Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Canadian Culture

I just came back from participating in my first Success for Skills in Canadian Culture session given at Queen's University International Centre.

The session brought up a lot of questions about what Canadian culture really is. So, for a bit of background, over three 2-hour sessions, newcomers to Canada, with the help of Canadian mentors, teach communication skills for specific situations. Which is great! Because to socialize, to network well, to get a job, to work in teams, everyone new to a culture needs this kind of training and I think newcomers to other cultures would benefit from similar training.

However. And this might also be pertinent to other countries. The session, even though the Canadians emphasized that every Canadian is different, that everyone has an opinion on what being Canadian means and so on, to teach some tangible skills, there had to be directions.

So, things like:
-stand a bit back from the personal; do not invade their personal space
-ask a lot of questions to fill the silence
-be assertive
-shake hands and make eye contact when greeting someone

Basic, right? But I grew up not really having many social skills like this until I was in my late teens. I am still working on my communication skills every day. Is this due to culture? To personality? If I do something else, am I then not Canadian? I am so confused.

I mean, I fit in to Canadian culture, I function in it, I've worked and studied and lived most of my life here. Yet some parts of what other people call "Canadian culture" I don't recognize in myself. I'm sure that's true for all Canadians, I mean, who can be 100% "Canadian" by the "rules" of being Canadian?

I am getting a bit personal now, so...when my parents came here, I think all they wanted to do, and I think all they still want to do is fit in to the culture, what I've read is the "dominant Canadian culture". This is what is mentioned above. They wanted to immigrate, get a relatively secure job, work hard, be with family, and retire well. But on the basis of that, what does that mean? Is this "dominant" culture based on Native American, Anglo-Saxon, Gallic culture? Is this "dominant" culture based on demographics?

I was Googling this and this article came up in the search result:

Let me share my own story. I studied in a Montessori establishment in preschool, so in Grade 1 I was a new kid at a new school. One of the first things they asked me was (other than if I was supposed to be in Kindergarten because I was so tiny!) to put me in an ESL class. They didn't ask if I could or could not speak English. It's just that I didn't speak much just like I don't now.So sometime every week, I got pulled out of class to learn English (I was really confused about why I was there). I also learned how to cook pasta (because that is soooo Canadian) and I learned how to cook butternut squash. I'm sure they thought they were doing me a favour, but already I was singled out as being different, not "from here".

Some people from other countries also think this. I once was talking to someone not from Canada and they said that they would really love to meet a Canadian, when I had just introduced myself from being Canadian! "They would know what to do in so and so a situation." It's true.

The thing I want to differ from the author of the other article is that I did eventually learn, about other Canadian cultures. In grade 2 I made latkes for Hunakkah, we painted hands for  Diwali, I learned about Kwanzaa. Throughout grades 3-5 we learned about Aboriginal peoples (although it wasn't until university I learned about residential schools, unfortunately. I think that would have had a great impact on me had I learned about it earlier). History textbooks in high school did not leave out experiences of the Chinese Head Tax and Japanese internment camps. We had substitute teachers from India and Hungary. What interested me most about different cultures, and what drove me to study linguistics, is when I started singing in the Oakville Children's Choir songs from all over the world in different languages, and also travelling with the choir and meeting people from all over. But they wanted to instill what is considered the dominant "basic Canada" in me as much as possible first.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Chinese Canadian

Here's an interesting article I came across on my Facebook feed:

I agree and disagree with some points of it, but it makes me reflect on why I Just Can't Become Chinese.

I remember my first times going abroad. I was with the Oakville Children's Choir, and groups from China would be curious about me amongst a bunch of white people. They asked, "I'm confused. Are you from China or are you a foreigner?" For them, I was either Chinese or not. There was no in between. I went to mainland China for a trip once and someone said, "Ah, I can tell that you're a foreigner because of the bumps on your legs." What?! My mother has those bumps. That didn't make sense to me, but the only thing that got through was that I am not Chinese. And yet when I'm in Canada, when I explain that I'm from the Toronto area and my parents are from Hong Kong, they tell me I'm from China. To people coming from outside of Canada, I am not Canadian enough (read: white?) to qualify as Canadian.

