As a new transfer student, and an international one to boot, it was with understandable trepidation that I walked the halls of my new university last week. My first day on campus was riddled with self-doubt and I found myself feeling rather anxious. Before each class started, I nervously checked and re-checked my schedule to assure myself I was in the correct room at the appointed hour [because my living nightmare is being the kid who has to gather her belongings and slink, embarrassed, out of class when the professor announces, “This is English 101, so everyone make sure you’re in the right room”].
My first course, Canadian Literature, went smoothly enough. Walk in, sit down, take notes, leave. Check. Then I had a long break during which I secured a parking pass, payed part of my tuition, munched on snacks, and updated my Facebook™ status. Check, check, check and check. I was passing my first day in relative peace and had experienced no major catastrophes to speak of.
But (and there’s always a “but” in stories like these)… My relative solitude was disrupted at the start of my second class, American Lit.
I knew from a previous encounter that this particular professor was American—a fact which drew me to her instantly. And I knew from mere experience that many Canadians, students in particular, tend to harbor a lifetime of grudges toward Americans for a plethora of reasons (many of which are completely valid and warranted). So it was with a measure of intrigue that I listened to the professor’s opening comments.
“I’m going to take a poll,” she said, “and it’s the closest we’ll ever get to statistics in this class, so bear with me. I’m going to name a country, and you raise your hand if you have positive feelings toward it. If you have negative feelings, simply leave your hand down.”
“Australia.” Every hand was raised.
“Japan.” Again, every hand.
“Russia.” This time, a few students kept their hands lowered, but most hands went up.
“Germany.” This country was about 50/50.
Now at this point, most students assumed the “clincher” country would be Iran, Iraq, or another forerunner in political controversy.
So it was interesting to watch as the professor continued with, “America.”
Guess who was the only person to raise her hand? If you guessed yours truly, you’re a good guesser. [I should note I was sitting on the fourth row, and there were several rows behind me I couldn’t see. It’s possible that some students back there raised their hands. However, the overall tension in the room indicated otherwise.]
I am delighted to be living in Canada and meeting the folks here, yet harbor a lifelong sense of nationalism toward my own country. How can I make friends with people—nice as they are—who won’t raise their hand for me? Image from here.
The professor, expecting those exact results, took it all in stride. Easygoing and light-mannered, she went on to question students about their reasoning, and ended up with a simple request that we all keep an open mind as we venture into the vast world of American Literature this semester.
Image from here.
She might have been recovered from it, but for me, major damage was done. See, on a regular basis, I am torn between pride in my country and loathing of confrontation. I can’t count the times I’ve been put on the spot, called up to defend my countrymen for idiotic actions that make it on television. Of course, if ever questioned, I don’t hide my nationality, but I’m not anxious to announce it upon first meeting.
“Doh!” Image from here.
My biggest fear? Someone will ask me a political question and I won’t have an educated answer, which will perpetuate the stereotype that all Americans are obese, lazy imbeciles whose only narrow view of the world comes from what tidbits they can glean off reruns of The Simpsons.