(Don’t) talk to strangers?

IMG_3424
I met these friends just two days before our adventure to Gatineau Park

Every little kid knows the rule growing up: don’t talk to strangers. And fair enough! The world is a dangerous place. Kids are vulnerable. You never know people’s true intentions. However as we get older, the narrative continues. Especially as a girl, I am continually encouraged to keep my guard up around people I just met, not to trust too quickly. Stranger danger becomes a way of life, a way of looking at the world.

While we definitely need to be thoughtful, wise and aware, I think that the intense and immediate distrust of strangers, the assumption that people are bad or dangerous until proven otherwise, is a communal mindset that drives us towards a more individualistic and frankly, more boring society. As children, yes, a blanket rule of thumb is required for safety. But as adults? I would argue that we all could use some more stranger “danger” in our lives. Not literal danger y’all, just a couple steps outside our comfort zones will do!

Choosing to interact with people you don’t know in a genuine and engaged way brings so much joy and interest to our day to day lives. It teaches teaches us about what true hospitality looks like and helps foster an encompassing sense of community that humanizes the “other”.

Friends have, I’m sure, heard me say it before, I may have even written it in the blog, that “strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet”. I don’t say that to be naïve. I’m not assuming everyone will like me and I’m not disregarding the fact that there are indeed dangerous people out there with malicious intentions. However, that is not the majority. Everyone you have ever known was a stranger at some point. Maybe you were introduced by a friend or had a class together and you got to know each other in what is societally considered a safe space.

But

Who’s to say that guy reading a book in the park isn’t also going to be super cool and share your love of skiing?

Unless you ask her, how will you know that the women sitting next to you on the bus has walked the entire Great Wall of China or that she has her pilots license or that she and her husband have the best love story you’ve never heard?

If you don’t talk to strangers you may never hear why someone would want to be vegan or how one goes about building their own sailboat or what it’s like to work in a brewery or what it’s like to be a diplomat in Syria. My parents always told me, “you can’t do everything”. They were right! But SOMEONE out there has done everything. Don’t you want to hear their stories?

Aside from being purely interesting, it also teaches us how to love more fully. Inviting someone into your life and into your space isn’t always easy and it may require a little bit of sacrifice. But choosing community and choosing hospitality is SO WORTH IT.

IMG_3423 2
In the woods, exploring with Remi, Jess and Mike

As many of you probably read last week I ended up going to Montréal by myself. While we’re on the subject, thank you all so much for the support! I received countless messages of encouragement after my plans got flipped on their head. Spontaneity and risk taking y’all, it pays off.  Now I could have spent all weekend exploring by myself but where’s the fun in that? I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason and so I couldn’t wait to get to know these people that had been unexpectedly thrown into my life. Getting to know people and hearing their life stories was one of my favourite parts about my trip to Iceland and I didn’t see why Montreal had to be any different!

 

I ended up meeting people from all over: Scotland, England, France, Germany, China, Australia, Brazil, etc. Everyone had different reasons for traveling, they were of all different ages and we spoke about all kinds of things, from music to politics to language learning to sailing to what it’s like to be Canadian. I wasn’t just talking to strangers. I made friends. 

And although it might have made my mom uneasy, I actually ended up inviting a couple of guys, David and Frank to stay at my apartment back in Ottawa with my roommates and I as they continued their Canadian adventures. You know what? It made my week having them there. Aside from the fact that they were completely respectable houseguests, they were also fun guys! We took them to see the light show on Parliament Hill, went to a karaoke bar, went to Blue’s fest and also just chatted. My roommates and I felt a little lonely when they finally moved onto the next leg of their trips, after each having spent 4 nights sleeping on our couch!

IMG_3692
David and Frank, our couch surfers. They were trying to see if the cucumber would scare our cat?

They were strangers. Who quickly became friends.

This isn’t the first time I’ve made fast friends about people and welcomed them into my life. There are a couple of people I’ve met through blogging/Youtube who I’ve actually met and hung out with in real life. There are a couple of girls I connected with on Facebook before coming to university who are still friends of mine. My host family in Switzerland were total strangers and they were some of the most wonderful and kind souls. Speaking of exchange, my current roommate is a girl I met in the airport on my way to Switzerland 3 years ago. Our other roommate was literally a stranger.  And you know what? I love them both so much it’s crazy.

