They may both be in North America, but the differences between the United States and Canada most certainly exist. For Molly O’Brien, a Springfield College student and native of Kitchener, Ontario, these differences are as glaring as night and day. The variations have become a reflection of her past life and the new lifestyle in which she has chosen to throw herself into.
Springfield College was an unknown blip on the radar for O’Brien until 2010, her final year at McMaster, an undergraduate school in her home country. It was then that with the help of a professor, she made the life-altering discovery. Now, just over a year away from graduation, O’Brien recounts her journey to Springfield and all that has followed suit with nothing but a dazzling smile and some interesting and funny stories.
Upon first glance, one wouldn’t suspect O’Brien of being an international or graduate student. With blonde hair, blue eyes and virtually no accent, it would take some time to believe that she wasn’t your typical American-born undergrad, had it not been for her outfit. She arrived at the Richard B. Flynn Campus Union decked out in a Team Canada hockey jacket with a matching backpack to boot. My first thoughts? Here is a girl who A) knows how to support her team and B) knows how to support her home country.
One thing that jumps out about O’Brien is how quickly you feel comfortable around her. She is the type of person that in the matter of a few minutes, you feel as if you have known her for years. She was also quick to criticize me on my Bruins hat (she is an avid Toronto Maple Leafs fan), showing me she knows how to push buttons, but in a playful sort of way. Now with a friendly rivalry established, O’Brien went into detail about her decision to leave her home country for Springfield College.
“I knew I wanted to go to school for strength and conditioning…it’s my absolute favorite thing,” she explained of her key reason for attending Springfield College. “After I graduated from McMaster one of my professors sat down with me and helped me go through every possible option. It took a long time for Springfield to even come up. It’s such a small place, I mean you don’t type in ‘strength and conditioning programs’ and have Springfield pop up. It took a lot of research.”
Having never visited Springfield before, it could have been a risk in committing to SC, but O’Brien felt that she made the right choice.
“I made a bunch of calls and talked to as many people here as I could, like the director of the strength and conditioning program.”
Talking to people is a far cry from getting an actual look at the school, but O’Brien was convinced, and as she put it, “I just had a gut feeling about Springfield.”
O’Brien explained that while her overall experience has been terrific, she has come across situations that left her in awe of the substantial differences between the countries.
“One of the things that I think is funny is the way Canadians are perceived by Americans…there are so many stereotypes,” she said. “Sometimes, if I’m talking and someone just wants to piss me off, they’ll start saying a bunch of things about hockey or things like ‘go shoot your moose.’”
It didn’t end there for O’Brien, as she continued with more stories that left even me awestruck.
“The first thing I found out was that going into a grocery store around here is so cool, because you guys have so many kinds of cereal. We have the types of Cheerios like original and honey-nut, but you guys have chocolate and banana-cream.”
Fighting off laughter, I encouraged O’Brien to continue and was rewarded with the following: “Another difference is the money, of course. We have the different colors (red, blue, green, yellow) and one time when I went to pay for my groceries, the lady asked if I was trying to pay with monopoly money,” she said.
Fellow Canadian graduate student Sean Poitras, a friend of O’Brien’s, seconded her views of the ways Americans view Canadians.
“The stereotypes are definitely a reality, even if no harm is meant through them,” he said. “I play on the club hockey team and even my teammates are always ribbing me with things like, ‘Good game last night, eh?’”
Poitras reached out to O’Brien before she arrived at Springfield, as the two shared a common bond that has developed into a friendship.
“He’s a great guy. He helped me out with my adjustment when I first arrived here. There are only four Canadians here on campus, so we all stay connected,” said O’Brien.
While it may be stereotypical in doing so, one wouldn’t be wrong to associate O’Brien’s upbringing with the word “hockey.” We all know of the proud hockey tradition our neighbors to the north are affiliated and infatuated with, but it would certainly be ignorant to expect that it applies to all Canadians. However, the fact of the matter is that hockey is a part of O’Brien’s culture, and she is proud to have grown up in it and talk about it.
“Kitchener is a big hockey city. We have a junior league team, the Kitchener Rangers, which is one of the biggest attractions. I grew up there my whole life, and hockey was always a huge part of it,” she said.
I myself grew up loving the game and consider myself as big an advocate as anyone, so the topic was a great ice-breaker (no pun intended).
Most people consider their first ever “important job” to be something like a grocery bagger, but O’Brien had an opportunity that quite literally was a “dream come true.” She got to work with the Canadian national hockey team as a strength and conditioning coach.
“It was kind of my first big job opportunity, meaning it’s the first job I could write down as far as being a real career kind of experience,” she said.
She had the opportunity to return to the team after graduating from McMaster, but she chose to further her education.
Apart from the stereotyping, O’Brien explained that she has thoroughly enjoyed her SC experience.
“As a graduate student, I love having a small school. There are only 12 people in my program, and we have all gotten to know each other very well. We do a lot of things together and get to pick each other’s brains about things. You guys are centered on the athletic culture, and I think that’s really cool,” she said.
As far as her interests go, she explained that she was at the point where her interest is what she goes to school for. As she put it, “I find myself doing homework…because I want to do it.”
Dr. Brian Thompson, the director of strength and conditioning at Springfield College, is a firm believer in O’Brien’s bright future.
“She had one of the most impressive applications I had ever read before coming here,” he said. “She is terrific in the weight room and does a great job with the wrestling team. She has been a tremendous role model for her peers and is well on her way to a great career in the field.”
If all goes according to plan, all of the hard work O’Brien has put into the strength and conditioning program will lead to a bright future.
“I think for the next probably five or so years, I’ll want to get out in the field and get some more experience under my belt,” she said. “My ultimate goal is to work at a Division I school and as of now, I have no D-I experience, so obviously that’s huge. I have only visited one D-I school before and was blown away by how much money is put into the sports programs and facilities.” This summer, O’Brien will be working as an intern at the University of Louisville (Ky.), which is fresh off their NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four run.
As we exchanged our goodbyes and thanked each other at the interview’s end, O’Brien threw one last playful jab at me, saying, “You’re welcome, just make sure you get a new hat.”
Smiling, I responded, “Okay, hopefully we see you in the playoffs…oh wait, your team will be golfing by then.”
While the Toronto Maple Leafs might be headed to the links for some meaningless rounds, Molly O’Brien sure seems headed on to bigger and better things.