By Dermot Kelleher
I first stepped foot in Canada in 1985, at the border crossing between Buffalo, New York and Niagara, Ontario. I was a visitor, attending a conference in Toronto by the cheapest possible route. The world was a much bigger place back then; I felt very much like a foreigner and a bit overawed at crossing another international frontier. But I was warmly received by smiling border guards and impressed by the friendly efficiency of the process.
I noticed a young couple looking nervous and obviously exhausted. I soon learned they were defectors from Czechoslovakia, having slipped under the Iron Curtain before somehow arriving at Niagara. I watched them move through the initial stages of entry, at each step being greeted by a Canadian official who’d shake their hands – almost congratulatory – and help them along. They were from a communist country in Eastern Europe, entering Canada as asylum seekers. Yet their arrival was celebrated in a way that I now recognize as a moment of national pride.
More than three decades later, I’m now a Canadian resident and a medical school dean. Each year, the University of British Columbia graduates more than 280 doctors who go forth to train in a variety of specialties. They work in every province, territory and sometimes in countries abroad.
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