IMG_3779
Roomie love

I’ve made friends with strangers in the park and random people on buses and in coffee shops. I’ve had fantastic conversations with people I will never see again. I’ve gotten to go on outdoor adventures with friends of friends of friends because I decided to talk to them.

IMG_2747
More strangers turned friends!

It’s scary to talk to strangers. They represent a total unknown. They could be rude. They could be having a bad day (in which case maybe a friendly banter with you is exactly what they need?). Maybe they re someone unlike anyone else you know – and maybe that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe they have incredible stories to tell and maybe you’ll find them incredibly boring.

But try. Invite someone to have coffee with you. Treat acquaintances with more warmth and hospitality than they are expecting. Smile at the man standing next to you at the cross walk. Take time to step outside of the individual bubble we’ve all taught ourselves to walk about in. Start seeing people as the complex, puzzling, dazzling pieces of art that they are. I promise that your life will become infinitely richer with each story you tell, each face that becomes familiar and each human being you choose to call friend instead of stranger.

Until next time

 

Sam

IMG_3219
Ready for an afternoon paddle – with a bunch of total “strangers” as per the usual!

 

 

 

 

 

Books and Bike Rides

I’m supposed to be studying Arabic. After a couple of weeks of stalling, my tutor has promised a vocabulary test on Tuesday. Instead, I am sitting on my back porch watching the streaky pink clouds created by the sunset. So much beauty in something ending eh?

IMG_3083
My actual view at this exact moment! Yay for the back porch! Yay for blurry photos!
I’m thinking about what it is like to have a different kind of summer than the ones I am used to. I am used to morning dips and constantly having no voice from singing songs all day and watching kids thrive and succeed and being tired and happy constantly.

Now, I’m remembering how lovely and foreign it feels to have down time. I literally cannot think back to a time (probably grade 8?) when I wasn’t happily but exhaustingly overcommitted. It’s funny because my roommates joke “you’re never home!” and I feel like I’m home more than I have been in years.

I am remembering the joy of sitting in a public library and drinking in an entire novel in one night. I am making last minute plans to ride bikes along the canal or sit and chat in the park at dusk.

I am challenging myself. I wrote on my (very long, because I do love being busy) summer bucket list that I wanted to “learn a new skill….leaving camp doesn’t mean leaving behind that curious, inquisitive and eager to grow part of me” Every summer at Kitchi I chose one new skill to learn. Some of them I took to more than others – last year I really truly committed to improving my solo canoe skills. I didn’t want that to end this year. Surprisingly, I’ve realized that I really like rock climbing. Despite being unarguably terrible at it, there is something wonderful about having so much room to learn and improve.

I’ve also thrown myself head first into improving my outdoor skills. I’ve already gone on my first canoe trip to Algonquin park, assisted with teaching a beginner canoe course, and spent a day running a river in Quebec down big rapids, qualifying myself for the “white water list” at the Ottawa Canoe Camping Club; now I am able to go on more whitewater trips and continue to improve my eddy hopping and ability to “play” in rapids.

I’m remembering how to say no. To go to bed early and not feel like I’m missing out on my one and only chance to socialize. To be ok with not going climbing tonight because I paddled all day yesterday and not every day has to be crazy and full. I’m remembering that it’s ok to not have plans for a night, that sometimes reading on the porch and eating a good dinner and having a shower and going to bed is a perfect and wonderful and happy evening. I’m remembering how it feels to not have 20 things “to do” hanging over my head and how it feels to have plans that are flexible. I thrive being busy but I am also embracing quiet downtime (especially since I know it will disappear come September). This season of freedom and flexibility is rare.

IMG_2899

I’m meeting with an Arabic tutor and for the first time, I feel as though I can actually speak Arabic. Some days I leave our sessions wanting to sing and dance because I am so proud of myself and others I’m so frustrated with what feels like a lack of progress that I feel like I could cry. But I am learning. I am actually talking. I am listening to music and reading Arabic poetry and pinning cue cards with tricky words up in my office. I am pursuing language for the sake of it and I am finding more beauty and skill than I have in two years of classroom learning because I want to be able to excitedly explain to my tutor (who is such a gem of a human) that I saw Justin Trudeau at work rather than stressing about getting 62% on a midterm.

