Fighting Ignorance, one bumper sticker at a time

The original post was at the “Canada Higher Education and Career News” blog on October 17, 2011, but it seems to have gone all 404 Not Found, so I’m posting a copy here.

This is a tale of bumper stickers, band t-shirts, and revenge.

While I was in a mall parking lot in the U.S. one day, I noticed a McGill University bumper sticker on another car. This prompted me to scrawl a hurried note (“Hi! I went to McGill, too! We should be friends! Find me on Facebook!”) and tuck it under her windshield wiper. This led to a series of amusing coffee dates with one Canadian resident of Illinois. (Since several Canadians have asked me, “Isn’t Illinois in Chicago?” I’ll go ahead and clarify that—despite occasional inclinations to the contrary—Chicago is in fact in Illinois.)

My mom has a McGill University bumper sticker on her car. Rather than encouraging coffee dates, it has elicited several blank stares from her Chicago area acquaintances, most of whom are a bit unclear on the concept of Canada (to say nothing of my field as a Canadian Studies major!).

Once she explains the notion of Montreal, people usually follow up with questions about why I chose to attend McGill. The truth involves William Shatner, an application written in rhyming couplets, and a bout of mononucleosis. The abbreviated version is that Canada is a good place to pursue Canadian Studies.

“Now, how did she decide to do Canadian Studies?” is invariably the next question (from intrepid conversationalists – the less curious have usually wandered off by this point). That story involves a study abroad program at Herstmonceux Castle on the south coast of England where a year-long map-drawing, state-naming, province-and-territory-labeling, spelling-with-the-letter-u, and Canadian-celebrity-trivia competition took place in a pub between two Americans (my roommate and I) and a few Canadians. They maintain that they won, and we maintain that we let them win because, for once, they outnumbered us.

To ensure our victory in the next competition, I decided to enroll in just one Canadian Studies course at McGill. One thing led to another, and I wound up treating my entire undergraduate degree as a massive study abroad-esque crash course in all things Canada-land.

While I was working at the cafeteria at McGill (oh, the employment opportunities available to an international student), I encountered a young man sporting a t-shirt bedecked with the logo “Come on feel the Illinoise.” I hadn’t heard of Sufjan Stevens at that point, and I was overjoyed at encountering a fellow Illinois-ian in the GWN (great white north), so I excitedly asked if he was from Illinois. He looked at me blankly for a moment and asked, “What’s that?”

The moral of this story might seem to be that ignorance flows both ways across ye olde 49th parallel. But the message I want to convey is that there are always opportunities to learn from—and to educate—fellow travelers in the world, whether you are far from home or in the grocery store on the south side of Chicago (which, for some people, is the same thing!). I’ve had the chance to do this through my Canadian Studies degrees, but I’m sure you’ve had your own experiences with cultural dissonance, confusing cross-cultural communication, and attaining bemused understanding with new friends. With blogs, bumper stickers, and even band t-shirts, it is easier than ever to find people who share your interests or learn about new topics that pique your curiosity. Education in any form can bring people together in the spirit of dialogue and exchange, and each such encounter has the opportunity to make the world a better (and even friendlier!) place.

As an aside to my very Canadian friends from First Year, I’d like to close with a very American saying: bring it. I’ve been studying my Prime Ministers placemat, volunteering with the NDP, and silently infiltrating your curling matches. I will own you at Canadian trivia.

BIO:

Amanda Murphy (McGill BA 2006, Carleton MA 2010) is currently pursuing her PhD in Canadian Studies at Carleton University. She has lots of opinions, which can be found at dessertating.wordpress.com, and lots of snark, available at http://murphyaoink.blogspot.com/.

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