“When first coming to the states for school, I found it crazy how many people I encountered knew so little about Canada,” said Tristen Hanke, a junior business major at Seton Hill University (SHU), and Toronto native. “At the same time, I was learning something new about the American culture every day.”
Its borders lay directly above that of the Unites States, but to many Americans, Canada is a completely unknown land. While vast in landmass with multiple territories, exploring Niagara Falls and the city of Toronto, Canada’s largest city, provided students the opportunity to experience the Canadian culture.
SHU is the home to many international students during the school year.
“Culturally in America we are very different than many of the places some students call home,” said Keisha Jimmerson, Director of Multicultural and International Services.
The Multicultural & International Student Organization holds programs and events to appeal to all students, and learn about different cultures.
“For domestic students, I advise them to go outside their comfort zone and interact with people and places they wouldn’t generally come across,” said Jimmerson.
To understand the experience of international students having to adjust to a different culture, SHU students traveled to Canada for a weekend and took on the role of being unfamiliar and having to make cultural adjustments.
A Bostonian, a Pittsburgher, a Baltimorean, a Calgarian and a Torontonian: all SHU students from five different cities hitting the road together.
First Stop:Tim Hortons
“Timmy’s is Canada’s Dunkin Donuts,” said Hanke, also a junior attacker for the women’s lacrosse team. Perfect stop for a good cup of coffee and breakfast, Tim Hortons is a popular spot for most Canadians.
Tim Hortons is a staple to Canadians that can be found on most street corners known for its “Iced Capp,” a frozen coffee drink.
Disclaimer: the hospitality and kindness is not just a Tim Horton’s thing.
Niagara: “The Canadian Side”
“It’s worth the trip over the border for this kind of view,” said Buffalo, NY native Liz Otwell, who was visiting Niagara Falls for the weekend. “You can’t see the falls like this from the states.”
She’s not alone. According to Niagara Falls Live information website, 12 million visitors make the trip to see the falls every year, peak tourist season being June, July and August.
It’s the second largest falls in the world, and provides a taste of the natural beauty that Canada prides itself on. When the sun goes down, lights shine on the falls drawing in observers, tourists and locals alike.
“In the summer months, the bars and casinos are swamped with tourists,” said a Niagara local.
Poutine Round 1
French fries covered in gravy and lightly melted cheese curds: a Canadian dish created in Quebec, poutine is offered at most Canadian restaurants, and even specialty restaurants deemed “Poutineries.”
“You can’t leave Canada without trying Poutine. It’ll make you want to never leave,” said Hanke.
Smoke’s Poutinerie features poutine to the next level, with choices of pork, chicken, beef and steak to throw on top of the fries with other variations of toppings.
Arriving in Toronto
Driving through the city, there’s an immediate feel for the upscale and clean features that explain why it’s one of the most popular cities in the world.
“Seeing the streetcars and all the sleek buildings was a nice change from what I’m used to in Pittsburgh,” said Nicole Nath, a senior math major at SHU. Nath grew up in Pittsburgh and traveled to Canada for the first time in November.
“Getting to experience the city of Toronto and meet new people opened my eyes to a different culture,” said Nath.
Caesars: A Must Have
To what most Americans call a Bloody Mary, a Caesar is a Canadian cocktail made with clamato and known for its spicy taste due to the hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce.
While usually garnished with a celery stick, the bold Caesars feature anything from a lobster tail to a pizza slice on top.
“It’s a Canadian classic that you can’t fully experience in the states,” said Hanke.
Roaming the streets of Toronto, a cold chill in the air in early November, there’s an automatic feel for the eclectic nature of the city.
“It’s a city that you can walk every day and still appreciate the view of the CN Tower and the cheers from Rogers Centre,” said Amber Crabb, a 20-year-old who lives in Toronto. “There’s always something to do, and places to see.”
The streetcars are a unique feature of the city, but most locals consider the GO Train as the easiest form of transportation. With the beauty of the city, and the view of Lake Ontario walking isn’t the worst option either.
The CN Tower
The massive CN Tower, Canada’s National Tower, has become an iconic aspect of the city and defines Toronto’s skyline.
“Going to the top of the CN Tower and seeing the view of Toronto is one of the unique features of this city. Just seeing the Tower reminds me of home,” said Hanke.
“It’s not a myth. Everywhere we went people were polite. Restaurants, bars, on the streets,” said Nath, who is also a redshirt junior midfielder for the Lady Griffins.
While people joke that Canadians are over polite, it’s a part of their culture that makes cities like Toronto that more inviting. Crabb, giving a makeshift tour of the city, showed the willingness Canadians have to share their culture and welcome in newcomers.
This is embodied in the diversity of Toronto, that is a melting pot of different cultures and backgrounds.
“Not everyone, believe me, is always nice. But it’s an aspect of our culture and how we are raised,” said Hanke.
Brews with a Canuck
“The night-life in Toronto brings people together. There’s always a good bar to go to,” said Crabb.
Socializing over a tall Molson Canadian with a hockey game on the television is the simplest way of emerging into the Canadian way of life.
“While it seems like subtle differences, it really put me in the shoes of someone else having to adjust to our culture when coming to the U.S.” said Nath.
“Having a beer and watching sports reminded me how similar we are at the end of the day,” said Nath.
Poutine Round 2
Ending any Canadian trip in fashion, with a heaping serving of rich poutine to get back over the border.
More Exploration to Come
While a weekend trip to Canada is minimal in comparison to the experience international students face when coming to the U.S. for college, it was a step in the right direction.
“I think having this experience made me more open to different cultures and norms,” said Nath, who realized visiting Canada made her want to continue traveling and experiencing different places. “I think we sometimes get stuck in our ways, and this forced me to step out of my comfort zone.”
Jimmerson explained that the experiences of interacting with international students opened her eyes the benefits of exploring different cultures.
“Once you start building relationships with people different than you, over time you start to find there’s more similarities than differences,” said Jimmerson.