I shouldn't be complaining. I am not an exile, a political refugee, or someone whose home is lost to war. Did I ever have a home in the first place? Yes, it is in the suburbs of Toronto. The thing about growing up there, as opposed to growing up in a homeland, though, is that home and family to me is one specific house where my parents tried to maintain a certain way of life. Home did not spill out into the streets, public life, and school.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Where I Am Now

I have to pace myself to see all of Kingston! I'm used to larger cities where I can never see the whole thing in one or two weekends.

In Kingston, I feel like a foreigner because I'm so used to living in larger cities now. BUT I grew up in a town of a similar size just on another side of the lake. unlike travelling, I feel like I eerily know all the codes of this town, and yet I am a stranger. It's a town where people are freer to talk to you even if you don't know them, telling you that you don't have to pay the parking meter on holidays, talking to you in line at the grocery store, saying sorry and thank you more often than I've heard in the past 10 years. Maybe it's just tourist season, but I feel as if people here take more time to tell you things and explain things. Just today I went into Cooke's fine foods asking for Jaffa Cakes. I feel in a larger city they'd say no, sorry and then move on to the next customer but here she explained why (when they get them they're close to expiration and so they didn't sell enough for it to be worth it, but if I come back around Christmas they might stock them because it's a sure sell then).

In conclusion, Kingston is not my home and yet it eerily is, being in Central Ontario, I've never been more "home" than ever before, if home means where I grew up. Meanwhile, where I grew up is has been sucked into an endless cycle of new housing development which is all part of the huge growth of the Greater Toronto Area.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

King's Town

My first impressions of Kingston, Ontario is that it is a unique combination of Ottawa, with its federal presence; any town with the population of about 100,000 in Ontario; and a stereotypical college town in the United States.

I've never lived so close to the waterfront before - not even when I was in Iceland. I think when I was living in Gamli Garður in Iceland, I was a couple of minutes further away from the waterfront than where I am now. So I take advantage of it by trying to bike along it every day. It must be the most photographed place in Kingston and probably one of the most photographed shorelines in Ontario, because every few metres I see people taking pictures. It's funny, Lake Ontario reminds me of a calm sea. I'm lucky enough to have grown up with one of the Great Lakes near me so whenever I see a lake in another place, I think, "That's not a lake - that's a pond! I can see the other side of it!"

Some photos from my bike rides. I like to think of these places as my backyard:

Berlin - Montreal

The Berlin in the following articles is like Montreal for me. Both cities have low rent that attract people from all over, notoriously artistic types, to it. Then, the city beats you up, puts you in a minimum wage job and demands that you pay rent while you're too distracted to know why you moved there in the first place. When you finally get out, you're still in love with it, but you know you shouldn't be tempted to go back.

The articles:

Before I went to Berlin (on vacation), I read up about it a lot. When I finally got there, I looked around, shrugged and thought, "Meh." Maybe it was the expectations in my head of a pounding, vibrant city (I went in January and again in February), or maybe it was that I didn't stay for long enough, but my first impressions were that it didn't have so much going for it as other people had advertised. Montreal was a different story. I moved there because I had fallen more and more in love with it every time I went to visit.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

On Airports and Returns

I’m in an airport once again, to Iceland once again, with some reservations. What will be different? What will I be disappointed in? Will I not be able to enjoy the two weeks because I keep on comparing it to 5 years ago, the last time I was there?

And I’m also gaining and indelible fear of flying which I’ve never had before. I used to look out the window, look down at the clouds, at the setting or rising sun, the rivers, lakes, lands and houses. Now I just hold my breath and hope that we’ve made a safe landing.

Speaking of airports, airports are...many geographers have commented that airports are nowhere lands, are geographies of nowhere. I sort of understand it, but not really. I feel like, save the spending less hours per time, and the lack of showers in some cases, airports are like gas stations, supermarkets, shopping centres...not that bad. Sort of know what they mean, but not really. Airports are like waiting. So does that mean airports are like life?

