Studying Abroad in…Canada?

“You’re studying abroad in Canada of all places?”

For many, studying abroad is traveling to far and exotic locations; however, I found that one does not need to travel too far to fully experience the benefits of a study abroad program. For 5 weeks, I lived and worked in Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, under Dr. James Baker’s Canadian Parliamentary Internship Program. I was an intern for Peter Julian, a ten-year Member of Parliament (MP) for the New Democratic Party. This study abroad opportunity was unlike any other in that it was essentially a full-time internship. I developed press releases, contacted constituents, wrote letters to Cabinet Ministers, and conducted research for future legislation. The opportunity to observe and engage with another country’s federal government was one that I could not pass up.

Before my study abroad experience in Canada, I was someone who preferred predictability over spontaneity. I liked to have a strict schedule that I could follow. The idea of change unnerved me as it was something that I could not plan or act on as I might have wanted to. During my time at Parliament, this mindset of consistency was challenged as I would have no idea what the next day would bring. Would I continue to conduct research? Or would there be another incident in Parliament (as such was the case where Justin Trudeau acted out against the NDP in what became known as Elbowgate) that I would need to react to? It wasn’t just work that was always changing. Every day, I met new people at after-work receptions, learned about minute differences between Canadian and American culture, and discussed these differences (among many other topics) with my new Canadian friends. The abrupt break from my bubble of comfort was something I had no idea that I so desperately needed.

One of the major excursions for my group was the weekend trip to Quebec where we traveled to Quebec City and Montreal. As an American, initially traveling through Ontario was not too different from driving through the U.S. (other than the change from miles to kilometers of course), but crossing over into Quebec felt like I was really in another country. In the months leading up to the trip, my Canadian Politics course discussed how Canada is effectively composed of many distinct cultures and two different languages who, effectively forming the Canadian Mosaic as opposed to the idea of an American Melting Pot. This was never clearer than when we crossed over to Quebec. The cultural difference was astounding as we saw an immediate change in language and customs. This unique multi-culture environment is something that does not exist anywhere else in the world and witnessing it firsthand in the historic Quebec City was something that I could never forget.

While the excursions provided me with the opportunity to experience the very cultural idiosyncrasies which we had been studying for months beforehand, the relationships I developed provided me with experiences I would have never expected when I was initially applying for the internship. When applying, assumed the internship was going to be solely about Parliament and that our group of Ohio State interns would have a strict schedule that would not allow us to mingle with Canadian students. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Some of the closest relationships I developed on the trip were with Canadian interns. Parliament provided a unique situation in that the American interns were basically thrown into the mix of Canadian interns allowing us to not only work together, but to get to know each other personally as well. In my office, I was lucky to have two Canadian interns who were essentially my mentors, Jeff and Branden. Both were in the process of completing their Masters degrees and helped me not only with work but with suggestions about my collegiate career as well. It would not be unusual for us to be engaging in deep, multi-layered policy discussions while in the midst of writing letters and researching.

I did not only make new friends in my own office and party. After work, there was always a reception to go to and meet new people. While I was in the NDP, I was not hesitant to talk to and discuss issues with interns from other parties. As many of my fellow interns from Ohio State worked for other parties, I frequently met the people they worked with. In fact, one of my closest friends I made on the trip was a member of the Liberal party not the NDP. One of the overarching themes of this trip for me was being able to talk to anyone. For some reason, being in a completely new environment where I was virtually unknown empowered me to be able to just start a conversation with anyone. I was more confident than I had ever been. I felt like I could connect with anyone I met. I was a blank slate who could choose who he wanted to be. The freedom of anonymity provided me with confidence to just be myself and not be persuaded by what others think of me.

While this study abroad may not have been the conventional choice, the experiences that I had, the people I met, and the policies and ideas that I worked on made this trip the highlight of my time at Ohio State. Being able to break free of my tendency toward predictability, I was able to embrace a spontaneity that I never knew I had. While I still like to have a schedule, I now don’t mind as much if things “don’t go according to plan.” On a resume, this trip looks great, but it was so much more than that. The bonds I made with my fellow Ohio State interns and my fellow Canadian interns are something that cannot be solely expressed by a blurb on a LinkedIn page. Personally, this trip enabled me to be free of what I previously considered to be my limits and as I return to Ohio State this fall, I’m excited to bring these newfound skills and confidence with me.

Where I worked, Centre block

Where I worked, Centre block

On top of Mount Royal overlooking Montreal

On top of Mount Royal overlooking Montreal

Meeting with members of the American Embassy

Meeting with members of the American Embassy

Last day at Parliament Hill

Last day at Parliament Hill

East Block

East Block