Mária Hudáková: A Dream Come True
“Thinking Canada“ is an initiative of the European Network for Canadian Studies supported by the European Commission (and possibly Sasquatch) that provides an intensive interdisciplinary programme to European students reflecting topics central to understanding contemporary Canada, and it is meant to provide a rich academic experience about it. The tour itself includes a lot of travel, so hey, chances stand good that it won't be entirely dull and boring.
During the four week stay, the students visit various regions across Canada where they are given the opportunity to interact directly with specialists leading the sessions, tackling subjects such as multiculturalism, federalism, regionalism, environmental and economic issues, exhaustingly proving that there is more to this country than maple syrup and Terrance and Phillip.
We talked to Mária Hudáková, a fifth-year student of our very own department, who successfully navigated through the initial selection process and participated in the tour last September, and thus is qualified to spread the word and give better insight into the whole programme.
Boris (BR): How did you find out about the programme?
Mária (MH): The very first time that I heard about this study tour was during Dr. Otrísalová's class on Canadian studies. It was during my second year of studies, so I could not apply yet. The tour is aimed at 3rd-year students and older. But I could not stop thinking about it. It sounded amazing. A year later I became a member of the Central European Association for Canadian Studies which is partly involved in this project. So there are several ways how to learn about this opportunity.
BR: What did the application process look like? Are there any issues you would like to point out to those who may be interested in applying themselves?
MH: The application process is not complicated at all. You have to fill in an online application giving your personal information, details on your studies and submit two supporting documents - your CV and a motivation statement explaining why you wish to participate. You also need to find an academic sponsor at your home university, who will support your application with a letter of recommendation. Although it is easy to apply, the chances of being chosen are not very high. Actually, I know I was extremely lucky. Since the organizers wish to have every EU country represented, there can be only one person selected to participate from Slovakia. In the previous year, there was no student from our country at all. Bigger countries, such as Germany, Spain, Hungary, Latvia or Poland, usually have two successful candidates. But I do not want to put anyone off :).
BR: What places did you visit during the tour and what did the programme consist of?
MH: The tour started in Brussels - that was where our group (32 students from 24 EU countries and 2 professors) met for the first time. We spent there 3 days packed with presentations at various places, such as the European Parliament or the Canadian Mission to the EU. We all flew together to Canada afterwards. First, we stayed in Ottawa for six days. From there we moved to Quebec City, then to Montreal, Toronto and from there we flew all the way west to Victoria and Vancouver. On average, we spent four days in each of these cities. We really got to see a variety of places in various provinces of Canada which indeed are quite different from one another – similarly to countries in Europe. Our program was basically the same the whole month - we were visiting various institutions, government bodies, NGOs, think tanks, etc. We were warmly welcomed (sometimes even with food and drinks :)) and given presentations. It was very demanding because the program was very intense. It started every day at around 8 a.m. and ended usually at around 6 p.m. Especially the last week was very exhausting because we felt like there was no energy left in our bodies anymore. But it was definitely worth it. Presentations covered a wide range of topics (cultural diversity, the English/French relationship, multiculturalism, the First Nations, the environment, economics, trade, EU-Canada relations, etc.), so everyone could find something that was of personal interest to him/her and we also gained great knowledge of things that we perhaps had had no idea about before.
BR: Was there anything about Canada that was surprisingly different from Slovakia?
MH: There were many things that were different from what we have here. It is almost as entering another world :). But perhaps it was surprising to see how much closer to nature Canadians are. Their cities are extremely green and Canadians spend a great amount of time in parks, woods, or by a river, lake, ocean, or whatever body of water a city has. A piece of pure untouched nature can easily be just a 15 minute walk away from downtown. Another thing that I miss is the nature of people. I am sure you have heard already that Canadians are very polite, kind and friendly. It is 100% true. Even simple things, such as shopping in a grocery store, can make your day thanks to a nice chat with the cashier. But of course, there are also less pleasant things that were surprising. Only in Canada did I appreciate things that became a norm for us - the citizens of the EU. Traveling, for example. When we first arrived in Canada, we had to spend several hours at the airport waiting to get to the customs and there, we were asked all sorts of questions that made us feel almost like criminals. We were definitely not used to this. And soon after that, we experienced another shock: the prices that are displayed in Canada do not include VAT. So you never know how much you will end up paying - unless you are really good at math. But these are things one can easily get used to, I think.
BR: Did you gain any new insight into the Canadian way of thinking? Were there topics on which the Canadian perspective is perhaps strikingly different form the European one?
Well, I think it would need more than just a month of living in hotel suites. But if I should come up with at least something, it would be multiculturalism. I was really interested in seeing it work in Canadian reality. And from what I have experienced there, it seems to be working quite well. They indeed perceive immigration as a very positive thing for their country, even as something typical of Canada and something that Canadians are proud of. I think that in Europe, we usually have rather the opposite view. We do not want to lose our traditional national identities and peculiarities. But of course, Quebec, as usual, is an exception. This province is very European and its immigration policy does not coincide with that of the rest of the country. The Quebecois adhere to the concept of interculturalism. It is very interesting to see how these two entities within a single country coexist. They are quite different and stubborn :).
BR: If you could pick one thing that was the most enriching to you, what would it be?
MH: It is difficult to pick only one. The overall experience was definitely very enriching. I visited places that I would not have even dared to dream about and I met amazing people, with whom I could share this experience. I cannot tell whether experiencing Canada, which was a dream come true for me, or being a part of the amazing group of students and professors was the most enriching. I think the combination of both was just perfect.
BR: … and the most negative experience?
MH: There was not a single negative experience. Even those less pleasant ones turned into something illuminating or funny. We were trying to think positively all the time and be thankful for every moment of this great opportunity. Everyone felt lucky to be there. And fortunately enough, we only have happy memories now.
BR: Did the programme meet your expectations?
MH: I have to admit that I expected to see more of Canadian natural or historical sites and not so many presentation rooms. But it just was not the object of this study tour. As I mentioned earlier, the
program was very intense and thus the aim of learning as much as we can within one month was
achieved perfectly. At the end of this tour, we were even jokingly told that we now know much more than we ever wanted to. :)
BR: Would you go again?
MH: Absolutely. It was the most amazing month in my life. I strongly recommend it.
BR: What are your plans for the nearest future? Is Canada somehow involved?
MH: I do not have an exact plan. I am trying to focus fully on my studies, my MA thesis and final exams. I am still involved with the CEACS and CE Young Canadianists. Of course, I would love to stay somehow connected to Canada for the rest of my life. But who knows where I will end up.
Since we are so keen on making gathering information easy for you, as well as pointing you towards the right direction, here are some useful links on the subject. Overall info on the study tour itself, and a slightly uncertain outlook for 2013 can be found at thinking-canada.eu, and for more information on the application process, you may click on the How to apply section. If for some reason, this doesn't satisfy your hunger for Internet-based knowledge of Canada, feel free to continue onto the ENCS portal. Or whatever, use Google, for that matter.
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