Friday, September 9, 2011

Familiar vs. Foreign

All I want right now is a baked potato with butter. And sausages. And pink lemonade.

I fantasize about this meal as I fall asleep at night. I long for it at the school dining hall. In this new world, where everything is so unfamiliar and unknown, I long for one thing that I'm guaranteed to enjoy. I long for one thing that's the same.

It's officially been one week since I started university. Seven days. I know this because I made a promise to myself that I would not judge the school, that I would not judge my new life, for seven days. Well, here I am.

I think the biggest thing I'm having trouble with is culture shock. All the summer, I spent so much time trying to anticipate and prevent the predictable problems I'd face at school--homesickness, a new academic environment, loneliness, etc. But I didn't anticipate the cultural differences, big and small, and I certainly had no idea how much they would bother me.

I'm from Toronto, Ontario. My new school is in Quebec. As anyone who lives in Canada would know, Quebec is very different from the rest of the country. It wants to be different! In fact, many people here want to separate from Canada entirely. Not to mention the fact that the Quebec region was mostly influenced by the French, meaning that people speak French, and have developed their own, unique French/Quebecois culture. I was aware of the french thing. I had a vague awareness of the cultural thing, but until this week I really had no idea what it was really like.

Before I go all out describing all I've seen and all I've survived this week, I want to issue a very clear disclaimer. I understand that what I am experiencing is only one university campus, in one region of Quebec. I do not want to generalize or stereotype or anything like that. Also, I acknowledge that what I am seeing is almost certainly heightened since this a group of university students. Maybe they are this crazy everywhere.

First and foremost, there's the drinking thing. In Ontario, the drinking age is nineteen. Teens can get their hands on it before that, and I guess they do, but not in my group of friends. In Quebec, the age is eighteen, and from what I've seen and heard, it's much more accepted to drink before that. Back in Ontario, drinking is an illegal thing a few of my friends have done a handful of times. Here, it is a legal thing people celebrate, encourage even. For me, that is very weird. I don't drink. Never have, never will. That has already been a challenge for me and will continue to be a challenge for me. But it seems a lot harder here, where alcohol is so popular. Where people chant and cheer and actually change the words of the school song to incorporate drinking and drugs. At home, this thing was hidden. Now it's huge.

Another thing that was hidden back home was sex. I mean, I had a sex ed class, of course. And my friends and I would discuss sex and make jokes about it and stuff. But it was theoretical. Here, it's not. It's a real, tangible thing. I was sitting in this giant theatre with the rest of the first year class, and they actually started chanting "WE LOVE SEX! WE LOVE SEX!" Um, what? That would, never, and I mean, never happen back home.

Also, there's all the school spirit. I said they cheered about drinking, drugs, and sex. Well, they also cheer about everything else. Frosh week judges. Individual people who walk by. The school mascot. The school. Charity. Frosh week. I swear, they will cheer for anything or anyone, anytime. They have an endless amount of school spirit. Me, not so much. My high school was not ra ra like this. They once forced us to go to a pep rally. Everyone left the minute the mandatory time was up.

Finally, there is the issue of french. And I really do mean issue. Problem. This is an english speaking university. But a lot of the students come from Quebec, and most of them speak french. Fine. The issue I've been having is the way they speak french and when they speak french. I'll be having a conversation with people, when they'll just break into french. Suddenly, I'm shut out. I mean, I took french for ten years. I know some. I can understand a lot. But it's sure hard. Isolating. And, can I say, rude? Also, it just makes everything feel more foreign, like everyone else is in on some special secret that I don't know. Like I'm a failure or an idiot for not being fluent.

I started off with a post about problems. Maybe I shouldn't have done that. Maybe I should have focused on the positive things. The new, exciting classes. The new people. But maybe I needed this. I don't have anyone else to talk to about it. They're all from Quebec.


  1. Sacre bleu! Frosh week can be a pain- unless you are totally into that sort of thing. Which, clearly you are not. It was not my thing either and it was very noisy and mental at my uni! I will say that I had some friends who went to undergrad and grad studies in Que- with very mixed results. But I think almost anywhere you go that's away from home feels isolating and odd at the get-go. For a while. And now, maybe things have turned around all for the better since you posted?!?

  2. You're not alone. <3

  3. hehe, hang in there! my frosh week was very much the similar, and I totally get it about the whole cheering thing, apparently my school has a whole song about virginities :p I think it's so cool you're studying in Quebec, though I think I'd have soo much trouble with the french.

    And I'm totally at the point where I'm imagining sleeping in my old bed, though the one here isn't bad at all. I'd love to read more of your thoughts on university :)

  4. Thanks for all the reassurance!

    It wasn't all bad. And things have definitely gotten better, thankfully. And frosh week is long over, thank god. Really not my type of thing.

    I miss home, but I like it here. I think it's going well.


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