Moving to another province for school is not considered radical, even if it is unpopular. When picking a school, few of my friends thought about the physical location of their school. Only 1 in 10 Canadian undergraduates elect to study outside of their home province.
I'm a born-and-bred Kelowna B.C. guy. When I decided to study in Toronto the response from friends and family was muted with the exception of a few obligatory jokes at the East's expense. Some questioned it: "Doesn't British Columbia offer all the same stuff?" Others accepted the decision but considered it basically superficial: "I guess it makes sense to change the scenery once in a while."
Both responses were backed-up by the same assumption: There is little difference between school here and school there.
I accepted the conventional wisdom and chose to attend the University of Toronto because they had programs I liked. Three years later I am happy with the decision but also realize that I did not consider at the time just how much of a challenge moving would be. If my experience is any indication, high-school seniors should consider moving 'in-broad' more seriously and more often than the numbers suggest that they do.
When I first awoke in my Toronto dorm room things looked similar to home and I was confident I could take on Ontario as a British Columbian.
My confidence waned after a few weeks. Ontario took on the eerie feeling of a once familiar house now inhabited by strangers. Everything looked the same as back home – if a bit better dressed – but functioned differently. Discussions about skiing now had limited social purchase. Nobody knew what grad kidnapping was. Everybody wanted to know what everybody else ' does', not what they like to do.
These quirks were trivial, but they were personal. Their triviality didn't make them any less dizzying to internalize. At times it felt existentially challenging to change my perspective. On trips to British Columbia, old friends would note that my priorities no longer seemed entirely 'B.C.' – an unthinkable prospect for a K-town lifer. In Toronto, meanwhile, I still felt ill-adjusted.
Living in Toronto distilled my vague nostalgia and angst about home into clear likes and dislikes. Now absent the apple trees and the relaxed attitudes of B.C.'s interior, I realize I took them for granted. Stripped of the beach-going social scene that I always said was one of Kelowna's best features, I realized I never fit into it well.
Perhaps the greatest take-away from the whole experience has been a sense of personal identity which goes deeper than the ground I stand on. Something about being caught in the middle – breaking-in at the University of Toronto despite being 'from out West' while remaining engaged and happy at home despite my sometimes unfortunate status as 'Mr. Toronto' led to a new sense of self-efficacy.
The extent of these differences must vary from province to province and from city to city. Undoubtedly, some of the stumbling blocks I've encountered here are facets of university life as opposed to Ontarian quirks. Nonetheless, I believe the principle is a sound one: Students in our country may benefit from grappling with more of it.
Hayden Rodenkirchen is a Student and Loran Scholar at the University of Toronto.