canada in the eyes of the world

canada day 2015

Happy Canada Day! I stepped outside this morning to get a classic Canadiana photo shot. Our new flag was flutter-less in the calm air. A haze from forest fires in neighbouring Saskatchewan clung to blue skies. It may not be postcard perfect, but the expansive natural beauty in our back-yard lifted the soul….much like Canada herself.

Both my parents were born in Poland. I was born in Birkenhead, England. We moved to Canada when I was eight years old. I didn’t become a Canadian citizen until late in life. My Canadian identity was cemented in my many travels. It is often in the leaving that you learn to see your home through other’s eyes.

My international friends are always eager to know more about Canadian life. Do I speak French? (Un petit peu….very petit!) What does -40C feel like? (Step into a walk-in freezer and hang around for awhile. But, it’s a dry cold!) Does it get warm in summer? (Yes. We need temperature scales that can register 40+ degrees on both sides of zero.) And, my favourite, “I have friends in Toronto. Perhaps you know them?”

What does the world think of Canada? CBC collected the views of several international Canadianists. (Who knew that universities in other countries had speciality studies in things Canadian?) Here are some insights.

Many of my non-Canadianist friends refer to Canada as “the European version of America.” Canada resembles Europe the way it wishes it had stayed: full of natural beauty.

The Dutch are attracted to the down-to-earth Canadian spirit. In Amsterdam, many locals will play dumb if an American asks for the way. But state you’re Canadian, and doors will open instantly.

Nowadays, my friends remark, with surprise, “Canada has an American president, only interested in the economy and ignorant of anything else, and America has a Canadian president.” So images are definitely changing; some Dutch people fear that this beautiful Canada will soon be one big oil field.

(Irene Salverda, the Netherlands)

Andrew Holman, an historian in the United States, believes that Canada, as an “experiment in liberty”, is worth studying.

A country that has had two near-death experiences in the Quebec referendums of 1980 and 1995, Canada has also undergone its own rights revolution since the birth of the Charter in 1982. Most recently, the resurgence of aboriginal rights, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the mercurial Idle No More movement all attract the interest of American students of Canada. From below the Canada-U.S. border, the image of the country “up there” has begun to change.

Wolfgang Kloob of Germany is critical of the current Conservative government’s termination of the international “Understanding Canada” program which funded Canadian studies globally.

This notwithstanding, Canada as a model for a multi-faceted immigrant society with many different voices and multiple forms of cultural expression — including those of her native peoples — is still an important subject in the classrooms of many German universities.

Ewa Urbaniak-Rybicka of Poland writes,

The image of Canada that my students draw from is that of a postmodern country which, although quite young, has an interesting, as well as rich, history, and which has influenced major historical events in the 20th century.

Canada appears to my students also as a gothic entity which has bravely faced its national ghosts that have been haunting it and which has been transforming its national identity accordingly. Still, first and foremost, my students envision Canada as a country of immigrants cherishing its multiethnic, multicultural and multi-religious heritage.

Dr. Wang Bing of China paints a positive image of Canada.

We usually find Canada wherever in the world justice should be done, abuses of human rights criticized, refugees assisted, or wrongs redressed.

Canada’s image as a dull “wheat exporter” decades ago has now changed into a much more dynamic, diverse country. The curriculum about Canada focuses on Chinese immigrants, bilingualism and multiculturalism, which is perceived as the best, if not perfect, choice to solve problems of ethnic conflicts and social harmony.

Canadian multiculturalism will be very significant for the increasingly diverse world today, which witnesses more and more cultural contact, conflict and exchange.

Susan Hodgett of Northern Ireland believes that we need to better communicate our Canadian reality on the international stage.

Canada has traditionally shared its benefits well, but today your profile overseas is waning badly. Professors, students and publics are literally less able to see the excellent lessons Canada has to share. We are trying to do what we can to spread the word about Canada but it is overdue to think again about how Canada meets the world.

Salvador Cervantes or Mexico also blames budget cuts to a decrease in interest in Canadian Studies.

There is the need for new strategies in order to form the new generation of Canadianists that can be ready to answer to the changes and challenges happening in the world and in the global academic community.

Canadians are known for being low-key patriots. Genuine humility can be a good thing. “In your face” patriotism can be personally annoying, and dangerous when taken to extremes on the world stage. But, hiding lamps under bushels does no one any good. It’s time for Canadians to more intentionally embrace and share the gifts of this land by modelling to other countries what we do well. How do we do this?

In corporate terms, this is a marketing problem. But, what if we think of it as an evangelization issue? Pope Francis exhorts us to share our beliefs not by forceful proselytizing but through respectful dialogue. He calls us to embrace our diversity rather than impose uniformity. We are to preach less, and allow our actions to speak for us. We are to go out into the world not to conquer, but to work in solidarity for peace and justice for all.

Perhaps Francis is onto something…..

One thought on “canada in the eyes of the world

  1. I miss the Canada of the “Peace Keepers”. Maybe the world has so changed that the military version will no longer work, but there was a spirit, a spirit that, sort of produced them and that redounded to help us feel and resolve that the notion fitted us at home and made our “fit” in a world. We were called on, hoped for, relied on for that. We have lost that vision, that trust; we are confounded and in that confusion we have been used. “Used”, not by some external manipulator or by a need to “please”, but by a need, a need…. Well, I really don’t know what that “need” is but it makes me uncomfortable.

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