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Cross-border differences to expect – Corbett scholar Leo Mansfield

Photo credit: Mark Stone/University of Washington

May 6, 2019

Understanding differences and similarities in the Pacific Northwest region is a key part of the Corbett program. Even with cities as similar as Victoria, Vancouver and Seattle, there are subtle differences that future Corbett scholars might want to prepare for when moving from one city to another. I have lived in all three cities, and have hope I can provide some practical expectations drawn from my own experiences.

  • In the United States, most businesses within a certain industry follow a formula for customer service and often for bureaucracy, as well. You know exactly what to expect from these types of companies and where to buy what you want. Even “hipster” businesses will conform to most norms, while having their own quirks. As a result, there are some products that won’t be sold in any physical stores and some that you can find in every store.
  • Canada is still consumerist, but not to the same extent. Even in big cities, any two customer-facing businesses could have wildly different approaches to shelf layout, customer service standards, etc. It also means that a business is more able to accommodate strange needs.
  • All three universities have strong club presences, from relaxed book and game clubs to ambitious engineering and social advocacy clubs. UW and UBC clubs tend to have a hierarchical structure that makes it easier for new members to get acquainted. UVic clubs have less structure, allowing an ambitious new member to take on a big project without any hassle.
  • I have found that university students in Canada are more willing to stick to obligations they’ve agreed to than those in the U.S.—although that might be skewed by who I’ve met rather than geographic location.
  • Politics are noticeably different in each country. The U.S. is a two-party competition, between the Republicans (right-leaning, currently controlling the White House and the Senate) and Democrats (left-leaning, currently controlling the House of Representatives). Alternative parties have little to no power.
  • Canada has three main parties: the Conservatives (right-leaning), the Liberals (center-left, currently in power) and the New Democratic Party (left-leaning). There are also two major alternative parties, the Québécois Party (francophone support) and the Green Party (sustainability). Both countries have roughly equivalent supreme court and senate systems.

TIP: If using online shipping from a U.S.-based shop, it can often cost much more to ship over the border to Canada. You might want to ship items to your friends in the U.S. and pick it up yourself when you travel back for the holidays.

TIP: Find a campus club or organization that matches your interests to get involved with. You’ll meet like-minded students faster.

The Corbett British Columbia-Washington International Exchange Program Fund provides an opportunity for undergraduate students at the University of Washington to spend two semesters at the University of British Columbia or University of Victoria; and for students from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria to spend three quarters at the University of Washington.