Anyway, I want to create my own definition of airports so I noted a few things. To me, right now, on this day, airports are:
1. overhearing an older pilot explaining to a younger pilot what Kickstarter is.
2. being overly hydrated, dehydrated, have dry skin or have overly oily skin

3. being in a huge international airport such as the JFK one in New York and having so much time to just walk around the terminal, look at the destinations on the screens of each gate, then sitting down and listening to the language of that destination, closing my eyes and pretending that I’m there: such examples as Rome, Madrid, Tel Aviv, Abu Dhabi, Dublin, Santiago.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Some Questions I Will Be Answering

I don't like to get too academic on this blog because I like to keep a conversational tone, but sometimes academic and especially - gasp! - critical theory is a useful tool to work out these kinks, thought experiments, and to be able to read something through a lens that you don't use often.

Anyway, here are some questions I hope to answer or tackle in the upcoming posts, with links to external information! That's a new thing on this blog!:

Can consuming world literature really help understand cross-cultural situations?

Is world literature really representative of those people's experiences?

Is entry into a people's culture necessarily tied up with its politics? I am on the side that culture is inextricably linked to current politics and history, so the question that remains is
How can we start to comprehend another people's culture, politics and history if it is so different from our experiences? Empathy? Solidarity? Is that enough?

I will perhaps post up my critical and cultural theory reading list that is connected to intercultural exchanges.

I also hope to revamp my online presence by linking this blog to my social media pages and possibly creating a Twitter account. Hopefully this will then lead to articles on guest blogs, podcasts, videos, conferences, talks!!! All on the subject of culture and crosscultural relations. Like I said in my last post, I. AM. EXCITED.

Job Change, City Change

I am yet again Kingston, Ontario! It's not really an adventure for me, and yet I've never been there, so it is. I am moving there to work at Queen's University International Centre as an international education intern, and I am really excited.

This internship will solidify my intercultural insight skills. I will be posting up on here resources, tips and general information about intercultural and cross-cultural exchanges. Do I want to go into this field? Franchement, I don't know yet, but I am very interested. I think this kind of field is the sum of all the things I am interested in: linguistics, geography, culture, higher education, travel...and I really want to help people create those experiences and help them see that intercultural/international education is transformative, at individual, local, regional, national and international scales. Does that sound too much like world domination?

Friday, 2 May 2014

Un Autre Jour Parfait

C'était un jour parfait avec d'air frais, du soleil, nuageux, mais aussi avec du vent. J'aime ça. Premièrement, j'ai découvert que j'ai une entrevue avec QUIC pour une stage à une université pour 11 mois. Whoopee! Quizas ça va marcher. Mais à cause de ça et mon excitement, je ne pouvais pas dormir jusqu'au 3 heures dans le matin.

J'ai fait un tout petite grasse matinée (jusqu'au 8 heures). Après, j'ai pris un café à The Knife ou Le couteau avec mon nouveau passeport aux cafés indies. C'était le meilleur latté que j'ai bu depuis longtemps, épais, crémeux, avec un dessin d'une feuille du lait parfait. Ensuite, j'allais à La maison grecque où mon classe de français célèbre le dernier jour de la classe. Là, j'ai découvert que j'ai gagné le prix de meilleure étudiante de commission scolaire de Montréal. Quelle belle nouvelle! Je buvais du vin, parlais avec des autres et mangeais moussaka (pas le meilleur) depuis quelques heures. Après, j'ai suivi des gens au un autre restaurant latino où on a commandé du sangria. C'était l'après-midi, et j'ai quelque chose importante à faire! J'ai rendu mon cv à un centre d'accueil pour des immigrants, et j'y ai rempli une formulaire.

Maintenant, je vais cuisiner des pâtes, je vais les manger et après je vais regarder des vidéos d'étudiants en communication à Concordia. Après, je vais fêter avec eux (oui, avec du vin) avant d'aller à une autre fête.

C'est un jour de fêtes, parce que mon temps ici vient à manquer. Je souhaite qu'il y ait plus de jours comme ça avant que je parte.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Le Québec et L'Islande

Dans mes cours de Francisation, on a appris l'histoire du Québec. En ce apprenant, j'ai constaté quelques similarités entre l'Islande et le Québec. Je voudrais les décrire ici.

