“My experience as an English major at the College prepared me for navigating the differences in cultures”
Article by 25366 Anna-Michelle Shewfelt
I spent the better part of the last four years living in the southern United States and I commuted back and forth a few times a year for several years before that. Before this I had never flown internationally and so prior to the first time I was supposed to go down I consulted a group of friends on social media who made the trip with some regularity. I will never forget one of the responses I received, something to the effect of, “If you want to know what it’s like travelling between two countries then you might want to actually travel between two countries!” The implication being, of course, that at the end of the day there really isn’t that much difference between Canada and the U.S. As I found, however, that’s not always true.
One of the things I will always remember from Dr. Hurley’s World Literature course at RMC was his repeated refrain that “things are not what they seem.” That even though we’re all telling essentially the same stories we all tell them just a little bit differently and thus what at first glance appears similar is, in reality, not so at all. More often than not this was in reference to far away places like northern Ontario or the Amazon but it was turned out to be advice for someone making the move to the southern U.S.
As I had visited off and on for several years I felt like the people there well when I finally made the move for good. I didn’t see any really big difference between us. And, to a degree, I was right. There was no big difference; rather, there were a million and one smaller ones. Things were always just a little bit “off” for me. We had grown up differently and so we saw the world differently. It could be something as simple as the weather. When my Green Card came through and I went to work I didn’t have a driver’s license yet so I biked the 5 km or so to work and back each day. As this was the middle of the summer in the South, the neighbours thought I had lost it but growing up in Ontario where 18 inches of snow overnight in January was not uncommon I learned to work with the weather. If you took the Southern approach of not doing anything outside when the weather didn’t allow it, you’d never get anything done. Thanks to the experience I had as an English major at the College I was able to navigate those differences (somewhat) successfully.
Such an observation is not given to criticise those I worked with while I was down there. It’s also not to stir the pot in view of the current political situation. It’s just to point out that differences exist between cultures, even those which at first glance might appear to be more or less the same. Learning to appreciate those differences is a valuable skill.
For me, moments like that show the value of an arts education at the College. My professors in the English department taught me to see the world through others’ eyes. That just because something is different doesn’t make it wrong. And that if how I see the world differs from how those around me view it that doesn’t mean I’m wrong, either (as long as I’m willing to learn from others). There’s always something to learn from those we might view as different. There is, as I said, value in that, especially in light of the world we currently live in.