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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Sunset on my time in Edmonton...

My plane ticket is booked; I fly out at 6:30am Monday, November 26th. I have had quite the adventure, and it has been pretty remarkable.

I came out here for so many reasons, with so many things I wanted to do and see, and while I didn't get around to all of it, being out here gave me the time I needed.

Since I was 5, I've had a direction in life. I may not have known what to call it, or how exactly I would get there, but I've always felt great purpose to my life. The last couple of years at university shaded me from that purpose. Don't get me wrong, I have loved my time there, but it is soon time to move on as well. Life awaits me, and I've grown to see that I've slowed down in the last little while.

My time out here has been character building. I have had a lot of time to think back and try to unravel the knot that was inside me. I know this sounds very melodramatic, but it is an apt analogy.

Before starting university, I was an introvert. My afternoons, if they weren't spent practicing for some school sports team, I was at home reading, researching, working. I didn't go out much, and I enjoyed it that way. Coming to university, I seemed to switch gears and I became very social. I had people over all the time, hosted all the parties, and spent more time with friends in a week than in all of high school combined. These past two years were worse for this because as school became more challenging, I found I needed to distract myself from it more and more. For anyone who has not attended post-secondary education, the following may be considered to be ironic but the academic environment actually made me shy away from my academic and career goals. I became smothered under the weight, not of assignments or course work, but of conformity and bureaucracy, and I found surrounding myself with friends to be what I thought I needed. No longer could I enjoy reading on a Sunday afternoon, or trying to draw, or writing just for fun, except here on my blog of course.

My time out here in Edmonton has helped me realize the error of my ways. I am not saying that spending time with my friends was bad, but I realized that I came to rely on it too much. Stressed out? Complain to someone. Tired of working? Go over to a friend's house. I make it sound like I shied away from responsibility, something which I hope my friends and family would laugh at, but I am hard on myself, and the fact that I became to rely on external support so much was, well, it wasn't healthy, for me or my friendships.

As I mentioned, my time here has been character building. One of the reasons I moved out here was to get away from everything. Get away from my routine, and re-examine my life and my habits. It wasn't always the most exciting of times, but my time was my own, and I have used that time most productively, and I am better for it.

Edmonton is a pretty great city. Albeit I haven't spent too much time in too many cities, there are a lot of good things about living here. The streets are numbered from east to west, the avenues south to north, and any address tells you the crossroad. For example, I stayed at 10644 109th street, which is at the intersection of 106th avenue and 109th street. This system makes so much sense I wonder why I have never seen/heard of it before. The transit system is pretty much identical to that of Toronto, except for two differences. Because the streets are all numbered, the bus does not announce every stop. This was confusing for me at first, and I admit to missing my stop the first couple of times. The second difference is that almost everyone is polite and respectful. Maybe I just got lucky, maybe the difference is so obvious because I'm comparing a large city like Toronto to a smaller one like Edmonton, but almost every single passenger on the Edmonton Transit System thanks the bus driver as they step off the bus, they move to allow strollers and wheelchairs on and off, the more able give up their seats for those less able, and no one blasts music. I took the bus everyday to and from work and, for the most part, it was very enjoyable.

People say that things are more expensive out here. Even people who live here think so, but I didn't find that to be the case. Groceries were the same with only one major difference: bread. For a province so close to Canada's bread basket, the price of bread is almost $2 more than it is back home. Maybe Ontario hoards all the bread, maybe. Gas is certainly cheaper, bus passes are cheaper, and with only having to pay 5% tax on things, I still paid less even when I tipped my customary 15%.

Employment is certainly easier to come by, and seems to pay more. While I didn't find the industrial internship I was hoping to find, I did find a job with a great environment, somewhat technical, and paid a lot more than I would have made in Ontario. And my lack of finding the kind of job I wanted was more due to my lack of experience; believe me, there is work to be had out here.

Speaking of which, I might as well pay some tribute to Shaw. From day 1, the environment at Shaw has been surprisingly supportive. At first, I took the positivity and customer focus to just be how the training staff acted with new hires. I quite expected to get out on the floor of the calling centre and see a difference between the ideal and the workplace. For the most part, the dichotomy is minor. Shaw is very focused on delivering a quality product to their customers. I think that they have had a rough history though, and so I'm hoping this focus is one to stay. It was great working for a company which tried so hard to make their customers happy with the service. I didn't have to bend or hide the truth when talking with customers, I could be very open and honest with them and could do the job right, the first time. My coworkers were generally happy, even the ones who had been there for some time. Shaw works hard to keep their employees happy, offering a lot of great benefits and random events and giveaways to keep things interesting.