1. Les immigrants/les voyageurs aux deux lieux sont vraiment plûtot les paysans.

2. Les deux nations étaient une partie d'une couronne, abandonnées parce que c'est trop petit ou trop septentrional. Pour des siècles, il n'y avait pas du développement de ces nations, et c'était seulement après la deuxième guerre mondiale qu'elles ont commencé à prospérer.

3. Pour plusieurs années, ces deux sociétés étaient assez homogènes (ok, l'Islande a 500 ans plus que le Québec à cet égard). La différence est dans le moyen qu'on peut le tracer: Au Québec c'est dans des noms de famille: il y a beaucoup de noms Tremblay, Gagnon, Roy, etc. En Islande, il y a deCODE genetics, une laboratoire composé de tous les citoyens de l'île.

4. Finalement, je constate que ces deux endroits sont plus féministes que d'autres endroits: Ici à Montréal, on parle du homme rose, en comparaison avec islande qui est classé le pays le plus égal par rapport aux femmes et aux hommes, par le Forum économique mondial. Celles sont les sociétés matriarcales.

Commentaires sont les bienvenues!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

New Adventures

En cette année-là, je suis m'inscrite aux programmes Odyssée et AIESEC. J'ai réalisé une entrevue premièrement d'AIESEC, et je suis acceptée au programme, mais c'était même avant mon entrevue avec Odyssée! Donc, j'ai dû contacter l'AIESEC et leur demander s'il serait possible à différer l'admission. Heureusement, m'en a permis. Quelques semaines après, j'ai réalisé l'entrevue avec Odyssée et maintenant j'attends le résultat. Bonne chance à moi!

Si je suis admise à l'Odyssée, je serai placée dans une école n'importe où au Québec ou au Nouveau-Brunswick. Quelque part rural, je pense et j'espère. On verra.

Si je ne suis pas admise à l'Odyssée, j'espère obtenir à un stage auquel j'ai postulé (payé! à temps plein!) d'éducation internationale à l'Université Queens à Kingston en Ontario. Comme ça, je peux encore être en contact avec des gens internationaux et je vais développer mes compétences en leadership, travailler avec des immigrants, aider des étudiants à partir à l'étranger. Ça serait un plaisir pour moi!

Si je ne suis pas admise à l'Odyssée ni au stage, je prendrai le parcours AIESEC. Avec AIESEC, je souhaite voyager à l'Asie Centrale ou en Afrique du Nord en faisant un stage. Mais, ce faisant, je vais perdre plus d'argent, et je compte sur mes expériences à l'Odyssée ou à un stage payée pour payer mon aventure AIESECoise. Oh mon Dieu les attentes, les décisions!

Évidemment, je change ma carrière une autre fois. Ce temps-là, je voudrais travailler avec des immigrants à un centre d'accueil ou avec des étudiants-immigrants. Oui, la teneur de ma vie est le monde, le voyage, les cultures. Qu'est-ce qu'on pourrait faire avec ça?

Si aucune de ces voies marche, j'espère suivre mon chum à n'importe où parce qu'il ne connaît pas où il se retrouvera non plus.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Montreal through new eyes

My dear friends, I think my time in Montreal is coming to an end.  I came here because I thought I was going to have a large social life. Every time I visited Montreal, I would be staying at a friend's and they would have friends over so I naturally thought that it was very easy to make friends here. Instead, for most of the time I've been here, I've just studied, then went back home. Studied, then went back home.

It's true, I could've tried harder.

As I was walking down the street today, I looked up and thought, "Where else (other than New York) would you see Hipsters walking next to Hassidic Jews? What other place has, right next to this neighbourhood, a mix of Greek, Pakistani, West African neighbourhood next to Little Italy? Someone from Colombia in my French class said that he loves Montréal because of the cultural diversity. "What about Toronto?" I asked, thinking about the city that claims that over 50% of its inhabitants are born outside of Canada. "Too Chinese," he repsonded. "How about Vancouver?" "No, too Chinese." As someone who is Chinese, I felt offended, and yet I understood what he meant.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

French in Québec, Cantonese in Hong Kong

Of course these are very different situations, but I'm trying to reflect on and find out my identity vis-à-vis languages.

While I'm grumbling about not having good enough French to work anywhere in Montreal even though I have been studying French in school for way too long (which is actually part of the problem), I might as well reflect on this.

