I’m 1400km away from home, sitting in a pub with 2 friends I hadn’t known existed two years ago, in a city I’d never even thought about going to three years ago. I thought about how I ended up here in the first place.
I applied to three universities after working for a year after high school. I was accepted to all three, but realistically it only came down to two schools. Brock University was a ~40min drive from home, and offered a promising education program. I would have to drive to and from school everyday, but I could theoretically work in the city before or after my courses, and still be home for the weekends and be around the friends I had known since the embarrassing days of freshman year.
Lakehead, on the other hand, was a bit of an elusive idea. The representative at the OUF (Ontario University Fair) in Toronto had really impressed me, and seemed genuinely interested in my wants and needs in a post-secondary institution. Add that to the promising new idea of starting a life away from home and the natural surroundings, it seemed like a great choice.
I attended OUF in my 12th grade year, and thus was able to learn about Lakehead before the March Break Campus Tour week that would happen in 2014. This meant I could apply to Lakehead along with my other schools, but would be able to visit the city and get a thorough, weekend-long tour of the workings of the school, before I had to commit to any particular school/program.
Flying on my own for the first time, I took a weekend off and flew up on a crammed Porter flight. Upon landing, I almost immediately fell in love.
Coming in to land, the rugged, misshaped Mt. Mckay came into view, and took my breath away. Looking back now, it seems silly, as it’s only a few hundred feet taller than the escarpment everyone in Hamilton is used to by now, but less than a tenth of the length. Regardless, it really gave the impression that I wasn’t in southern Ontario anymore. Lake Superior, it’s rounded shores half-thawed in the March sun, seemed to grin toothily.
It was the beginning of my falling in love with the city that I would spend two years in before writing this post. I could go on for pages about all the times I’ve had here, all the people I’ve met, the new things I’ve tried, and the countless free cookies and beer I’ve consumed from so many flights to and from home, complimentary of Mr. Porter. But I won’t, as that’s not what I’m here to write about.
My point is, after reflecting on these past two years, and gathering and scavenging sentiments from friends who decided to stay home and attend Brock and McMaster, I can honestly and whole-heartedly say I made the right decision, and that I don’t think I would’ve been exposed to nearly half of the things I have been since coming here.
And this isn’t just because it’s 1400km away in a completely different region of Canada. I could’ve went to Western, or UofT, or Laurentian; anywhere away from home, wherein I was forced out of my comfort zone and encouraged to meet new people. If I had stayed at home, likely I would’ve met a few new people, probably sharing my major, but I believe pretty firmly that I would’ve stuck to the friends that I already knew. It’s not that I don’t like to meet new people, it’s just that sometimes it can be awkward or intimidating, and frankly it becomes easy to just remain stagnant and keep on keepin’-on with the group of people you already know and love. A lot of us are just lazy in the fact that when it’s easier for us to keep the friends we have, we will. And sometimes we even swerve to avoid possible new friendships, in fear that they may fail.
Consequently, this new in-flux of friends brings about another important aspect of moving away. Think about your friend group now; they probably share similar tastes in music, or a similar sense of humour. Maybe you all love to bowl, or get drunk and forget your names. Point is, there is some level of similarities between you all, and that’s what keeps you… friends! And if you have a more diverse friend group, where you all just like to talk to each other about your respective hobbies, great! BUT, if that’s the case, odds are you’ve probably branched out and tried one of your friends hobbies, to see for yourself what attracts them to such a thing.
And there in-lies my main point, so much so that it merits its own paragraph. New friends, with new and diverse interests, ideas, and hobbies, almost certainly bring about new experiences.
During my first year at Lakehead, I was introduced to a slew of new people and tried many new things. I tried new restaurants, new pastries (“Persians” <3), I tried new board games, new drinks… I hiked up Mt. Mckay, I picked up snowboarding for the first time, went to an amethyst mine (where my main page1q picture was taken) and I started attending the gym regularly. I learned about the magical sport of LARPing, started renting a house, and found out what it means to swim in Lake Superior when there is still a razor thin veil of ice on the shore with water so cold you can almost feel the lake absorbing your body heat …
Even things I had been used to doing back home like getting drunk around a campfire suddenly got a new coating of varnish when it was being done secretly on campus grounds, with fresh faces, who told fresh stories that both ripped my sides from laughing, and ripped my heart in two from sympathy.
I sometimes take the time to realize where I might’ve been and what I might’ve been doing had I had chosen Brock instead. True, I would be more involved with my old friend group and would see the face of the woman who calls me her man more often, but would it have been worth it? Probably not. Even if I had met new people and tried a few new things, I honestly don’t think it would even have come close to the amount of enculturation I received as a result of being so far from home. Not to mention the fact that I am more confident in myself than I have ever been in terms of financial savvy, real-world skills, and “grown-up-ness.”
So if you’re ever at an impasse as to whether you should stay close to home or fly the coop, I STRONGLY suggest you follow the latter. If money is tight, do your best to look into grants, loans, subsidies… At least in Ontario, they’re abundant, given a bit of homework. I encourage you to visit the university you’re considering and just as importantly the city that it calls home. It will be where you have some of your best (and not so best) times, so you might as well enjoy it. If you’re like me, you’ll find the best in your surroundings wherever you go. If you’re not, I’m sure there are still parts of it that will appeal to your interests. Keep the city in mind when it comes to the school you’re choosing. It WILL make a difference.
I am thankful every day for the opportunities I have been given to be able to afford the time and money it takes to attend a post-sec institution from home, and to have a family and S.O. back home to love and support me when times are hard. I won’t pretend that I can relate or offer first-hand advice to those less fortunate in monetary or family terms, but I encourage those folks to fight for it nonetheless.