Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My 2006

I have been thinking about writing this blog for a long time. I suppose, I have been thinking about it, in some way or another for the past twelve months, but I have been thinking quite concretely about it for the past several weeks. This year has been by far the most educational year of my life. I think back to who I was at the beginning of this year and I barely recognize myself. I have been wondering just how much information to include in this write up. I don’t want to offend anyone or anything, but I feel that I owe nothing but complete honesty to myself and most of you have probably heard the interesting parts of my year anyway. As a result, I have decided not to censor any information as I write this up.

Before I begin to explain my 2006, I had best explain how 2005 ended for me. To make an incredibly long story, incredibly short, I had moved to Scotland at the end of August 2005. I was following my girlfriend at the time Melanie, who had accepted a teaching job in the small town of Dumfries, in south-western Scotland.

While I was meeting many new friends and traveling to many amazing places on the other side of the world, I still was, by and large, not happy. I spent several months unemployed. I had a job waiting for me as a supply Educational Assistant, but I had to wait for months, upon months to get my police record check. But finally, after months of waiting, I finally got a job. In December of 2005, I started working at a school that was attached to a Residential Care Home. There were six girls, aged fourteen to fifteen living there. They had all been removed from their biological parents by Social Services for a variety of reasons that I find far too terrifying and saddening to ever want to mention again. Needless to say, they had some very specific challenges, not only academically, but emotionally as well. If teenage girls are difficult to deal with, these ones were downright impossible.

After only being there for a short few weeks, it was Christmas Holidays already. This was to be my first Christmas away from home, a difficult challenge for anyone. Now since my parents have been divorced since I was eleven, I have long been used to not being around everyone I know and love for the holidays. As a result, it was not that big of a step to go from being around one parent to being around no parents.

Melanie and I used this time off of work for both of us to travel. After having an “Orphan Canadian” Christmas in Scotland, we hoped on a flight to Dublin on Boxing Day. After spending a few days exploring the city we took the ferry across to Wales, and hiked up Mount Snowdon on my birthday before returning to Scotland on New Year’s Eve to bring in 2006 with our Scottish friends.

So here I am, a quarter of the world away from home, many amazing travel opportunities at my finger tips, starting a promising new job, and approaching my two year anniversary with Melanie. This year seemed to be full of promise, adventure, and education. Looking back, I can’t believe just how incredibly right this newfound optimism was.

January started off simple enough, I returned to work, very excited to see the girls again. In my few weeks before the holidays it was clear that I was the “cool Canadian”. They were very interested in hearing my stories of home and comparing them to their own stories of home. While the weather got cold, and the sun became a distant memory the month carried on. The days were a mix of challenges and rewards, and the nights were full of drinks at the many pubs Dumfries has to offer. In this time, I should note that my friend Andy and I decided that we were going to run a half-marathon. Yeah I know, laugh it up, but I had agreed to run a 13 mile (20 km) race. We had signed up to run the Stranraer half-marathon at the beginning of March, but had begun to train at this point. So when I wasn’t at the pub, I was busy running. I got quite good at it, if I may say so myself.

Near the end of January and into February, my honeymoon period with the youths I was working with changed to the bitter monotony of married life. Things got hard for me at work, really fast. I had a terrible time dealing with the girls I was working with. Normally I can handle tough kids, but these were different. I was having a lot of trouble, but I felt that if I just had a bit of a break I would be fine. Lucky for me, there was a school holiday in February, so Melanie and I decided to hop a plane to Amsterdam. I can not speak enough about that city. I fell in love with it. It just has the most relaxed atmosphere of any city that I have ever been to. It is one of the few big cities that I have been to that I could honestly see myself living in.

When I returned, I felt refreshed and thought that everything would be better. How wrong I was. Things continued to spiral out of control for me at work. And after getting really upset and feeling really down about everything, I did something that I am not at all proud of. I quit. It is a decision that I don’t think that I will ever be able to fully let go of for as long as I live. These girls have always been let down by the adults in their lives. Even though they were outright trying to scare me away at times, I wanted to stick it through and show them that I cared, that I saw something in them, no matter what they saw in themselves. But then at the end of February I put in my notice to quit. My last day would be March 3, coincidently, the day before my big half-marathon that I was so excited about.

But then a funny thing happened, a truly rare and monument occurrence. Scotland got snow. I am not talking any massive White Juan level blizzards, just a soft dusting, maybe half an inch. But since that is something that they are just not used to dealing with, it seemed as if the entire country shut down. My half-marathon was postponed. I found this really hard. I had been looking forward to this for several months and had been training really hard for several weeks, only to have it taken away from me at the last minute. Since we had already rented a car for my race, we decided to turn it into a road trip (WHHOOOOOOOOO!!!!!). So me, Melanie, and our good friend Shannon (another proud member of the Dumfries-Canada Embassy) took the car and decided to just drive north. We ended up getting all the way to the Isle of Skye, a simply magical part of the world. It was uninhabited, barren, snow covered and magnificent. Please check out those pictures in my “Assorted Scotland” album on Facebook, or better yet, go and take some of your own pictures to show me.

