Life South of the Border

By Isabelle Savoie

It’s a funny thing being Canadian in the US. We’re not quite international students, but we’re not quite at home either. We’re studying and working here only by permit of a visa, but one could swap out any number of American flags for Canadian ones and this foreign country would feel just like the one we come from. I asked eight Canadian Yalies a number of questions and have compiled and commented on their responses in order to answer the question: “What is it really like to be Canadian in the United States?”  My comments are italicized.


“What is the biggest difference between the United States and Canada?”

1. That they’re different countries. 

We really aren’t that different on the surface, it’s true. But there’s more to it than that.

2. The role of the government and the political climate. 

Canadians don’t mind government intervention as much as Americans do and our politics are generally more left-wing than those of the United States. 

3. Cultural norms and values. 

This is something I can’t really put my finger on. The cultural differences are so subtle, but pervasive at the same time. The United States focuses more on itself as a world leader than Canada does, which obviously can be easily explained by its comparative importance on the international scene.

4. The pervading sense of patriotism. 

Americans love America, and they let us know. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but is nonetheless a bit jarring for us more humble folk from up north.


“If you had to pick one thing that you miss the most about Canada, what would it be?”

1. My family and home. 

This isn’t uniquely Canadian, but is a reality for all international (and American) students.

2. Universal healthcare. 

The concept of having to buy health insurance is scary to us because we’ve never had to worry about it before. Back home, we get a health card from the government and we’re set. Yale has us very well covered, but it’s frightening to realize that we’ll be on our own in a few years time (if we (decide to) stay) and odd to know that some Americans actually are without full coverage.

3. Tim Hortons. 

It’s better than Dunkin, sorry.

4. Liberal politics. 

Obviously, not every Canadian is a liberal, but as I mentioned earlier, our political system as a whole falls further to the left than the American system does. 

5. CBC News. American news channels seem to value the entertainment factor more.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation provides Canada’s public TV and Radio channels. The reporting usually has a calmer tone than, say, CNN or MSNBC, though the CBC at times does fall into the shock value trap, as do most mainstream media sources in this day and age.  

6. The culture of acceptance. 

By no means do Canadians live in a post-racial, post-sexist, or post-homophobic society. But I often feel that we’re closer on the road to getting there than the United States. 


“What’s the most frustrating thing about being Canadian in the US?”

1. Not having access to services for citizens and having to navigate the legal framework that comes with being international. 

We just have to think more than your average Yale student. Which fellowships can I find that aren’t for U.S. citizens only? Did I go to OISS to get my I-20 resigned? How do I apply for a social security number? These are thoughts that are to be expected of any international student — it is just particularly difficult for Canadians because we live so geographically close in an incredibly similar society. It’s easy to forget that you don’t really belong, but the fine print makes it very clear.

2. The complete lack of knowledge about Canada. 

I came down to Yale assuming that Americans would share the same amount of knowledge about Canada that I had about the United States. I have since heavily reevaluated that expectation. We don’t need you to learn our national anthem, but our capital would be nice.

3. Bipartisan politics. 

Elections in Canada are typically between our two main political parties: the Liberals and the Conservatives. However, we also have the New Democratic Party, the Green Party, and the Bloc Québecois who keep the political scene alive with productive debate, and keep the Liberals and the Conservatives from getting too polarized.

4. Being stereotyped. 

Once, a friend told me that he “never would have guessed” I was Canadian, and I’m still not sure what he meant. We don’t live in igloos, I have never seen a polar bear and pronouncing “about” as“aboot” isn’t a requirement of Canadian citizenship.

5. It is so similar to Canada but we are not guaranteed to be able to stay here, especially since companies are getting less and less willing to sponsor visas. 

For those of us who want to stay, this is a sad and scary reality.

6. “You’re not really an international student.” 

My passport and visa say otherwise.


“What’s the best thing about being Canadian in the US?” 

1. Being able to take a step back and see American issues from an outsider’s perspective.

It is very interesting to live through these issues but not be directly affected if we don’t want to be. I feel that it is easier to see problems through a clearer lens. I am sure Americans would feel the same way about Canadian issues if they lived in Canada.

2. Experiencing life in another country that is so similar on the surface, but fundamentally different in its culture and values. 

For me, this would probably have gone in the “most frustrating” category, but points to this respondent for having a positive attitude about it.

3. It makes me that much more aware of my strong identity as a Canadian, and that much prouder of it. 

You are never more aware of your heritage than when you are abroad. This is why we react negatively when people refer to us as the “51st state.”

4. Getting to do the Orientation for International Students. 

OIS was really fun, and I met so many interesting people from across the globe. It was such a privilege to be “almost American” and still get to have this experience.

5. Getting a liberal arts education, which you generally cannot find in Canada. 

I could not agree more. A liberal arts education is virtually impossible to find in Canada and as someone who had little to no idea what I wanted to study coming out of high school, I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to have begun studying at a place like Yale.

6. Watching Canada vs. USA hockey in the Olympics. 

Especially when we win.


“If there was one thing you wish Americans knew about Canada, what would it be?”

1. The capital and other basic geography. 

No, “Ontario” is not the capital.

2. Left-wing policies can be effective. 

We really like our healthcare.

3. Canadian politics and history. 

And at the very least, the name of our Prime Minister.

4. The border isn’t that far from Yale — go see it for yourself! 

10/10 would recommend.

5. We’re 5 percent maple syrup and 95 percent politeness. 

I can 100 percent verify that this is true.


So, there you have it. While this article only directly reflects the opinions of myself and seven other Canadians at Yale, I feel that it gives a good overview of a lot of common thoughts we have living south of the border. When polled, four out of eight responded no or maybe to staying in the United States after graduation, citing reasons that ranged from frustration with the political climate and lack of healthcare to wanting to keep exploring the world. The other four, including myself, said that they wanted to stay in the United States due to better and more abundant job opportunities than we have in Canada. I also want to stay because of the country’s amazing diversity, bright outlook, and incredible energy. But no matter what, I will always be a Canadian at heart, no matter how far south from the 49th parallel my life takes me.

(Image courtesy of Creative Commons/Flickr user Carolyn Cuskey).

Isabelle Savoie ’17 is Davenport College. Contact her at