A Mainer Abroad: Into the unknown

tudy Abroad Column

Canada’s newest prime minister-elect has swept Canada, and his visage has swept the internet. The election was intense and crazy. At the beginning of the election, polling had indicated that Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party of Canada had less than 1 percent chance of winning a majority government in Parliament.  Yet, that is exactly what he did a week ago. On Parliament Hill the night of the election, scores of people turned up for a “Stephen Harper’s Going Away Party,” a Facebook event in which almost half a million Canadians participated. While practically none of these people showed up to Parliament Hill, it’s worth noting because a half million people is 5 percent of all of the Facebook users in Canada.

Three days after the Liberals swept the election there was a ceremony at the National War Memorial. Outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau simultaneously laid wreaths to commemorate the first anniversary of the shooting in downtown Ottawa. A radicalized Canadian-Islamic-extremist opened fire on Corporal Nathan Cirillo, hijacked a car, drove to Parliament and sprinted into the foyer where he was shot dead by six security agents.

The shooting claimed the life of one of the two Canadian soldiers standing guard. Earlier in the morning, the 12-vehicle motorcade passed my house on its way to the site for the anniversary. It was solemn and sad. Parents and their children stood on the road overpasses with Canadian flags. The tragic events that happened on Parliament Hill are more than a year removed now, but the energy throughout the city remains a dull buzz, and it seemed to be an unavoidable topic of discussion in my classes. The anniversary of the shooting had an air of remembrance that I can only compare to both the annual wreath laying on Veteran’s Day at Arlington National Cemetery and the national solidarity surrounding 9/11 every year in the U.S.

On that day one year ago I was sitting in the Canadian American Center office at UMaine making sure that the 2014 Ottawa trip was still happening, and it did happen. More than 40 students visited Ottawa on that trip. It was my second time on the trip. We arrived late on Friday night, and we woke up early to tour the city. Later that night we went to an Ottawa Senators Hockey game. It was an undeniably spiritual experience; being in the heart of Canada while it mourned so beautifully.

One year later I find myself living here, which is not something I would have guessed I’d be doing back at that hockey game. The importance of the Canadian American Center and their annual trip cannot be understated. It changed my life, and it’s the reason I focused my undergraduate research on Canadian-American borderlands.

My creative non-fiction writing professor said to our class that all life is a voyage, so write it that way. I agree with him, and I encourage all of you to consider purchasing a round trip ticket to somewhere you have never been before. I have done it many times, and I didn’t just gain perspective. I have friends scattered all across this continent not to mention my friends in India, France and the United Kingdom, and it all began with a trip to Ottawa in 2013. I remember I came home with $1.27 left to my name. My point is: don’t be afraid to venture into the unknown just because you don’t know what’s out there.

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