So here I am, without a job, again. However, fate would look down on me in an interesting way, and after being unemployed for only one day, I got a call. I was offered to work at the same school that Melanie had been working at in Dumfries. I got to spend time in the Learning Centre there, and I really loved it.

But a few weeks later my world got thrown for yet another loop. For a variety of reasons which do not need to be said in here, I found myself single for the first time in two years. That’s right, Melanie and I broke up.

As a result of this, I had to come back home to Canada. I was looking into a number of flights and found it to be “cheaper” to fly from Glasgow to Paris, and then from Paris to Toronto a week later. Note the use of the quotation marks, since that clearly did not take into account paying for hostels, site seeing, and of course having to eat every day. But none the less I decided to go and spend some time in France.

But I still had a good five days to kill in Scotland. At the start of this time, I felt really quite alone. All of my friends over there were teachers, who I thought to be much more Melanie’s friends than mine. But none the less, I received an overwhelming amount of support from my friends over there. On my last night before I left, two of my very best friends over there, Shannon and Michelle, threw me a going away party. I found this all to be genuinely touching as everyone over there proved to me that they were genuinely my friends. That night, I knew that I would miss them a lot more than I had originally thought and I felt that I would be missed far more than I thought that I would.

It is important to also note, that in those five days Melanie and I spent a large amount of our time talking and gaining closure. While I was sad to go, and even more scared to move on with my life, I left Dumfries without an ounce of anger towards her.

France was an amazing experience for me. At first I was a little anxious about traveling alone, but I quickly fell in love with it. I arrived at my hostel in Paris in the evening and proceeded to make friends with my roommate Ryan. We talked outside briefly, and I said that I was planning on taking a walk, and I heard that the Eiffel Tower looked great at night. So off we went, making many beer stops along the way. After a series of stumbles we finally made it to the Tower. At this point all of the beer I had been drinking caught up to me. Unfortunately, all of the public washrooms were closed at this point, and so I found some bushes. As I stood there starring up at the Eiffel Tower, peeing, I couldn’t help but laugh. My first trip to the Eiffel Tower was not quite as romantic as I had imagined, but it was memorable none the less.

Ryan and I proceeded to travel around Paris for a couple of days before heading up to Normandy where we got to see Juno Beach (to read my entry on that click away). After a few days in Northern France, Ryan and I parted ways as I returned to Paris and he got a ferry to England.

I still had a couple of days in Paris, so I had already booked my spot at the same hostel I was at before. I quickly made friends with my two roommates, Lisander and George, and a Spanish guy Ricky in the hostel. We wandered around the city, with me as their French translator. I had an amazing time with those guys and I have really missed them since I left.

Then on April 3, for the first time in almost eight months, I was home. The next day, I received some wonderful news. I had been accepted to Nipissing University for the Bachelor of Education program. I had applied to both the Primary/Junior Division and the Intermediate/Senior Division. I was really quite torn as to which one I wanted to do, but in the end I decided to stick with my first instinct and go for the older students, a decision that I will probably question for a very long time.

I laid low for the next couple of months. I did the occasional odd job and spent a lot of time visiting a bunch of my friends, both in Ontario and in a trip to NS I made in April.

That would all change at the end of June when I made my annual pilgrimage to McKellar, Ontario. For the fourth year in a row, I went up to Camp Kodiak for another summer. This one, however, would be very different than any other summer I have had. The resident Kodiak Legend, Nicholas Hanson, was unable to return to camp this summer. Also, a number of returning counselors were unable to go for the beginning of the summer. As such, I was asked to take a number of responsibilities around camp. Including (but not limited to): leading team building activities during staff week, being the head of the canoe & kayak program, serving as an academic tutor, planning Theme Days every Sunday, delivering the meal time announcements, hosting the Camp Fires every Wednesday, playing the Spirit Fairy, and of course looking after my own cabin of nine hyper active eight year olds.

Needless to say, I had a very busy summer. However, it was made possible since I had by far the best collection of co-counselors I have ever had. I was so lucky to have my summer mom, Karen, and Rachel, the one person at camp who could make me look responsible. To stack it even more, we got the help of some Junior Counselors, as second session came and Ashley Beane’s amazing sense of humour and maturity beyond her years came to help us out. So there we were, Glen and the Girls, sure our kids were tough and down right infuriating at times, but we made it work. My three co-counselors made last summer not only amazing for me, but without them, I don’t think that I could have managed it at all. I feel sorry for whoever I end up with this summer, as they have a very tough act to follow in my eyes.