It's true that my writing still sucks in French, but I have a feeling it's sometimes difficult for Francophones to write as well, since the rules are so multiple and rigid. In any case, I automatically come out as a foreigner when I speak, and I speak mostly the way I would write, so it sounds funny anyway.

Anyway, I'm rambling. What I wanted to say is that I go to a "Francisation" school for adult immigrants to make them learn French so that we can participate in Francophone Quebec society. One of my teachers there said, "Montréal est une ville francophone. Quand on habite ici, il faut qu'on parle français." I totally agree with her. Coming to anywhere in Québec and not speaking French is like going into someone's home and rubbing mud on the floors and kicking the dog. Just don't do that, because it's expected of you not to. What I do disagree with is the harsh language policies from the provincial government, the governing of all-French signage and the 'language police' and just bizarro things from OLFQ, and of course these tensions between the English and French languages contribute to the debate on separatism, even though there are Anglophone separatists. So I'm going to try to compare and analyze the status of Québec French to that of Hong Kong Cantonese in order to get into the heads of people trying to protect a language I don't see going away any time soon.

So here is my take:

  • there are tensions in both territories over issues, and both Québec French and Hong Kong Cantonese have peculiar statuses as they are situated in a context in which the rest of the country does not speak their language! sort of. there are Francophone communities in Anglo Canada and I'm sure there are Cantonese communities in the rest of China
  • neither language is going to disappear non-officially, any time soon, in their respective territories
  • Cantonese, though, was never an official language of Hong Kong. When it was growing, English was the official language, and after the handover, it's been Mandarin. Sort of. I can still speak to government officials in Hong Kong in Cantonese
  • educational tensions abound!
  • if an English-speaking Canadian, knowing that in Québec people speak French but also the younger generations know English, goes to Québec, often they'll be confused as to why people don't want them to speak English (actually, this is really different for Montréal) JUST AS if a Mandarin-speaking mainlander, knowing that in Hong Kong they speak Cantonese but the younger generations know Mandarin, goes to Hong Kong, often they'll be confused as to why people don't want them to speak Mandarin - of course there is a difference for each individual but for these two example people, I see a parallel situation here
  • The federal government is bilingual, so this would be very unlikely to ever occur, but hypothetically, if the federal government in Canada suddenly said that all official government business in Québec must be conducted in English, including state TV stations and so on, there would of course be an uproar. Well, it's happened in Guangdong, a province in China where they speak Cantonese:
The point of all this quipping is that I feel like I'm in a weird place. I don't identify exactly as 'anglophone' in Québec because then that's basically saying my mother tongue is English, which it is but isn't. I think and dream in English, but I learned it all in school and I still don't know how to pronounce some things after 22 years of usage because I never heard my parents say it, or they've pronounced it incorrectly themselves. Anyway, sure, I'd say English is my stronger language compared to French. So I come to Québec and try to learn the French language. And then they speak English to me. I almost dare to say it's the same feeling as if I were a Mainlander trying to learn Cantonese in Hong Kong and people spoke English to me. Except in Hong Kong, I only know Cantonese, the de facto language, but if everyone is being educated in Mandarin, then somehow I'd feel as if the population would lose its Hong Kong or Cantonese culture and identity.

So me being in Hong Kong as a Cantonese speaker (let's just forget the whole English thing, because I don't really speak English in Hong Kong anyway) is like if I knew only how to speak French in Québec. Except not, because I can't even write. And if I did know how to write Chinese, I would have an easier time accessing the more federally more powerful language. But in any case, if I grew up in Hong Kong speaking only Cantonese, and then because of a bilingualism-trilingualism policy after handover, Mainlanders started coming in and taking jobs I couldn't get and speaking in a language at parties that I don't understand and going to schools I couldn't get into and doing business with people I can't do business with because I don't know Mandarin, yeah, I'd be pissed off and I would want to have laws to protect Cantonese. Just a point to all the haters - This is all hypothetical, okay? It's mostly what philosophers call a 'thought experiment'.

And so this exercise has been futile because there are many differences between the situation of Québec French and Hong Kong Cantonese. If someone wants to straighten it out for me, be my guest!