Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Our home and native land...

At the end of the month, we will have been living in the US for two years. It's an occasion that will be marked by our 7th anniversary, celebrating memorial day, inviting some friends over for a backyard barbecue and perhaps even going on another 10K run (read: jog-walk).

Since living here, I've been asked many times by our family and Canadian friends how we enjoy living in the US. My replies often depend on my mood, but they typically range from "it's great!" when I'm loving my job and it's sweet travel perks, to "good... we love Colorado", when we've been out enjoying the great outdoors, to "we're really happy here" because it's just so darn pretty. I suppose I know that there is an expectation that we'd never say "gosh. It's horrid!" because goodness - why would we still be here? But truly, for the most part, it is great.

I still remember my first few months of lunchtime conversations at work. I frequently fell into the trap of whining about this or that missing from the grocery store, or local TV programming, or the news headlines. I honestly never meant to whine, but I genuinely missed things from Canada - my favourite cereal, or snack food, or eye-makeup remover, or Canadian TV show, or Tim's coffee, or my well-established credit rating, or ... geez, simply having a credit rating in the space above "null". I rarely meant for my whimpering to be insulting to my American colleagues, and I soon realized that I needed to just keep quiet and miss things to myself.

Over time, I found new cereals and new snack foods. I learned to make my own coffee. I got a social (security number), a credit card and a bank account, and my American credit rating started to grow. I learned to appreciate the local culture and rhythm. I started to take advantage of our prime location and began to explore the surroundings. I slowly settled into my new life as a resident of the US, even though I am officially a somewhat insulting-sounding "alien nonresident" for tax purposes.

But what I appreciated most about living in Canada has only been slowly occurring to me. Knowledge. I really miss the availability and ease of acquiring knowledge. I miss the prevalence of widespread knowledge. Simply put, I miss knowing things without trying to know them.

I work for a non-government government-funded institution. It is funded directly by an agency that falls directly under the office of the president. (I'll set aside my own personal feelings about this for now.) At this institution, we also write proposals and receive funding directly from other US government agencies. Simply put: the field of atmospheric sciences is strongly influenced by congress and the office of the president. When I learned this - which happened rather gradually - I naively concluded that 'surely it's not this uncertain in Canada!' I was dead wrong. After speaking to an old friend who now works for the esteemed and perpetually-renamed atmospheric program at Environment Canada, I learned that the funding situation for the Earth Sciences in Canada is not too different from the way it is here in the US. And it is likely just as dire.

It was eye-opening to me, this concept that there are important things about my own country of which I know NOTHING. I never needed to know these things - they simply weren't relevant to me while I was living there, employed as a simple graduate student, happily enjoying the flow of money that my graduate supervisor funneled my way.

I was reminded again of my growing Canadian ignorance this morning while I was reading A Walk In the Woods, a witty tale by writer Bill Bryson, who took a little hike on the Appalachian Trail and lived to talk about it. Early in the book, Bryson steps away from his personal account of the AT to talk about the irony of the US National Forest Service. Apparently, the Service wasn't established to protect the nations' woods, but rather to facilitate the exploitation of them in a fair and controlled manner. As I read this, my natural instinct was to fondly think of my fair Canada, who would never treat her forests so harshly... and then I suddenly realized that I really don't know what kind of history Canada has in regards to forestry and logging. I guess I missed that part somehow, when my grades 5 and 7 classes visited Dorset.

I don't even know where Dorset really is, aside from being on the receiving end of a 2-3 hour trip in a school bus.

You see, it's not that I expect to know these things, but it is odd to me that I'm learning things about another country that I don't even know about my own. This really isn't a new concept - as Canadians, we are exposed to world news on a regular if not daily basis. We are inundated with information flowing up from the US. We can't help but know things about the States. But as a Canadian living in the US, I have to be deliberately proactive to stay in tune with Canadian current events. The information simply doesn't flow in the other direction. For goodness' sake - they freak out over a Canadian quarter with a poppy down here.

So how do I like living in the US? It's great! We live in a beautiful place. We enjoy the local culture, and we have some great friends. But I honestly don't know what I'd do without my internet connection to home. I guess I'd simply fall into ignorance. Thankfully, that doesn't have to happen.

1 comment:

ewe are here said...

It's probably a tad different, seeing as America is really 'good' at exporting so much of its culture, but I do make a point of reading the major papers at home, etc., to keep up with what's going on back home. And I am trying to figure out the UK political system to a certain degree (although I really don't like what I've seen so far).