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Canadians -- 'We think they're just like us, but they're not,' chair says

‘Year of Canada’ Implementation Committee Chair, Donavon Taylor, in his office in Ag Sci. Photo by Lauren Simenson. Photo courtesy Falcon News Service.

By Lauren Simenson, Falcon News Service

For those still not quite ready to say goodbye to the Year of South Korea, there is still one last event to enjoy. From May 21 to June 8 there will be a photo exhibition of Jeju Island at the River Falls Public Library.

For the 2018-2019 school year, the UWRF "The 'Year of' Strategic Implementation Committee" has decided to feature Canada. The selection committee is made up of the provost, the director of the library, director of student life, director of global connections, a food service representative, chair of student senate, and two or more faculty or staff from the university.

Donavon Taylor, the department chair and professor of soil science, is also currently the chair of the Implementation Committee. He and his fellow committee members use a specific set of criteria to narrow down which country will be chosen to feature for the "Year of" program on campus. Some of these criteria include, what resources and what experts do we know or have access to that are from that country, the country's impact politically and economically in the world and what affect the culture and further learning about the country can have on students and the community. The International Program Committee, which helps to select the "Year of" country, also uses results from surveys sent to faculty and academic staff of the university to select the year's country. Countries are selected two years in advance.

Unlike South Korea, Canada seems to be so familiar to Americans and especially to border states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin. But how well do we actually know Canada? That was one of the main reasons that the country was selected, according to Taylor.

"We think they're just like us, but they're not;" said Taylor. "We could raise awareness of their importance to the United States as a trading partner and ally in many ways. But also the culture can be really quite different. There are a lot of significant differences that we, students, faculty and staff may not be aware of that makes this a great educational opportunity."

Some of those differences were brought up by Fulbright faculty representative on the "Year of" committee and English professor Marshall Toman during his initial proposal for the "Year of" program to focus on Canada. Toman cites the French language, which along with English is Canada's official language, Canadian culture, their different currency (their Canadian dollar is even made out of plastic), and different customs as reasons why UWRF needed to select Canada.

Canada is still vastly unknown to Americans and as Canada is our biggest trading partners we owe it to know more about the country, particularly since UWRF has featured past big United States trading partners in the "Year of" program before. According to Toman, it is time to give Canada that same treatment.

"How rude is it for people like us to not know enough about our neighbor? I grew up in Minnesota, but even if you grew up in Kansas (Canada) is your country's neighbor," said Toman. "So part of the Year of Canada is to be a better neighbor. One thing you do is to invite them in and introduce yourself. Let's do that with Canada."

The types of programming and events that will take place during the upcoming "Year of Canada" will depend on the faculty, staff and students on campus. The Implementation Committee does not set up or create events but instead helps to fund and promote those proposed activities.

Toman, as the Fulbright scholar representative at UWRF, has the goal of utilizing his Fulbright resources to get two Fulbright scholars a semester to speak on four different fields of study on campus. These Fulbright scholars would be able to expose faculty, staff, students and the community to an array of Canadian experts in forestry, fisheries, art, drama, agriculture or business.

No events have been proposed yet, but Taylor said that he expects at least the Music Department and food services to add aspects of Canada into the music curriculum and to feature Canadian food in the dining hall and to be made available for catering on campus.

Sue Boettcher, director of Dining Services, said that no menus featuring Canadian food have been developed as of yet.

As chair of the Implementation Committee Taylor is looking forward to the Year of Canada program, which he hopes will engage UWRF faculty, staff, students and the River Falls community. "We hope that this allows for more students to actually visit this country. Or that maybe the 'Year of Canada' makes them want to visit."

The University of Wisconsin-River Falls prioritizes international education and sends the second-largest percentage of students to study abroad in the entire UW System. At UWRF a core value of the university is global engagement. Toman would like UWRF students and international program directors to start seeing Canada as a foreign country, just like going off to Spain or China would be and to start sending students to Canada to study.

"You get a whole new perspective on the world," said Toman. "When you start seeing just a little bit from the perspective of people from another country."

This story is reprinted with the permission of Lauren Simenson and Falcon News Service.