A first look at 'Canada's game'

Learning about hockey and Canada

- November 29, 2011

Bob Yang, an international student from Beijing, gets a visit from Mac, one of the Moosheads' mascots. (Jenni Ahern photo)
Bob Yang, an international student from Beijing, gets a visit from Mac, one of the Moosheads' mascots. (Jenni Ahern photo)

For most Canadians, their first hockey game comes early: a trip to the rink to check out the local junior, major junior or sometimes even NHL team may happen before they’re even out of diapers.

But for international students studying at Dalhousie, hockey may be far from second nature – it may not even be played all that much where they come from, if at all. And sometimes, like in my case as an American international student, I’d just never been to a game before.

Last Thursday, dozens of international students—myself included—had the chance to experience their first hockey game when the College of Continuing Education organized an outing to the Metro Centre to watch the Halifax Mooseheads take on the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Many international students at Dalhousie take English as a Second Language classes with the college.

Mr. Cochrane explains to me that the aim of these group trips is to introduce Canadian culture to the students, to help make an easier transition to life at Dalhousie. “We expose the students to cultural activities, so I thought, let’s take everybody to a hockey game, see if they like it.”

"How many innings are there?"

Bob Yang from Beijing was among the students in the group. He enjoyed the game, though he found it a little cold. “I like hockey, Halifax is a quiet city, it has a good environment and the people are very friendly.”

As I was speaking with Bob, the Mooseheads mascots came for a visit. There was always a distraction at the game, as the environment was loud and chaotic, but I quickly learned that’s what it’s all about! None of us quite knew what to expect from our first hockey game, and when the first fight broke out in the first period of the game, everyone in the group felt the energy in the building ramp up.

“It’s exciting – it’s so cold though! I am not very familiar with the rules, but it is pretty good,” said Shuosheng Yin from China.

I tend to agree with Shuosheng, I found myself asking the fans around me—who were eagerly trying to concentrate on the game—what the Zamboni was for, how many innings were in the game (I was corrected, they’re called periods!) and why they kept slamming each other against the glass.

“I am new here; hockey gives me something to talk to people about,” said Shuosheng, which can be a great asset for students getting more comfortable with their English.

Chilly climate

Between periods I spoke with some more of the students, shouting over the classic rock music playing in the background. I asked them how they all liked Halifax so far – the food, the weather, the hockey. We all agreed that Haligonians are very friendly, and that it’s rather cold.

Junzi Rao is a second-year commerce student from China, and has had some time to season herself to the sport and the city. She was also more familiar with hockey than many of the attendees.

“I like hockey, Montreal is my favourite team,” she said. “I also love the food in Canada, poutine is my favourite!” She then lowers her head and whispers in my ear. “But I like Chinese food better,” she says with a smile.

Although the students that participate in this program are from different parts of the world, they all share a sense of Halifax pride that audibly resonates throughout the arena.

“It is very exciting” says Lei Chu, getting to experience Canada like the Canadians do, though of course, she also mentions the climate: “the weather is too cold for me, it is very hard to get used to.”

Something to talk about

In the end, the Mooseheads prevailed 4-1, with the crowd letting loose with a wild cheer at the final buzzer. The team joined on the centre of the ice, hockey sticks in the air and celebrated their victory.

Academics can be a gruelling aspect of university life—and sometimes, it too can feel like a hockey fight—but this trip recognized that university is a cultural experience as well. Getting a unique experience like this one helps students make lasting relationships and lifetime impressions. And these, in turn, connect with their academic experience.

“Our community is receptive and support, and helps out where it can,” says Mr. Cochrane, and he notes that these experiences build comfort levels to help international students succeed. “At the end, [these students] have the language and academic tools necessary to survive in university.”


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