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Welcoming arms

Madilyn Miller explores how CFA students experience N.L. culture

Student Life

By Madilyn Miller

If anyone likes theatre the way I do, they may know the musical Come From Away.

It is based on the true events in Newfoundland and Labrador following 9/11, in which 38 planes were grounded in Gander.

The people in those planes were taken care of and welcomed for several days, and it became a national indicator that Newfoundlanders were not only up for anything, but also incredibly welcoming, accommodating, and kind.

The title, however, is not a new term, and is actually used across Canada’s Atlantic provinces.

What it means is pretty self-explanatory: someone who has come from away.

Like me, I am not from Newfoundland, and like other come from aways, Newfoundland is my home.

Casual conversations

Last week, I had a conversation with two students who are also not from Newfoundland, who call this wet rock of ours home for now.

We talked about many things, like the attitudes of Newfoundlanders, and what it’s like to be away from your home and the importance of culture.

So, what is it like?

“Nowhere has the same level of genuine fondness that people living in Newfoundland have for each other.”

The first thing they mentioned was as most people say: they felt welcome.

Newfoundlanders, I find, do not hesitate to share their culture and try to ensure that everyone feels as comfortable and at-home as they can.

From the friendly hellos in the streets to the casual conversations at the counter in the grocery store, one student remarked that it was nothing like where they were from.

I can also add in my two cents: I have lived in four different countries (and two provinces within Canada) and I can say that nowhere has the same level of genuine fondness that people living in Newfoundland have for each other.

Outside the inner circle

However, another student noted how isolating it can feel here, and the culture can “feel like a cult.”

What they meant by that is that Newfoundland’s culture is deeply embedded and “everybody knows everybody.” Except, they don’t know you, and you don’t know them.

When you move here from somewhere else, suddenly you find yourself outside of that circle, that community.

“You can somehow still feel isolated, and are looking in through a window at the culture.”

Despite the kindness and friendliness, it can somehow still feel lonely here, when you know you never experienced Newfoundland the way locals do.

You never visited family from around the bay because your family is across the country, or across an ocean.

You can somehow still feel isolated, and are looking in through a window at the culture that Newfoundlanders get to enjoy; no amount of Screech Ins and local slang can change that for some people.

Another issue that was brought up was keeping your culture, or your language alive.

When you move here from somewhere that doesn’t speak English as a primary language, the suddenness of only speaking English is like whiplash.

Madilyn Miller wears a light coloured sweater and stands between stacks of library books.
Madilyn Miller says newcomers to N.L. should kiss the cod during a Screech In, but should also know that their culture belongs here, too.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

One student I talked to said that not speaking their language every day has caused them to feel unfamiliar with it, something they never wanted or imagined.

And while the international community of Newfoundland is growing steadily, it is sometimes difficult to find someone who speaks your language, or knows your  mannerisms.

There are pockets of students here from the same country or culture, and I can see the joy in that; keeping and sharing your culture in a new place.

But as one of the students mentioned, it can sometimes feel almost encouraged to assimilate here, in Newfoundland’s own journey to keep its culture alive.

Roots are important

This is not to say that Newfoundland pushes the international community aside; as I said earlier, some feel welcome here.

I have lived here before, and my connection to this island runs deep, but acknowledging my roots is just as important.

Culture is meant to breathe. It is meant to be passed along, generation to generation, parent to child, and the joy of sharing it is unmatched. So, kiss the cod during a Screech In, but also please know that your culture belongs here, too.

I hope anyone coming from away does not feel alone here. I hope you’re all safe, and happy.

And I hope that you get to enjoy your culture here just as much as locals do.


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