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A Mainer Abroad: On changing seasons, growing up and giving thanks

Study Abroad Column

There are a few tattered brown leaves clinging to their trees in my neighborhood. Ottawa hasn’t gotten much colder in the past week, but it has certainly gotten windier. There hasn’t been any rain like back home in Maine. The rhythm of life here is easier once you get ahold of it. Strangers at the bus station will ask me in French or in English for directions, and after only a month and four days of living here I can give them the right directions in both languages.

The bus has become routine: a bus ride and then a train ride to school, two buses to get downtown, three buses to get to my rock gym. Think of Maine Bound and then imagine it in a warehouse with 60-foot ceilings and two floors of cave climbing. I’ve been doing a lot of rock climbing lately to relax because my mid-term exams are this week.

I am halfway through the semester as of Tuesday. I’ll have taken five mid-terms in two days. The immoderate amount of exams I have in those days has a silver lining in that I have six days without class as Oct. 12 is Thanksgiving here. I’m going to spend Thanksgiving break in Virginia with a dear friend. It was scarier than skydiving to buy my first roundtrip international plane ticket without my parents’ help. I hunted for weeks for the “right” fare. I didn’t find the “right” fare and prices kept going up until I decided to just bite the bullet and buy one. I leave just hours after my last exam, and I fly back to Ottawa on Thanksgiving.

Canadian Thanksgiving occurs earlier than American Thanksgiving by about a month every year, but I’ve asked around, and no one I ask really knows why. One of the answers I’ve received is “Well, it sure gets colder up here than California.” I asked one of my Canadian Studies professors why Canada’s Thanksgiving is earlier than the United States’ Thanksgiving, and he ventured a guess to say that it keeps Canada different from its southern neighbor. Although, I did some research and Canadian Thanksgiving falls on the same day as Columbus Day back home. There’s a tension in Canadian culture to simultaneously reject and accept American culture — to show that they are different, but invested in a greater North American culture.

Rachel Snell is a Ph.D. student back at the University of Maine. I have never met her; however, she wrote some fascinating stuff on this cultural localization by examining cookbooks from the 19th Century. I only know about this because in most of my classes we’ve read an article by Mainers. Bates College, the University of Maine and Colby College have all found a way to finagle their writings into my course work. This is the opposite of what I’m doing. I’m not trying to leave a paper trail here in Ottawa, and I’m not sure I’d be able to in such an immense city. Instead I’ve been trying to touch the lives of the people I see in everyday life. One of my roommates is an electrical engineering student at Carleton University, and I’ve been teaching him how to fry eggs. I taught him how to do laundry too. There are a lot of life skills that need to be learned during freshman year, but I think I’ll just teach him what I can in what is left of this semester.


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