How Canada is perceived around the world

How is Canada perceived around the world? We ask 'Canadianists' abroad — teachers and researchers — to give us their take.

Canadian Studies teachers and researchers comment on Canada

Perceptions of Canada's role in the world is shifting. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, United States President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the G7 Summit in Germany, June 7. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canadians are often curious about how others see them, so, for Canada Day, with the help of the International Council for Canadian Studies, CBC News reached out to the 7,000 or so academics outside Canada who teach courses about Canada.

They call themselves Canadianists, and we wanted to know what their students are being taught about Canada and what their perceptions are about Canada's place in the world. 

Here's what 15 of them had to say.

Michelle Gadpaille, Slovenia

Michelle Gadpaille teaches English literature at the University of Maribor in Slovenia. (Michelle Gadpaille)

For Slovenians, Canada is bathed in a glow as rosy as the leaf upon its flag. It's not because students here are taught much about Canada. Quite the contrary. Since funding for Canadian Studies evaporated, even our graduate students are looking elsewhere. 

The reason Slovenians think warm thoughts about Canada is that many are linked by family: every cab driver here has an uncle in Vancouver, and is sure that I must know him. 

A few years ago, I gave my university class a questionnaire: "What do you think about when you think about Canada?" Would it be lakes? Peacekeeping? Socialized medicine? Celine Dion?" 

Almost universally, their answer was "You." It was sobering to have become nationally representative. I'm not paid enough for this.

Michelle Gadpaille is with the Department of English Studies at the University of Maribor in Slovenia.

Irene Salverda, the Netherlands

Irene Salverda, president of the Associations for Canada Studies in the Netherlands works at Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands. (Irene Salverda)

Many of my non-Canadianist friends refer to Canada as "the European version of America." Canada resembles Europe the way it wishes it had stayed: full of natural beauty. 

The Dutch are attracted to the down-to-earth Canadian spirit. In Amsterdam, many locals will play dumb if an American asks for the way. But state you're Canadian, and doors will open instantly.

Nowadays, my friends remark, with surprise, "Canada has an American president, only interested in the economy and ignorant of anything else, and America has a Canadian president." So images are definitely changing; some Dutch people fear that this beautiful Canada will soon be one big oil field.

Irene Salverda is the president of the Association for Canada Studies in the Netherlands and a strategic communications adviser at Wageningen University and Research centre in the Netherlands.

Lucia Otrisalova, Slovakia

Lucia Otrisalova teaches American literature and Canadian studies and literature at Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia. (Katarina Korenova)

Slovaks hardly ever hear about Canada in the news, so they know next to nothing about the country, let alone its role in current international affairs. Slovak students are no exception. This, however, seems to be in Canada's favour, as the country's positive image, built and promoted by its previous political leadership, still persists in this part of Europe. 

Canada is still viewed as "a better United States," as a country which enjoys a level of prosperity similar to its neighbour to the south, but doesn't interfere in matters that don't concern it. With anti-American sentiments rising throughout Slovakia, and the U.S. being blamed for almost everything that goes wrong in the world — for example, the current refugee crisis — Canada's perceived lack of agency seems to be a virtue. 

Lucia Otrisalova teaches American literature and Canadian studies and literature at Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Earl Fry, United States

Political scientist Earl Fry is the Endowed Professor of Canadian Studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. (Earl Fry)

Periodic surveys continue to show that Americans like Canadians more than anyone else in the world.  However, Americans know very little about their closest neighbours to the north. In addition, far more Canadians visit the U.S. than vice-versa, even though the U.S. has nine times more people.

Canada has also become an afterthought in the corridors of power in Washington, D.C.  The days of a "special relationship" are long gone.

Americans can learn so much from Canada, especially in terms of public schools, health care, federalism, livable cities, relatively low violent crime, and other important areas.  

Earl Fry teaches Political Science and is the Endowed Professor of Canadian Studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

Danny Ben-Natan, Israel

Danny Ben-Natan is the president of the Israel Association for Canadian Studies.

From a "country to the North of the USA" Canada developed its own identity in the academic world and hundreds of scholars and many thousands of students began to study and research Canadian society, geography, law, literature and language.

Thanks to what was probably the most cost-effective program of Canadian government through its Understanding Canada program, Canada became of prime interest and importance in the scholarly and academic world.

Suddenly, three years ago, the Canadian Government "abolished" (its language!) Understanding Canada and since then Canada is in clear regression in the academic world.

Canada is at a clear disadvantage versus the USA and other Western democracies and cannot afford to be "penny wise" and short-sighted in its struggle to be recognized for what it is in fact: a wonderful free and democratic country with a strong economy and a wonderful people.

