A Mainer Abroad: Stark differences

By Stephen Roberts

Study Abroad Column

Doom and gloom are no more in Ottawa. The leaves started turning golden shades of crimson this week, and they’re clinging to the trees for a few more weeks of summer. The air has chilled, and the people are showing signs of an imminent winter: sweaters. Everyone, me included, has settled into the semester, and all of the angst of the first three weeks of class has disappeared. There isn’t a line snaking from the Carleton Bookstore all the way out the door for a hundred yards. Instead there are droves of people enjoying the last bit of summer and sunshine out by the Rideau Canal.

The Rideau as it is called in conversation is a lot like the Stillwater River, except there may be 500 students on its banks during the day. I went there yesterday to relax and skip rocks. I threw a flat piece of slate with enough force for 13 bounces. A couple of international students walked up and asked me to teach them. Geese flew overhead in V-formations southward in flocks of 20. Folks are warming up; I suspect it’s because they have interpersonal connections going into winter. Students are finding the rhythm of a short autumn, and fewer people are walking above ground to class.

Carleton has about two miles of underground tunnels that connect every building on campus. In the winter, students do not walk outside. They take these subterranean concrete passages. Most of the walls in the tunnels have murals for different student groups, but many advocate pride for this campus. Tunnels like these are extremely common throughout Canada, and many university campuses have them. I’ve been told by many of my peers that they don’t own winter jackets. That seems crazy having grown up in Maine.

After I left Maine I found myself among an entirely different caste of academia. I met the Carleton University president and the provost this past weekend at a Fulbright Scholars gala at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa I was invited to attend because of my fellowship. Carleton has invested thousands of dollars into Fulbright Canada. I found myself for the first time in a room filled with scholars and power brokers.

TD Bank had one of their vice-presidents there to cut a check for 750,000 Canadian dollars ($562,000). White-gloved servers carried silver platters of carrot-sized jumbo shrimp and lobster rolls. There were three violinists and a cellist playing Vivaldi. The American ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman, gave a speech where he spoke in great detail of the importance of cultural exchange through educational exchange.

The dinner tables all had floral arrangements of white roses and baby’s breath that were so large it was impossible to see people sitting on the other side. The wine flowed, which was strange because back in Maine it’s against university policy. Here, it is the policy. More people stood up and gave speeches, and they talked about the importance of United States and Canadian integration. When I first got here, it was hard not to see all the differences. Now that I’ve been here a month, the differences have begun to disappear.

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