Culture Shock: What’s your story?

I am very pleased that the opportunity has arisen for international students to tell some of their stories. As a Brit in Canada I spend time with the internationals, and the comments made about how different things are back home can be pretty hilarious. Hopefully, this humour will shine through and give you a feel for what it is like to have your world turned upside down (literally for those of us who travelled around the world to come to Trent)!

So, here are some of our international student’s stories…

I will kick it off by saying that the culture shock of coming from Kent in the UK (South East part of the country) to Peterborough has been pretty huge. The first thing I noticed on our journey to Haliburton for TIP Camp (where Trent International Program takes its newbies on a wee holiday to Camp Timberlane) was a) how straight the roads are, b) how many trucks there are, and c) how long the roads are.

When I arrived in Canada, I was told we were going on a short drive to our destination. Five hours later we arrived. You can travel from Inverness (in Scotland) to Plymouth (in Devon) in about 10 hours – I Googled it. That is the top of the country to the bottom in no time! So, the size of Canada still ceases to amaze me.

Ryan Barnett from London talks to Arthur about accents, sandals, and socks.

Coming from London, UK to Peterborough was, quite frankly, a bit mental. Even when you travel to another country you can never fully appreciate nor anticipate how different things will be, even in another English speaking country. People in Canada at large, but most importantly young women, are generally very forward and friendly. Not to mention how the accent goes down a treat! However, there are a lot of things I cannot get my head around. The LCBO system is a massive pain. The whole tax on top of price thing is even worse.

There is a weird avoidance of tap water, which I find very strange. The white socks and sandals thing blows my mind; at home this tragic style is reserved for weird old men. On another note, though the workload is enormous it has actually helped me with my grades to some extent. Canada is a lovely country and I certainly intend to come back sometime in the future, even if it is for pulled pork poutine!

Daisy Komujuni from Uganda laughs about Canadians obsession with weather and the kindness she’s experienced.

Hailing from a tropical climate, it was probably hardest for me to switch from a society where no one ever talked about the weather to having every single conversation begin with, “That’s some weather we’re havin’ today, eh?” Besides that, I was more pleasantly surprised than shocked by the general openness and kindness of the people, the blend of culture and rich history that make the infamous Canadian cold all worth it, although my blue fingers probably would not agree.

Everyday has been a learning experience peppered with jokes and references that go right over my head 80 percent of the time, but getting past that it has been wonderful to meet people who are as interested in learning about my culture as I am in learning about theirs. With kind people around me it was less of a cultural shock and more of a bumpy transition.

Kylie from Perth in Australia was surprised by how hot Canada gets in the summer!

There was very little culture shock. The heat surprised me when I arrived in July, as I thought Canada was ALWAYS cold. I also expected snow much earlier and that was the only let down I had. The Québécois were much nicer than the English give them credit for. And people in Toronto drive as poorly as those in Perth, my hometown. All in all, though, thanks to our big brothers, the United States of America and the United Kingdom, there was very little culture shock and I got along with Canadians a little too well!

Suzie Moore from Macclesfield in the UK tells Arthur about friendly Canadians and the bonus of a British accent.

For the first few days, it was such a huge culture shock; everything seemed so strange. But once you settle in, it actually isn’t too different. Canadians are so friendly, so it’s not hard to make friends, especially with the accent! The workload, however, is insane compared to in England, so I find that quite hard to manage. And it’s weird sharing a room. Although, my roommate is really nice so it isn’t so bad! The tax thing gets me every time and is so annoying to have to add it on in your head to figure out the actual price!

An anonymous international contributor finds Canada’s persistent Christmas celebrations the greatest shocker.

Oh, I am sorry, is it still Christmas?

I am going to take this opportunity to ask an extremely important question. Why do you still have your Christmas decorations up?! It is March. It is not December 25. Are you confused? Probably not. Are you trying to keep up the community spirit during the long, dark, snowy winter? Probably not. Are you lazy? Absolutely.

I am not trying to offend the wonderful people Canada is home to. Usually, your high spirits and big smiles do wonders for my mood. But now I find myself getting increasingly angry walking down Charlotte Street on the way to the terminal. It used to be a pleasant walk. Not anymore. My pleasant walk has turned into something that I dread. In fact, I usually make an attempt to jump on a reliable (not) city bus to avoid the sparkly reindeer or the big, fat red bows that STILL decorate around 60 percent of the houses. Now I walk and my face gets red. My blood starts to boil. Perhaps I am merely being cynical?

Jose Argudo from Ecuador talks to Arthur about food and rules!

When I came to Canada the first shock I had was that so many rules are followed, for example when driving. In Ecuador we don’t follow as many rules! At first I thought that was a bit boring, but now I feel like it is the right thing to do. I also find the people very kind. It makes me feel more secure. I don’t mind leaving my things unattended in the library! The difference in the kind of food I could get was actually a big shock because it was hard to find less processed and more natural food; most of it had been already processed and packaged. In Ecuador fresh food is much more accessible!

Mitch Couchman, from the Forest of Dean in England, visited a friend at Trent in November 2012 and has a lot to say about the pessimism of the English.

