U.S. students battle stereotypes at STU
Michelle Twomey remembers sitting in class in her first year and discussing the attacks on the World Trade Centers on September 11th and the response of President Bush. The class started talking about how his speech showed weakness instead of strength. Twomey then spoke out with hesitation.
“The speech from the president was what the country needed to hear whether it showed weakness or not. We needed to be reassured. The country was pulling together at one of the toughest moments it had faced — being attacked on our own soil.”
Twomey says that day was one of the most difficult of her life and it truly hurt to hear people saying that it was nothing to be fretting over.
“At that moment in that class when I stood up for Americans and what we believed in in those moments I felt as though my classmates finally realized that I was an American and my values although they may be similar on many accounts, can vary greatly.”
In April 2009, STU was given $750,000 by the federal government through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to grow its American population, with an emphasis on drawing students from New England.
Since then, STU has hired Ryan Baxter, a 2009 STU graduate who is spending most of his time travelling the United States to recruit potential students.
But to Zach Mazurkiewicz, Fredericton is starting to feel more like home than his hometown of Buffalo, New York.
“When I go down there, then I want to come back here,” the fourth year St. Thomas University student said.
Mazurkiewicz and his family moved to Fredericton when he was in high school.
Even though more American students are deciding to study at STU, they face stereotypes about what Americans are like.
Having more American students on campus allows Canadian students to nix any stereotypes they might have picked up from pop culture, Mazurkiewicz said.
“That’s what’s really important about international recruiting, because it exposes everybody to everybody and they don’t start making all these assumptions about people in the world because they meet people. They meet new friends that are just like them.”
Mazurkiewicz has sensed some anti-American feelings during his time at STU, but he tries not to take offense to it and doesn’t think the comments are directed at the entire country.
“I’ve lived here long enough to (know) that there’s good and bad about both places and there’s always going to be idiots out there,” Mazurkiewicz said.
“With 300 million people, you’re bound to get some people who probably deserve to get made fun of a little bit.”
Cara Gallagher, a STU student who hails from Shelburne, Vermont, came to STU after she discovered the university at a fair in her junior year.
She’s also been exposed to anti-American sentiments during her time at STU and has never felt as if the statements are directed at her.
“Sometimes it is uncomfortable and I don’t always know how to respond but sometimes you have to be pushed out of your comfort zone to figure out where you stand,” Gallagher wrote in an email.
“Living in a foreign country, even one that’s culturally similar, does give you a chance to think about what makes your country the way it is and what makes you the way you are.”
The fourth-year student agrees that having more Americans on the STU campus will help combat these stereotypes.
“Every country is victim to negative stereotyping at some point or another, but our perceptions are more realistic when our opinions are based on experience and not hearsay,” Gallagher wrote.
“The liberal arts university experience is about opening yourself up to the world around you and realizing that not everyone sees things as you do.”
Third-year student Michelle Twomey is from Limington, Maine.
Twomey didn’t reveal her American identity until her second night living at Vanier Hall in her first year.
Sometimes, people are surprised when they find out she is American.
“I get shocked looks on people’s faces when they find out I’m not an arrogant, full of myself person or when they find out I’m from Maine and I don’t always align with the political stigma of the state of Maine,” she said.
Like Mazurkiewicz and Gallagher, Twomey has encountered anti-American sentiment since she’s moved to Canada.
Many times, people will bash Twomey’s country in front of her, not realizing she’s American. She thinks it’s easy for Canadians to bash America because the American culture is widely broadcast in the country.
“I’m from America, I didn’t come to this country to disrespect yours, so please don’t disrespect mine,” Twomey said.
While no society or club exists for the American students to talk about home, all three students said they feel a connection with their fellow Americans on campus.
“That sense of community is slowly building,” Twomey said.
Even though all three students have experienced anti-American views since coming to Canada, none seem to take it personally and all have made Canadian friends.
“No one treats me any differently. I fit right in,” Twomey said.
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