Speaking of work – holy cow, I am learning so much. Some days I come home and wonder why I am bothering to sit in a cubicle and reclassify files. But most of the time, I am overwhelmed by how much I am learning and how applicable it is to my studies. For those of you who don’t know (hi new friends!) I study International Development in university and this summer I am a Jr. International Development Officer with Global Affairs Canada #blessed. In my first week, I was tasked with assessing project proposals from Civil Society Organizations looking for funding for youth internships. In on of my classes last semester, I had to write a project proposal for the final assignment and 3 weeks later I was assessing REAL LIFE PROPOSALS. It was kind of surreal and has made me that much more excited to go back to class in the fall.

IMG_3064

On top of that, my team is full of welcoming people who are genuinely passionate about their jobs. I think it is easy to see the government as an faceless institution filled with paper pushers and people who just want to make money. However my experience at GAC thus far has been mostly that of meeting people who believe in the work they are doing and are passionate about Canada and the countries Global Affairs works in. Last week I had the chance to sit down with a manager from another team because I’m really interested in the field of food security and wanted to know some more about what that team does in our branch. The managers are busy all the time but this man took almost 1.5 hours to sit with me and discuss his career path and what he loves about his field and his job. He was so passionate! I left inspired and grateful for the opportunity I have to interact with people who are at the government not because it’s always fun (hello bureaucracy!) but because we need people who care about their work. And the actual team I work with on a daily basis are fantastic. They are always encouraging me to go to presentations, listen in on conversations and trainings and helping me to make the most of my time there. I don’t always love sitting in a cubicle and I miss the island, but I have no doubt that I am blessed to be exactly where I am meant to be this summer.

So that’s where I’m at this summer. I am waking up early to read my bible with my morning tea and riding my bike to work. I’m drinking wine on a Tuesday with a friend and having hours long conversations about compassion and justice with my roommates and making curry and playing with our (Nicole’s) cat. I’m out on the water as often as possible and I’m speaking Arabic as often as possible. I’m reading and watching Netflix and growing herbs on my windowsill. I am meeting new people and spending time with friends I lost track of through the year. I am both incredibly busy and  overwhelmed with free time.

I am learning to embrace change and challenge and sleeping in on Sundays. How is your summer going?

Until next time,

Sam

IMG_2971

Summer Compass

GradPromJuly2015 799

I love the friends

I don’t see very often.

Because when we’re together

it feels so damn good.

Laughter and voices

keeping time with each other.

Old friends learn new rhythms

and teach songs learnt far away.

But then, the chords strike up

the old classics

and voices raise.

Hands find other hands,

and fingers intertwine like constellations connecting the dots.

Time vanishes while the guitar strums.

Everyone forgets

how long it has been.

Everyone forgets old conflict,

old fear.

Being together, just feels

right.

We lay on docks under summer stars

that freckle the sky.

We don’t need to see faces to know who is there.

Quiet secrets;

whispered stories,

come alive around the campfire.

And the night slips away,

like it wants to give us

some privacy

but the sun disturbs us all too soon.

When we say goodbye,

hugs and tears

mingle with winks and

inside jokes.

It’s okay.

We always find our way back.

Maybe not for a while.

Maybe not here.

But these friends are my summer compass;

warm summer nights always point back

to them.

Update on my life

Hello! I'm back!
Hello! I’m back!

I’m starting to find that the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to get back into. There have been so many times the last couple of months that I’ve thought to myself “Hey, this was cool, I should write a blog post about it.” And then, obviously, never did. Which makes me sad because, I write this blog for myself as much as (or more) than I do for readers. Being able to look back at my exchange in at least a decent amount of detail is already something I appreciate.

