From New York to Canadian College: What to Expect When You’re Expatriating
By Alina Shaikh, University of Toronto
Some people in the States don’t think going to Canada actually qualifies as “leaving the country,” but Canada’s variety of different customs, languages, foods and cultures would kindly disagree.
Whether you’re moving from the suburbs to the city, downtown to uptown or country to country, getting to know the area where you’re going to be spending those rough four years of your life is absolutely essential.
It all proves quite difficult: getting comfortable ordering sushi from that 24-hour place down the street (in botched French no less), and debating between leaving the “u” in various words throughout your email (as you hope no one takes marks off for spelling colour differently) is no easy feat. It’s an intimidating addition to the already stressful start of college life, but it’s well worth it. Here are six things you need to know about going to college in Canada.
1. Get Ready to Be an Asshole
As one of the nicest countries in the world, Canada really lives up to its rankings—happiness and otherwise. As soon as you arrive, you’ll notice people literally opening doors for you, even the awkward ‘Oh don’t worry I’ll get the door and wait the 20 seconds it takes you to do that jog thing.’
It’s all pretty great, except for the “sorry’s” and profuse apologies you hear even when it’s your own goddamn fault for tripping up on the sidewalk.
At cafés or casual pubs of any kind, you’ll hear “May I’s” and the “Can I please’s” instead of the usual “I’ll take a…” when you’re ordering your budget-friendly croissant, and yes, you’ll continue to feel bad about it for the rest of the day. Huge tips are part of the norm here too, so better be ready for that 25% in the Mason jar every time you scan the chalkboard menu for the cheapest thing available.
2. Cute Coffee Shop Are Real Things
I didn’t know places like these actually existed outside the realm of romcoms and foreign coming-of-age films, but they’re here and they’re happening. Scrolling through Yelp, I discover that inside the intimidating all-black exterior of one a local café is actually home to the coziest little hideaway I’ve ever seen.
Complete with an espresso bar serving pour-overs until 2, the small raised stage in the corner of the room demands attention with a single spotlight, as do the high tables and chairs scattered throughout the venue, all angled towards the platform.
There’s mostly acoustic indie playing, “sometimes piano, and some ukulele, if we’re feelin’ up to it,” I’m informed as I make my way over to the bar area. They have tryouts every so often for new sounds to make their way through the city, but they have their regulars who are just as good at guitar as they are at crafting espresso (oh my god the espresso).
3. Conquer Your Fear of Bagged Milk
The first time I went to a grocery store in Toronto, I must’ve stared at the dairy section for half an hour. I didn’t know what to do with myself.
They were out of regular milk cartons and I was gawking at the frozen milk bags at the bottom of the shelves, wondering where I went wrong in my life to have never learned this skill.
How do you get the milk out of the bag? I still don’t know. I’m told by my born-and-raised Canadian friends that I have to buy a device to hold the milk in a plastic container after it unfreezes in the fridge, but who knows how that would’ve gone with my dorm-level cooking experience. I didn’t want to find out. I skipped milk for that week, assimilation to Canadian culture be damned.
4. Nuit Blanche Much?
I mean that in the best way possible. Having no clue what Nuit Blanche was (White Night? But it doesn’t even snow in October?), and then suddenly having it take over Halloween and Christmas as your favorite holiday will really strike you as odd.
The holiday is basically just a romanticized version of walking around the city, windswept hair and red lips, hunting down food trucks in between queuing up for art pieces your prof told you to go check out. And he is attractive, and you are weak, so, no real choice in the matter.
You’ll end up walking two hours away from res and getting caught up in the pubs downtown where your friends are singing show tunes with old Irish boy scouts (I don’t know who they are, but they were wearing green berets and satchels, so I’ll just assume).
The night will end with you stumbling to your bed and throwing Chinese takeout boxes at a friend because she won’t stop mumbling in French about the “alien orb here to take me before exams.”
5. Poutine Is King
Fries. Cheese curds. Gravy. It doesn’t exactly sound like the most appetizing combination but it is, and the poutine loyalists that are ready to defend their variety of artery-clogging consumption are known to be the leading cause for bar fights in the city.
Nom Noms, Poutini’s, or Smoke’s—wherever you choose to purchase this celebrated drunk food largely constitutes who you are as a human, at least according to all pubs in Canada, everywhere.
6. But Trudeau Is God
You’ll come over to a country not knowing or caring for their specific laws (except for the ones different from your hometown), and suddenly it’s love at first sight.
Friendly, legal weed shops on every corner, little birth control clinics lining the streets like Starbucks, women feeling safe walking home at night—this could actually be a reality soon, as significant change to Canada’s old-world policies is in the works after Trudeau’s recent election.
The adored new Prime Minister is seen as the ultimate liberal/feminist/activist politician combo, which makes him all the more appealing (and angelic) to the open-minded audience.
If you’re for Trudeau and live in Canada, things are gonna be pretty good for you, as well as everyone else, as his election’s motivated anti-discriminatory movements, pro-choice measures and equality rights.