wedding with as we both killed time until our respective trains came. The genuine friendliness and willingness to help is a recurring trait that I’ve noticed in all of the Canadian people that I have met so far, which is invaluable when I’m sure I consistently come across as a bewildered tourist who asks particularly banal questions.
Secondly, it is extremely cold here – they really weren’t joking. Of course, the winter exchangers’ arrival happened to coincide with extreme weather warnings being issued across Canada. Being welcomed by wind chill temperatures of around minus 30° actually made me thankful for packing what I previously thought was an excessive amount of thermals. After being told by every Canadian that I encountered that this weather was particularly bad, I couldn’t decide whether it was reassuring or not that even the Canadians were stressing about how unusual the severe cold weather was. Luckily, it the only lasted for a weekend, and it began to ‘warm’ up. Surprisingly, you quickly adapt to the almost incomprehensible temperatures, and even begin considering the days where it’s minus 14° as being toasty. Regardless of its somewhat impractical effects, the cold weather really does turns campus and the rest of the city into an idyllic winter scene. The frozen Lake Ontario is a particularly striking sight, and is definitely worth a look even if it is from the warm indoors.
As you can imagine, attempting to navigate campus in such arduous conditions isn’t always the easiest, especially when it was for a 9am orientation the morning after my arrival. To my relief, my jet-lagged self had successfully trudged through the snow and miraculously located the correct building. My efforts were rewarded by my first introduction to the cultural pillar of Canada- Tim Hortons. In line with typical Canadian hospitality, the university staff greeted us exchangers with coffee, hot chocolate, ‘tea’, and maple syrup cookies in the shape of maple leaves (patriotic overkill doesn’t exist in Canada). In addition, we were gifted some much appreciated scarves and mittens in the Queen’s colours which functioned practically as well as symbolically to confirm our new status as Queen’s students!
Having already experienced three major Canadian stereotypes in my first two weeks here, I eagerly await being exposed to the numerous others. One in particular being poutine – a Canadian delicacy that closely resembles British cheesy chips and gravy – except classier and can be enjoyed without the accompaniment of alcohol. Admittedly, I’m beginning to notice my quest to uncover the truth behind Canadian stereotypes largely revolve around food, which could potentially become an issue as they undeniably conform to the North American stereotype of colossal portion sizes!