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Canada tries to interest students in culture

By Colleen Honigsberg

March 8, 2004 9:00 pm

Correction Appended

When many UCLA students are asked what they know about Canada,
the answer is often silence or laughter.

Perhaps a rare student will be reminded of cheap prescription
drugs, or refer to it as the place where military draft-dodgers go.
But the answers generally concern what problems Canada offers the
United States, rather than anything related to Canadian

The answers also reflect the discrepancies in the American and
Canadian education systems. While courses about the United States
are taught extensively in Canadian universities, a Canadian studies
course is a rarity on most major U.S. campuses.

At UCLA, there is not a single class offered related to Canadian
studies, while at the University of Toronto, a Canadian university
comparable to UCLA, there are 48 classes offered for its American
studies degree.

To promote Canadian culture in the United States, the Canadian
government has granted money to various organizations, including
academic institutions.

A grant of $760,000 was recently given to talk-show host Conan
O’Brien to bring the show to Canada for a week. While in
Canada, the show featured an “insult dog” mocking some
aspects on Canadian life. Canadian government officials called the
show “filth” and asked for the money back.

In 2001, an endowment of $250,000 was also awarded to UCLA to
establish a Canadian studies program on campus. Since then the
program has received another endowment of $500,000 from the estate
of Dr. Edward Hildebrand, a deceased Canadian doctor who lived in

The money is being used to foster a better understanding of
Canadian society and culture in Southern California by funding art
exhibitions, awarding fellowships to students and professors
interested in becoming involved in Canadian studies, and organizing
an annual public lecture series of Canadian academics. But the
program has not instituted any courses in the curriculum.

It integrates information about Canada into existing courses by
having guest lecturers come from Canada and speak for a week in
departments ranging from political science to geography.

The program is aimed at stirring up enough interest on campus
for UCLA to eventually offer courses and degrees in Canadian

Given the 3,987 mile-long border of the continental United
States to Canada, and that the two countries have the world’s
largest trade partnership, some wonder why there is not already
enough interest in Canada for these programs to exist.

For many, it seems Americans only focus on areas of the world
which give them trouble, and ignore areas like Canada which
increase the prosperity of the United States and offer it no
serious potential harm.

“I can think of several things that would make Americans
more interested in Canada but I wouldn’t want any of
them,” said University of Toronto professor, Anne

“I don’t think it’s just a Canadian problem;
attention often gets focused on the troubled areas. This is true
everywhere; from within the family to national politics,”
Lancashire said, adding that if Americans felt Canada posed a
threat, they would learn more about it.

Lancashire teaches a class on American film, one of the 48
classes the University of Toronto offers as part of its American
studies program. The university offers both major and minor
programs in American studies.

Andrew Pelling, a UCLA doctorate candidate in physical chemistry
who moved from Canada to the United States in 2001 and completed
his undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto, agreed with
Lancashire that Americans tend to pay attention to countries with
military might over those with significant cultural or humanitarian

“In the U.S., an important country is one that has a big
army,” he said.

Though Canadians tend to learn more about the United States in
school than Americans learn about Canada, most Canadians said they
learned more about American culture from the media than from their
formal education.

American television shows are readily available and popular
throughout Canada.

Additionally, Canadian news is owned by the government and run
to provide education, while American news is run as a business.

“Capitalism dictates the media in America, so sex, drugs,
rock ‘n’ roll dictate the news Americans
receive,” said Lyle Laver, president and founder of the
Canadian social networking “L-eh” club. The club
currently has over 600 members in the greater Los Angeles area.

“This type of news has caused Americans to become more
insular,” he added.

“If I want to know what’s going on in the world I
read Canadian news. If I want to know what’s going on locally
I read American news,” agreed Pelling, saying he was
disappointed that Americans do not know more about Canada, since
they could “learn a thing or two.”

For example, Canada provides universal health care at a cheaper
cost per person than the United States’ current system.

It also supports its indigenous population to prevent them from
“disappearing into modernization,” said Arleen
Leibowitz, director of UCLA’s Canadian studies program.

Additionally, Canada provides a “testing ground” for
some proposed American policies, such as gay marriage, by
legalizing the policy and providing evidence to see how it works in
actual enactment, said Mark Semotiuk, president of the UCLA
Canadian Club.

But to many, the American ignorance of Canada is not

“From my perspective it is very obvious why Canadians know
much more about the U.S. than Americans know about Canada. Canada
has to know about the U.S.; 87 percent of Canadian trade is with
the U.S. But why does the U.S. think it has to know about
Canada?” said Elspeth Brown, an American-born professor at
University of Toronto.

Brown was a guest lecturer at UCLA in the spring of 2002, and
currently teaches a class on the history of American

“It’s an example of American exceptionalism where
Americans don’t learn unless they’re forced to.
It’s that kind of attitude that angers other
countries,” she said.

The lack of UCLA classes concerning Canada is a disappointment
to Semotiuk because he is currently unable to minor in Canadian
studies, though he would like to do so.

“It’s part of who I am. It ties into who I am as a
Canadian. If there was an American studies minor at a Canadian
university, people would obviously be interested because it relates
to who they are as an American,” Semotuik said.

Correction: March 17, 2004,

It was reported that no classes are offered in Canadian studies.
A class in French-Canadian literature, however, is offered every
other year. The story also overstated the government’s
control of news media in Canada; it should have said that a large
amount of Canadian news is run by the government.

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Colleen Honigsberg
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