Our latest blog post comes from ACCENT London’s newest recruit Jessie Buller, who joins ACCENT as an Assistant Programs Coordinator after finishing her undergraduate degree at King’s College London. As part of her degree, Jessie spent a semester abroad at the University of Toronto. After exploring Toronto and the Anglo-French city of Montréal, Jessie reflects on her time abroad and how it enhanced her understanding of her own cultural identity.
When I first arrived at Toronto Pearson Airport on a cold January morning after approximately 20 hours of travel time, I had little idea of what to expect. Everything I knew about Toronto and Canada was largely limited to the stereotypical activities of ice hockey, skiing, and eating poutine. Though there was plenty of all three to be found, I quickly discovered that there was much more to Canadian culture than winter sports and chips with gravy!
Canada has a long Anglo-French history, and as someone who grew up in France (because of my French mother) and Britain (because of my British father), the idea of living in a country which encompassed both cultures was very appealing. In fact, I believe that living in a bilingual and bicultural country (one not entirely comfortable with its duality) enabled me to develop my understanding of the not-so distant cultural relationship between Canada / French Canada and my own British and French cultural identities. For that, I believe my study abroad experience was truly unique.
At home, I speak both French and English, and my family slips between both languages and cultures very casually. But in Canada, what I found most surprising was the way that the French and English speaking communities feel like two completely different nationalities, as opposed to being two parts of the same country. For the most part, both cultures deliberately maintain a separate identity. For instance, in my experience, the Torontonians I met didn’t speak French and the Montréalais I met didn’t speak English. Thankfully, I could speak to both, and but for my ignorance of hockey, I moved between the two cultures almost seamlessly.
I loved Montréal, with its abundance of patisseries, food markets, and opportunities to eavesdrop on French-Canadian conversations. The city offered enough of a taste of my French life to indulge me on the odd occasion that I felt Le Mal De Pays or Nostalgique (homesick), although with the locals wearing Les Habs jerseys instead of the esteemed colours of Les Bleus, there was always enough of a Québécois ambience to remind me that “I’m not in France anymore”. In fact, with their similarities to their European ancestries, both Toronto and Montréal felt simultaneously strange and familiar, a sensation which I think enriched my understanding of my temporary home.
Spending five months in Canada at the start of the 2016 was a life-changing experience, and one for which I am incredibly grateful. On the whole, although I preferred Toronto, the life-long friends I made in both Montréal and Toronto (aka: the 6ix) made both cities, and the country, feel like home, or— dare I say it— chez moi!
~Jessie Buller, ACCENT London
Studying abroad allows for opportunities to observe and reflect on our cultural identities; a balance of considering how life abroad can be new and different but also a process of discovering unexpected commonalities. To begin your own adventure, research your study abroad options at http://accentintl.com/find-a-program/.