Danny Ben-Natan is president of both the Israel Association for Canadian Studies and the World Federation of Friends of Museums. He was born in Winnipeg.

Lihua Yang, China

Lihua Yang teaches political science at Shandong University, China. (Lihua Yang)

In one of the courses that I teach, Comparative Politics, Canada was omitted from the syllabus for a long period of time mainly because it was believed that Canada is a country without a particularly influential political system or foreign policy in the world arena. 

Recently, it became obvious that national interest is a top priority for Canada's foreign policy strategy. It was not surprising that when Prime Minister Stephen Harper made his second visit to China in 2012, he signed a number of economic agreements with China's government, despite previous criticisms made by the Canadian government on China's human rights issues.

We welcome the change in Canada's foreign policy towards China, but we also hope that Canada can further engage herself in defending fundamental rights, such as freedom, justice and democracy in the world. 

Lihua Yang teaches political science at Shandong University, China. She was a visiting scholar at the University of Waterloo in 2011.

Andrew Holman, United States

Andrew Holman, born in St. Catharines, Ont., teaches Canadian History and Canadian Studies at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. (Frank Gorga)

Historians here often refer to America in the century and a half after the Revolutionary War as the "great experiment in liberty," echoing the words of late 18th-century politicians who held their country up as a model of republican virtue. Today, nobody speaks of the U.S. as an experiment anymore. 

Oddly, Canadians have hardly ever in their century and half of existence referred to their country as an "experiment" — something that might succeed, or might fail. And yet, in so many ways, Canada is (and maybe always has been) the more experimental nation, one that bears watching by the rest of the world, and by Americans. 

A country that has had two near-death experiences in the Quebec referendums of 1980 and 1995, Canada has also undergone its own rights revolution since the birth of the Charter in 1982. Most recently, the resurgence of aboriginal rights, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the mercurial Idle No More movement all attract the interest of American students of Canada. From below the Canada-U.S. border, the image of the country "up there" has begun to change. 

Andrew Holman is the Director of Canadian Studies and a history professor at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. He was born and raised in St. Catharines, Ont.

Shilpa Bhat, India

Shilpa Bhat teaches English at Ahmedabad University in Gujarat, India. (Shilpa Bhat)

Although Canada and India have several common features, engagement between them with regards to trade and investments, business and economic linkages haven't flourished the way they should have. 

Political differences in the past had created a rift but today the picture is changing and there seems to be greater optimism with respect to forging connections in different spheres, especially with a large Indian diaspora in Canada.  

The renewed interest through diaspora business in Canada made me evolve a course on Indian Diaspora and Global Economies in my university that includes issues associated with the Indians in Canada. It is hoped that the political relationship between the two will move to a higher level, with greater emphasis on economic development.

Shilpa Bhat teaches English at Ahmedabad University, Gujarat, India. She's a visiting professor at York University in Toronto this year.

Wolfgang Klooß, Germany

Wolfgang Klooß directs the Centre for Canadian Studies at Trier University in Germany. He is the 2015 recipient of the Governor General's International Award for Canadian Studies. (Wolfgang Klooss)

As the second oldest federal democracy worldwide, an important member of the G7 and G20 group, and as one of the biggest global producers of energy and natural resources, Canada has also been considered an international actor, which, however, under the current government seems to have shifted its foreign policy to national rather than international concerns. 

Likewise, when the Understanding Canada program was terminated in 2012, this was understood as an expression of a new conservative identity politics based on an image of Canada as a self-assured country no longer needing to be studied internationally. 

This notwithstanding, Canada as a model for a multi-faceted immigrant society with many different voices and multiple forms of cultural expression — including those of her native peoples — is still an important subject in the classrooms of many German universities.

Wolfgang Klooß has been directing the interdisciplinary Centre for Canadian Studies at Trier University since 1991. He is the 2015 recipient of the Governor General's International Award for Canadian Studies.

Will Smith, United Kingdom

Will Smith teaches English and creative writing at Lancaster University in the U.K. (Will Smith)

For those like myself who specialize in the study and teaching of Canadian literature, the outlook is particularly bleak, with fiscal austerity threatening the perceived relevance of literature to contemporary society more generally. 

Resisting this, on Canada Day, we are hosting four Canadian poets in Grasmere at the Wordsworth Trust. This is part of an academic knowledge exchange project to build closer ties between literary communities in northwest England and Toronto. 

Canada is often quickly dismissed in the British mindset, but hearing Canadian voices points us towards other ways of seeing and, vitally, other ways of living. 

Will Smith teaches English and creative writing at Lancaster University in the U.K.