Coming to Canada is much like being in England, except it’s colder, bigger, and you all seem to possess a somewhat alien quality… friendliness. When entering a shop or bar in the UK, the highest level of human interaction I can normally expect is some sort of guttural snort or grunt when I attempt to engage another human in conversation, but in Canada it’s a whole different kettle of fish.

During a quiet Wednesday afternoon in Peterborough I had decided to indulge myself and go and watch some English football (soccer to you Canadians) in a bar and found myself inundated with offers to buy drinks and share stories as soon as a word slipped from my eloquent English lips. I was somewhat taken aback by the terrifying friendliness and openness of the general public compared to my native blights.

Renee Bruce from Melbourne, Australia, didn’t think there was much of a culture shock at all…

When considering the extent of culture shock that I experienced coming to Canada I would say it was minimal—it was more of a ‘culture surprise’. The moment I stepped off the plane I felt warmth (in ridiculously cold temperatures) due to the happiness and sincerity I felt from the Canadians. I think, as a whole, Canadians are some of the nicest, most welcoming people I have ever met. I would say that the differences between Australian and Canadian culture are generally insignificant.

University is set up very much the same, and the food is also very similar. Obviously, in terms of weather, Australians soak up when temperatures get to 10 plus degrees, so going into the negatives I nearly died. But I loved the snow and got used to it very quickly. I am loving experiencing the Canadian way of life and I sure when I get home people are going to get very sick of me boasting about how much cheaper and better everything is over here!

Imogen Kelly from Yorkshire in the UK has had some different experiences with her accent…

I think the biggest culture shock for me about coming to Canada was people not being able to understand me. I have a strong Yorkshire accent, which confused people; I have been asked if I’m from numerous countries, from South Africa to the Bahamas. The accent combined with the name Imogen, which is relatively unknown in Canada, made introducing myself to people difficult. It also caused a few problems in class—one professor completely rejected my project proposal on fair trade towns until I realized he thought I’d proposed a project on factory towns in an area with no factories.

Adam, from Scotland talks to Arthur about the similarities between Inverness and Peterborough.

The similarities between Canada and Scotland far outweigh the differences. Due to Canada’s historical development and the impact of both Scottish and English settlers, Canada’s culture and set up almost mirrors that of back home. Apart from the climate and the immense size of Canada, one could argue that the UK and Canada are very much alike. Nevertheless, moving to any new country is a daunting experience. However, the comparative culture of Canada and Scotland resulted in a much smoother transition than expected.

Adrian from Melbourne, Australia doesn’t feel like he is on the other side of the world!

Coming to Canada from Australia was a greater shock than I first anticipated it to be. At home I was told that Canada has the most similar culture to Australia than anyone else. As soon as I arrived in Canada, I noticed that so many things were different to back home. From the way people talk, to what is acceptable conversation material, to what people wear during their everyday adventures and how people act when going out for the night. Despite these differences I have never felt home sick; I didn’t feel like I was on the other side of the world. It was though as if I just moved to a much colder part of Australia where the culture is all about ice hockey!

Ashvinder Singh from Locham, Malaysia talks about friends and memories.

When I first came to Trent, I did not know what to expect. Everything was new to me, the country and education. But as time progressed everything changed. People who were complete strangers became familiar faces. It’s been 2 years since I’m here and my experiences at Trent has been nothing but great. I know for sure that once I am done my time here, I will defiantly take home good memories.

Andrew Tan Wei Aun, from Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia, is more critical of Canada and talks about a false sense of inclusivity.

There is much that can be said about the different cultural experiences of living in Kuala Lumpur and in Peterborough but in this short space that is before me, I’d like to really briefly touch on what I feel is a facade of inclusivity.

This is perhaps the one thing that most often grinds my gears. Perhaps there is a sense of being lied to and of being falsely sold the idea of an inclusive and welcoming Canada. Or perhaps that is also self directed anger for being foolish enough to allow myself to formulate such opinions about a society I had so little proximity to.

My taste of Canadians came through my pre-university program in an international school in Malaysia where I did a Canadian program and only had Canadians as teachers. They were the most dedicated, inspiring and worldly group of people. That said, my only experiences with Canadians was with ones that so happened to be worldly, adventurous, intelligent and nurturing.
As we know, Canada is a settlers nation where large majorities of the population are made up of British and French settlers who found their way amongst the First Nation people. Couple Canada’s beginnings with a soon forthcoming issue of its dependency load and being underpopulated, I feel as though Canada cannot help but put up a front as a place that is welcoming to immigrants. It needs immigrants.

This was a sentiment that rang as a truism before I got to Canada and was surely shoved in my face when I was here—that Canada is genuinely an inclusive and welcoming place that observes and respects diversity and difference.

In my experience, I was welcomed at the doors and told that I would be accommodated but that only rang true to a certain point and like a troubled child who was misunderstood by their parents, I was told to grow up. To assimilate.

If anyone has any “culture shock” stories (or in some cases just culture stories) please don’t hesitate to email We’d love to hear them.