Western does a lot for its international students like us. The international student office holds social events, orientation activities, and sets foreigners up with native English speakers for conversation practice. If one of us was not a student here, then we could attend the weekly Tea for Spouses of International Students (another opportunity for English practice).
As Americans, John and I are in an odd position. We're foreign enough to see obvious differences between Canada and the U.S. But we speak English and there are still a lot of similarities between our cultures. Usually this sort of foreign position turns into the opportunity to poke fun at our well-meaning Canadian friends.
Today we got an email about the North American custom of leaving a porch light on to let visitors and neighbors know you are home (John pointed out that we do this now to make people think we're home when we're actually not). You may be asking, "What North American custom? What porch?"
"In every culture, there is a place in one’s home of welcoming and gathering. Historically in North America, this place was often the porch (the outside entrance area of one’s home) where a home owner welcomes their neighbours,* friends and families. "
I'm picturing the South, people plucking absentmindedly at banjos, sitting on rocking chairs, pieces of straw in their mouths. Either that, or a scene out of Barber's Knoxville, Summer of 1915.
"Traditionally, when the porch light was on, it meant the home owner was at home and was providing a light to show the way up to their porch and inviting people in."
Well, we did this in Indiana, but only on Halloween.
"We would like to extend this feeling of welcome to other women through this traditional concept of the 'porch light'."
Oh, so this is just for women. Sorry, John.
"By participating in the Porch Light Program, a group of women international students will have the opportunity to meet Canadian women living in London and to be a part of their families, communities and neighbourhoods. They can share conversation, practice English (if needed), and have fun talking and doing activities together (e.g., Canadian seasonal events, making homemade food, etc.)."
Here are the quotes from the '08-'09 participants. Remember, they were partially participating because English is not their first language (part of me always feels bad making fun of people for this, especially since I've been living in Canada. I felt really out of place for the first month or so...but I was raised by cynics, so I'm sharing these quotes with you anyways).
“I did learn a lot about Canada, and I sensed the feeling of home.”
“I had a smooth adaptation and now know Canadian custom better. I not only learnt a lot from the hosts but also from other international students from different parts of the world.”
“I think I had been accepted by Canadian society.”
“Hosts and even their families are really friendly and they treated us like family members, which made us feel like home. The relaxing atmosphere helped me get away from the stress from the school.”
To be fair, all of that sounds really nice to me, too. But it's also safe to say that we don't exactly fit in with the other international students since we re a) white and b) speak English. Maybe, instead of making fun of them, I'll go do my homework by the glow of our porch light, in hopes that another foreigner will walk by and feel welcome to come in.
*Note the Canadian/British spelling of neighbor. American Blogger's spell check doesn't like it.