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Home | Where in the World | Meet the Children of Diplomats | Young Global Nomads | Canada: An "Overseas" Experience

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Canada: An "Overseas" Experience

Most individuals join the Foreign Service to experience new, exotic ways of life that are not evident in America. Postings such as New Delhi, Dubai, and Singapore are among the most desired and best appreciated posts in the world. Upon return from these culturally stimulating locales, many Foreign Service officers agree that they prefer overseas life to middle-class American suburbia. Virtually all postings offer a significant, beneficial deviation from the American norm, which in turn makes the destination much more enticing.

I personally have not experienced the many different countries that a typical Foreign Service child would, as my familial situation is atypical. When my only sister was born, it was discovered that she was deaf and mildly autistic. Therefore, unlike most families, we cannot be posted to any random country, as my sister has extremely unique educational needs, and almost all overseas countries do not have sufficient schools. Consequently, I have spent a total of 11 years in the same state, unlike most Foreign Service families. However, I have had the chance to take a non-American posting in living in Ottawa, Canada for a duration of 4 years.

Canada is not overseas, and, accordingly, it is largely influenced by American culture. During my stay there--from 1992 to 1996--I often heard that some particular toy or piece of athletic equipment was "American style" or "just like in the States." During those years, children did not have much nationalistic pride, and much effort was made to imitate their neighbors to the south. In this, Ottawa was not a very different post from my home of Virginia.

It is commonly said that imitation is the most sincere form of admiration. While Canada was making a vain effort to imitate America, I lost my admiration for the new country. Before the actual move to Ottawa, I was repeatedly informed that there would be a great many differences between the two countries, and that I would have the opportunity to make several interesting friends. Convinced that this move would be the chance of a lifetime, I was prepared for an exhilarating tour. After 6 months, I concluded that, aside from climate, Canada was a replica of America. There was no change in my daily routine. The supermarket still carried Frosted Flakes, and pizza was delivered in under half an hour. Even my school started and ended at the exact same time as my previous one. My house was approximately the same distance from school, and thus I even woke up at the same time that I had previously awaken. Everyone wore clothes from the Gap, just like everyone else that I had known in America, and the National Football League was quite popular with other children. I honestly believed that one could blindfold another random person, fly them to Canada, and ask them to say where they were, and the response would be "somewhere in America."

Needless to say, I was quite disappointed. For perhaps half of my stay in Canada, I just wanted to be suddenly posted overseas so that I could enjoy a different culture. During the second half, however, I noticed that my surroundings began to change. Little maple leafs were placed on many products. The previously miniscule "Made in Canada" logos were now proudly placed on products. As football gave way to hockey, more and more people started to learn and employ the French language. Even in colloquial speech, Canadian children invented new terms that I had never heard of. During the twilight of my stay, Canada was becoming what I had hoped that it would. As this gradual change happened, I became more vibrant, as my expectations were being met.

In all honesty, I'm not quite sure what happened during the second half of my Canadian tour, except that I am certain that I had no influence on what happened. Since I was not politically active then, I would have missed a call to "Canadianize" by the Canadian Government. Also I did not read anything more sophisticated than the daily newspaper; I might have missed a similar call to action by prominent Canadians. Whatever the change, it finally made me understand why so many people enjoyed foreign cultures, no matter how similar they may be.


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