Since the last time I blogged, a lot has gone on in my life! I spent the summer at my of my favourite places on earth, Beausoleil Island being a counsellor at Camp Kitchi. It was honestly one of the best and challenging experiences of my life. At first I felt like I had no idea what I was doing but I figured it out slowly but surely. Hanging out in the cabin with all my crazy girls, becoming close friends with the rest of the staff, guarding and teaching at the Main Docks, canoe trips to McCrea Lake, camp-fires and mail and all camps and life chats on the dock at night. It was just incredible and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I’ve also started gr 12 which is exciting, stressful and challenging all at the same time. All anyone talks about is “So, what are you doing next year?” which becomes absolutely exhausting after a while and you just don’t want to hear the question any more! At least I already know where I want to go (kind of) and what I want to study. I actually applied for my schools/programs yesterday which is kind of surreal! Weird to think that next year I’ll be living in a new city whether it be Ottawa, Peterborough or Toronto! Can you guess which schools I applied for? 😉 I’m actually taking a few days off school this week to go tour the campuses! I applied for International Development/International Studies and hope to add a second major in French eventually! Apparently you can’t do that when you apply!

university-application

I also have a job now, I work at a gas bar on a highway rest station which I like! I wanted to lifeguard but missed the hiring because of camp! I actually do like my job though because it’s not stressful and I get to interact with people all the time! I also still am a student leader at my church, a mentor to grade 9’s at my school and just recently became a French tutor which is kind of cool! So that’s about it. Just figured I’d catch up on what’s been going on in my life so that I can get back into blogging and such. 🙂

And we’re off: my first weekend in Ireland

There’s something about the excitement of sitting in an airport waiting for you flight to be called for boarding.  At this point you’ve made it through all the hard parts of travel; checking bags, going through security and finding your gate. You’ve probably waited a long time for this day to come and now that it’s here, it won’t be long before you are up in the air, taking off on a new grand adventure.

It was this excitement I found myself feeling on June 27th 2013. After months of waiting, the day had come for me to leave on my trip to Ireland. Although I had been on an airplane before, it had only been for short flights to places like Mexico and Florida and this would my very first time leaving North America. I was so excited, I could barely sit still. Before I knew it, it was time to board and I was pleased to discover I had a window seat. I settled in and minutes later, we were off.

Fast forward and just under 7 hours later, we were coming into land in Dublin airport. Jet legged and overwhelmed by the excitement of being in a new and strange country, my mom, my sister Mallory and I somehow found our way through the Dublin public transit system and to the hostel where we were staying. After checking in, we all climbed into bed for a nap. Newsflash: bad idea. We woke up at midnight to the sound of my step-sister Chantel coming into the room. She had flown into London, England from Alberta and then taken a ferry over to Ireland to meet us. The time change of 5 hours had confused us and we were all wide awake and starving so despite the late hour,  we took a taxi and ventured across the Liffey River to the Temple Bar area of the city. Long story short, there were a lot of drunk people, which terrified Mallory. Suffice to say, it wasn’t exactly a family friendly environment so we grabbed some food and got out of there as fast as we could.

The next day, a Saturday, we ventured all over Dublin by foot exploring and checking things out.  I was amazed by all the beautiful architecture, some of which had been built more than 1000 years earlier. It was my first real taste of Europe and I must say I loved even more than I thought I would. Everywhere I turned there was something to look at and unlike a lot of buildings here in Canada they were all unique and had intricate detailing. It was absolutely gorgeous. The entire city of Dublin just had a more laid back feeling than say for example Toronto, more old timey.

On Sunday, the four of us continued to explore the city, this time by double decker bus. We saw a lot of interesting things as well as enjoyed the live commentary by the driver about the sites we were passing. Mal was in her glory, listening to people speak with Irish accents all day. My favourite part on the other hand, was when just my mom and I got off the bus at the Kilmainham Gaol, a now unoccupied jail on the outskirts of Dublin. We were toured through the jail and told about prisoners who once were held (and eventually exacuted) there. It was incredibly interesting. I learned and lot, like the youngest prisoner was Elisha Kelly an 8 year old girl who was imprisoned for 5 months just for stealing a loaf of bread…it reminded me of Jean Valjean from Les Mis, haha. Crazy cool place.

Monday was spent looking around little shops and checking out the Dublin zoo. Mallory and I went into the zoo alone and I can tell you, we weren’t all that impressed. It was not nearly as cool as the Toronto Zoo, which I never really realized was all that awesome until being at the Dublin one. The one part we really loved was watching the red pandas because they were just so darn cute!

After we left the zoo, our weekend in Dublin was over and we got on a bus headed for Ballinasloe in County Galway where my mom’s cousin Mary would be picking us up for the next part of our adventure. It was out of the city and into rural Ireland for us!

I had only been in the country for one weekend and I was already falling in love with Ireland.