International, American, or Somewhere in Between

I’m not American, but I don’t feel “International” either. This first became evident when I began the Yale application process and realized that I was considered “International” for the first time in my life. The international student application section of the Admissions website details English-proficiency testing and the need for officially translated documents, both of which seemed unnecessary for a native English-speaking, North American, prospective student. As my freshman year roommate later told me, “You’re from the 51st state; you don’t even count as International.”  But I’m also not American.  So where did that leave me?

Growing up in Canada, the lifestyle, culture, values, brand names, and media are very similar to those in the US, if not completely indistinguishable.  However, along with healthcare, politics, and the quality of NHL teams, the education system has some notable differences.  The first striking difference that I found in the application process: standardized testing. Apart from demonstrating basic proficiency in math in ninth grade and literacy in tenth grade, my province has no other standardized tests, and certainly no equivalent of the SAT or ACT for college application.

It was intimidating to think that I would be taking the same standardized tests as thousands and thousands of American students who would be more familiar with the tests and have greater availability to preparatory resources.  SAT Subject Tests provided an additional challenge because my curriculum did not overlap exactly with the American one. Some of the “SAT-testable” material was not covered until the end of twelfth grade, which was too late to take tests required for college application.  Thankfully, the internet was a great resource, and I learned a lot about format and strategy before writing the exams.  In addition to taking free online practice tests ( and, there were also graded writing samples, additional practice questions, and tutorials available.  It was reassuring to learn that both tests, the SAT and ACT, are more logic-based than content-based, meaning that anyone has the potential to do well, regardless of nationality or educational background.  

Since coming to school and beginning my official Yale experience, I have had minor challenges that I had not foreseen.  Small things like setting up an American phone plan or filing for a Social Security Number have reminded me that I’m not in Canada anymore.  Fortunately for people in my situation, Yale makes these tasks, and many others, nearly effortless through their extensive resources and programs geared towards international students.  Before the first snowfall, I remember receiving countless e-mails about trips to nearby shopping centers to help international students stock up on climate-appropriate gear.  While I felt that my wintry upbringing excluded me from such a trip, I was very aware of the support available to me, whenever I might need it.

(Yale’s Office of International Students and Scholars, OISS) Photo Credit: Michael Marsland, Yale University

I am always surprised when someone unexpectedly asks me where in Canada I’m from, supposedly because of my ‘accent.’  I struggle to differentiate the American ‘about’ and ‘borrow’ from the Canadian ones (perhaps due to my slight tone deafness), and I also tend to forget about small spelling differences.  Who knew that Americans practice guitar whereas speakers of British English practise guitar?  Even in such small, seemingly inconsequential doses, I am always learning from my friends, peers, and acquaintances.  

It has now been two years since I started my college application process.  In the past year alone, Yale and the people here have become my home.  I have learned that the distinction between “International” and “American” at Yale really isn’t any different than being an Alaskan or a Texan, a Pepsi fan or a Coke fan. I’ve learned that Yale is a community of people from every background, belief, experience, interest, skill, and walk of life, who come together to learn with each other and from one another.  Two years later, I’m still not American and I still don’t feel ‘foreign,’ so where does that leave me?  At Yale, I’d say it leaves me in a pretty spectacular place.