Ewa Urbaniak-Rybicka, Poland

Ewa Urbaniak-Rybicka teaches Canadian, American and English literature at State University of Applied Sciences in Konin, Poland. (Marika Sypniewska)

The image of Canada that my students draw from is that of a postmodern country which, although quite young, has an interesting, as well as rich, history, and which has influenced major historical events in the 20th century. 

Canada appears to my students also as a gothic entity which has bravely faced its national ghosts that have been haunting it and which has been transforming its national identity accordingly. Still, first and foremost, my students envision Canada as a country of immigrants cherishing its multiethnic, multicultural and multi-religious heritage. 

Ewa Urbaniak-Rybicka is a professor of Canadian, American and English literature at State University of Applied Sciences in Konin, Poland and also teaches at Adam Mickiewicz University in Kalisz, Poland. 

Emperatriz Arreaza, Venezuela

Emperatriz Arreaza teaches at the University of Zulia inVenezuela and is president of the Venezuelan Association of Canadian Studies. (Emperatriz Arreaza)

Canada is so important in Latin America and especially in Venezuela, in order to recuperate democracy and freedom. We are so grateful for the attention that Canada's Parliament has given to the political prisoners' wives and their testimonies about the violence and lack of human rights in Venezuela. Canada has a role as a peacemaker in Latin America in general, particularly in Venezuela.

Many Venezuelans have gone to study, to work, or emigrated to Canada in the past 10 years. Students are taught that Canada is the country of active multiculturalism with excellent inter-culturalism.  

Emperatriz Arreaza-Camero, president of the Venezuelan Association of Canadian Studies, teaches at the University of Zulia in Maracaibo, Venezuela.

Wang Bing, China

Wang Bing teaches at the Liaoning Normal University in Dalian, China. He is a past president of the Association for Canadian Studies of China. (Wang Bing)

Canada definitely conjures up a very positive image in our Chinese mind. We usually find Canada wherever in the world justice should be done, abuses of human rights criticized, refugees assisted, or wrongs redressed.

Canada's image as a dull "wheat exporter" decades ago has now changed into a much more dynamic, diverse country. The curriculum about Canada focuses on Chinese immigrants, bilingualism and multiculturalism, which is perceived as the best, if not perfect, choice to solve problems of ethnic conflicts and social harmony.

Canadian multiculturalism will be very significant for the increasingly diverse world today, which witnesses more and more cultural contact, conflict and exchange.   

Dr. Wang Bing a former president of the Association for Canadian Studies of China and an emeritus professor at Liaoning Normal University in Dalian, China.

Susan Hodgett, Northern Ireland

Susan Hodgett is President of the International Council for Canadian Studies. She teaches and researches on Canada at Ulster University in Northern Ireland. (ICCS)

As an academic in Northern Ireland I never expected to spend much of my career finding out about your enormous country. I never expected to teach about Canada. So why did I do this? Well, I discovered Canada had a lot to tell other people, and places, about the things it already knows. What works in policy terms, how to change and transform a country? 

I was fascinated by the economic challenges we faced on both sides of the Atlantic but engaged by how Canada could help post-conflict Northern Ireland move towards a better quality of life. We have learnt from your policies on integration, immigrant settlement and equality. We have been helped by many prominent Canadians. 

Canada has traditionally shared its benefits well, but today your profile overseas is waning badly. Professors, students and publics are literally less able to see the excellent lessons Canada has to share. We are trying to do what we can to spread the word about Canada but it is overdue to think again about how Canada meets the world.

Susan Hodgett is President of the International Council for Canadian Studies. She teaches and researches on Canada at Ulster University in Northern Ireland and was Deputy Chair of the UK's recent evaluation of university research on Area Studies.

Salvador Cervantes, Mexico

Salvador Cervantes is the president of the Network of Canadian Studies in Latin America and a professor at Universidad del Valle de Atemajac in Zapopan, Mexico. (Salvador Cervantes)

As the Mexican community of Canadianists grows, more Mexicans are interested in issues related to Canada. 
Canada's policies on climate change, renewable energy, water sanitation and consumption, are seen by the Mexican authorities and society as an example to follow. 

In the past few years in Mexico, with the help of the Canadian government, we have been building a strong international community of Canadianists.  Recently, however, with the budget cuts to Mexican associations of Canadian Studies, the interest of students and academics in Canadian studies has declined.  There is the need for new strategies in order to form the new generation of Canadianists that can be ready to answer to the changes and challenges happening in the world and in the global academic community.

Salvador Cervantes is the president of the Network of Canadian Studies in Latin America (RELEC).

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