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A Mainer Abroad: Reflections, pt. II

Nov. 26 was Thanksgiving as you all know, but it was just a Thursday for Canadians — business as usual.

The void of holidays from Halloween to Christmas is hardly even noticed here in the heart of Canada. It felt just plain weird waking up Thanksgiving Day without the savory smells of turkey wafting upstairs to my bedroom. Canadians like to refer to their Thanksgiving as “real Thanksgiving,” but the fact it comes weeks before Halloween is a detriment. It doesn’t even come close to the American holiday on the calendar or in quality. The Detroit Lions aren’t playing on the television, and my roommates’ families are comprised more of coworkers than relatives.

Months ago, I was told that there would be snow on the ground by start of November. I can easily dispel the myth that Canadian winters are harsher than what we have in northern New England. My backyard in Ottawa South was covered with snow for a whole two hours. It has rained otherwise, but has mostly stayed as warm as Orono. Whenever I meet someone here I always say that I’m from the states, and they always say “well I hope you’re ready for a real Canadian winter.” I’ve been duped.

It is too funny that there’s a mythos here about winter. The Toronto Raptors, an NBA team, runs an advertising campaign “WE THE NORTH.” Funnily enough, Toronto is south of Bangor. That’s right, the quintessential Canadian metropolis  — the city that forged both comic book icon Superman and acclaimed rapper Drake — is south of the University of Maine. Ottawa is about as north as Lincoln, Maine. The true north, strong and free, seems to branding boldly where no other country dares to go.

I wish that it would get cold already so I could go ice skating on the Rideau Canal. The ice house at Carleton University has two National Hockey League sized rinks, but free skate here is hardly as accommodating as the Alfond Arena. It took me a 10-hour drive and three months in Canada to realize that UMaine has an unrivaled character and identity that I couldn’t appreciate while I was there. I turned the corner here last week. I stopped feeling like a freshman at heart, and I made peace with my remaining three weeks. That last sentence reads like I’m dying. I’m not. Leaving everything I know behind for Canada was one of the best decisions of my life.

Distance makes the heart grow fonder, sure, but it also provides much needed perspective. Freedom from my loved ones has let me go be me without major recourse. I sought juxtaposition with a passport, and I got exactly what I wanted. All students should consider studying abroad, and most should do it. The mechanical sounds — traffic, jackhammers, talking crosswalk signs and the clock towers striking noon — that permeate the streets of downtown Ottawa just sound like human life now. Before, all I knew was the sound of the plow truck late at night, the creaking timber of my house in a windstorm and screaming jet engines of the airplanes at Bangor International Airport. Perspective required distance, but now as my time here nears its end I look forward to being home.

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