Connecting our Continent

When I lived in Europe, I was amazed at the amount of integration between different European countries. It seemed that everyone had spent a year or more abroad studying in another country. In Spain, I met Irish, English, Belgians, French, Germans, Italians, and many more Europeans coming to Spain. In England, it was the same, with Europeans from all over studying abroad. This allowed Europeans a unique experience that many of us Canadians and Americans don’t have. They get a chance to learn a new culture, a new language, a new education experience. This is why Europeans are able to learn so many languages. They not only learn in their schools, but get the chance to practice in complete immersion. When I moved from Canada to Duluth, I started to think, why can’t we do it too? I propose a quasi union between Canada and the United States. A common currency and economy has caused a nightmare in the European Union. We can do it better. We can create a union that would eliminate the economic headaches involved in complete integration. We can leave our national institutions untouched. Finally, we can offer workers and students new opportunities, new experiences, new cultures. Someone from Duluth could go abroad to Quebec, study in English, and learn French in complete immersion. A Canadian can come work in New York, without the stress of the visa process. But how?

An enlightened example for us to follow would be the agreement between Australia and New Zealand. The Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement allows for citizens of either country to move freely between the two countries. An Australian can work or study in New Zealand and pay domestic fees, and vice versa. The Australia-New Zealand example works due to its similarity of the Canadian-American proposal. Both countries share a common language, history, and culture.

My personal experience in the United States, and especially in Minnesota, has been an easy transition. Whereas my living experiences in Europe had elements of culture shock, I’ve felt completely at home here from the start. I watch the same TV shows as back home, my accent is the same as many Americans (although I do say “Eh” a lot), and my life seems relatively uninterrupted by the so called drastic change. Minnesotans love hockey, experience brutal winter, and have a kind demeanor. Minnesota feels like it’s a part of Canada.

Americans would benefit greatly from such an arrangement. In terms of education, tuition fees are on average, lower than in the United States. American citizens could receive a relatively equal education for a lower cost. Canadians too would be able to attend U.S. colleges, which might offer a specialization not available in Canada, at domestic rates. To be honest, Canadians have a much easier process entering an American college than other international students. However, non-resident fees cause tuition to rise enormously. Americans studying in Canada would have the same problem as I did. If we had an agreement, both Canadians and Americans would be able to study at the university they choose, without paying international tuition. This is how it works in Australia and New Zealand. I’m confident we could do it. This would offer an enormous variety of education opportunities and prices.

In terms of working, our countries have restricted how much a student can work once they are accepted across the border. What if this changed? Americans studying in my home province of Ontario would then be able to work in Canada as a resident, earning (at the very least), the much higher minimum wage rate of $10.25/hour. This could also help out-of-work Americans find jobs in Canada and vice versa.

Instead of celebrating our similarities and broadening cultural ties, we’ve gone backwards. When I was younger, my family and I could drive through the United States with a driver’s license. Now, we need a passport. It seems like a minor inconvenience, but there’s a symbolic message. We’re tightening the borders and building fences between each other. How can we change this?

The United States could try what many other Western countries are doing and start offering work holiday visas. Canada already has agreements with many other countries, which allow someone (usually under the age of 35), to experience another culture by giving them a visa for a year. This visa allows you to travel and work in another country. Canadians can now go to Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Germany, and many other countries around the world for a year and work there. Can Canadians do the same with their neighbor to the south? No. It’s easier for an Ontarian to move across the world to Japan than to move to Minnesota (unless they wanted to study). A United States-Canada working holiday visa treaty would be a small step in testing to see how a co-operative system would work.

It might be difficult to get non-resident fees waived, especially since provinces and states do this to each other. Nonetheless, perhaps a two-tier system would work, offering Canadians and Americans a fee between domestic and international fees. This would serve as both as mutually beneficial in attracting students and as another testing point for a broader policy.

In the end, it’s up to us. I hope we choose to celebrate our similarities rather than exaggerate our differences. I hope that both Americans and Canadians can experience a more welcoming North America, with more opportunities for all.


photo credit: mrjoro at flicker

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