Every summer there is something very special at Camp Kodiak, Kodiak games. The premise is very simple, divide the camp into a Blue Team (The Voyageurs) and a Green Team (The Habitants) and they “compete” against one another in a series of events. In my past few summers I have been various levels of leaders on both teams, but this summer I was asked to play the neutral role of Spirit Fairy. I, of course, decided to wear a tutu and call myself Glenderella and prance around the camp amusing and terrifying children throughout the day.

Normally, I say that Kodiak Games is better than Ten Christmases (and given my opinions of Christmas, that may not be saying ALL that much) and is usually my favourite day of the entire calendar year. However, this year it was different. As that just happened to be the day that one counselor was fired and three others decided to quit. I quickly went from being the Spirit Fairy to the Drama Fairy as I spent a lot of the day talking to a variety of different people about the events including some of the people who would end up quitting. Combine this with the staff marathon, a 5 km race in 30 degree weather (which I of course ran in a tutu) and that is the recipe for one tough day. But none the less, I had to remain excited and energetic. One can not be sad in a tutu after all. I even addressed the camp at the end of the day and made allusions to the staff leaving and other troubles that had been taking place around camp. All in all, this was probably my most exhausting day of the year, but I feel it may have been my most educational day as well.

I returned home to Trenton, and proceeded to hibernate for the next week after surviving on a solid three hours a night of sleep for the previous two months.

Then on the last weekend of August, I set off on another adventure. I packed my life into the car and drove up to North Bay to start a new life and get ready for school. The roads that lead me to North Bay are rather interesting actually. When I first decided that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up, I thought about Nipissing University. Then in September of 2005, I met a couple while I was in Scotland, Rob and Eileen. Eileen had gone to Nipissing the year before and Rob had been working at the University’s technical support. They raved about Nipissing and North Bay. After consulting with Melanie, I decided that Nipissing would be my first choice of schools. One of the main reasons was that Rob and Eileen would be in North Bay and I wanted to make sure that Melanie would have some sort of a social circle, and not just my fellow Education Students. However as the year went on, and plans changed, I found myself going to Nipissing all alone. Not exactly what I had planned.

But none the less, there I was up in North Bay. I tossed and turned the entire night before my first day of classes. I ended up getting out of bed at 5 because I was just so excited to go back to school for the first time in nearly a year and a half. As I drove to the University I realized something. This was the first major venture I have done by myself in a long, long time. I knew my roommate at Acadia from high school. I did not go to Scotland by myself. But here I was walking into Nipissing all by myself.

Due to a hilarious clerical error, I ended up in the wrong section on the first day. After figuring everything out, I ended up getting with the right group, Section 23, by the second day and all was worked out from there.

These last four months have really flown by that I don’t know if I can break them down in the same way that I did for many of the other months. I have spent a total of six weeks on placement so far (One in September, two in October, and three in November), with a Grade 8 class. At first I was really quite worried about spending time with Grade 8s. I don’t remember being all that pleasant at thirteen. But I was quickly won over by these amazing students. They have done an amazing job at both reaffirming and questioning my decisions. I am totally confident that I am doing the right thing pursuing a career in education. I find it both rewarding and challenging, and feel that I have a natural talent for it. However, I have really questioned if Intermediate/Senior (Grades 7-12) are right for me. I can’t help but wonder if I would be better suited for younger students. But, I have made my decision and I am happy with it so far. I may end up changing streams later on in my career, but who knows?

Things up in North Bay have been absolutely amazing for me. I have been blessed with a great section and many great friends. While I may complain about some elements of the program, I am still honestly and genuinely happy to be at Nipissing. After some of the struggles I have faced over the past several months (and even years), I am really very happy to be doing what I have wanted to be doing all along.

So what does 2007 hold for me? Well if I could tell you that, then I would be advertising my psychic hotline instead of writing a blog. But I am going to do a teaching placement in China in April, which I am incredibly excited about. I plan on staying over there and traveling as best I can for May as well. I then get my second expensive piece of paper in June before heading up to Camp for my Fifth summer. I hate to say it, but this may end up being my last summer for a long time. I don’t’ have any definite plans for September, but I have been leaning more and more to teaching English in Japan, Korea or China. But who knows? I never have been much for planning anyway.

As I look back, I can’t help but be amazed at where this year has taken me and what next year promises. This really has been the most educational year of my life, and I think that when I look back this may end up being one of the most influential years as well. Thank you all for a part of it in some way, shape or form.

Until next time,



Robbblog said...

While in China, take a trip to Japan! PS- I just wrote a new blog!

Sandee said...

wow - that was an amazing post. You made me look back over this year, and my oh my - has it been a roller coaster. I think I have done more, and experienced emotional turmoil like most would ina lifetime. Glad we met at Nip - you are good to have around.