Working there was a nice experience for me. Not something I would want to do for too long, but something on which to fall back, should the need arise. Training was made easy by my computer science and engineering background, and the job was just regular enough for me to relax and become good at it quickly, and just different enough day-to-day to offer something different. Like I said, I wouldn't want to do it forever, but as far as part time jobs go, I couldn't have asked for better.

My summer out here was fantastic! The transition was so incredibly easy and I have so much to remember and be thankful for. I didn't get a chance to see everything I wanted, but I had a great time anyway. Banff, the Rocky Mountains, the Maize maze, Jurassic Forest, D&D improv, the street festival and more, I had one of those summers where rarely anything goes wrong and where every moment was positive.

As I mentioned, the transition was incredibly smooth. I have the Doucet family to thank for that. Brittany was so supportive, offering advice, even checking out apartments for me. She found and viewed the one I ended up going with, and I am very glad for her help. Her mother donated a kitchen's worth (and more) of supplies which was so amazing as I didn't have to worry about buying dinner or cooking ware. Her father donated and configured the wireless router I am currently using, and again, I am thankful. The last couple of months have been busy and I have rarely spoken with Brittany, but I hope she and her family know just how much I appreciate their help.

The summer covered everything I wanted, and the fall has covered what I needed. I needed to get away from people. I needed to settle down, in my own mind, and re-learn what I wanted out of life. I needed to remember what makes me special, and I needed to remember that I could do things entirely on my own. I have always been strong, and independent, but my confidence had been shaken by relationships and friendships in my far and recent past. I have argued, with myself and with friends, over my logical tendencies. I shamed myself and might have lost a friend because I became less logical at a time of need, but friendship is a two-way street and I realize that while I may have slipped, I didn't fall, and true friendship moves past the brief moments of ill-grace. Time will tell.

One thing is for sure, my logic had shattered, for a time. I put too much of myself out there for certain people and while I don't regret this, I realize how careful I have to be from now on. I have always been an odd paradox, even to myself, where I am incredibly reserved and careful, but with certain people and situations, I am incredibly forthright and open. This isn't bad, but I have learned that if I had been a little more careful, I might not have hurt myself or others as much.

Again, friendship isn't bad, but my ability to balance them might have been. To be fair, I think I do a decent job, but I took on too much. I took on the problems of others and through this, their anxiety. I always imagine myself as a rock in a hurricane, centred and focused at the core, but flexible and ready to adapt to the world and changing situations. I lost this core, I lost it a year ago, and even with the incredible help of friends and family, I don't think I really found it until I moved out here. I think I needed the time to really look, and the time to ignore the problem, and sure enough, I found the solution.

One thing which has been very rewarding for me was finding graduate studies and opportunities which actually excite me. I have a powerful imagination and I aspire for great things, but I have had a problem in the last two years where reality has reminded me too strongly of its presence. The realities of the workplace, lack of opportunities, and the apparent lack of wisdom in being so driven toward a goal such as mine. Most of the graduate programs I could find in Canada, while excellent, were more directed at electrical and computer engineering. At best, I could possibly envision working in one of those programs, bending the matter and focus of the work to the space industry, but it was always a compromise, and when it comes to my future, I realize I don't want to compromise.

I want to create new opportunities for space exploration. I want to make it easier to work in space. I want to take my ideas to the next level and put them to the test. I want to surround myself with achievement and innovation and I want to work in this field because if I do, I won't be working, I'll be making my dreams come true. I know how that sounds, but I also know, now more than ever, that this is what I am meant to do, and if I don't do it, I might as well fade away. I have thought about this, worked toward it, and accomplished quite a lot given my lack of opportunity.

I am not saying I have achieved a lot yet, that would be very far from the truth. But, once I get to where I'm planning on going, it'll be very startling for anyone who looks back. My family is incredibly supportive, but when it comes to certain specifics like advice and financial support, I know they wish they could have done more. My school was never a help; the only people who attended university were the teachers and beyond general advice, they had little to offer a budding space engineer. I actually had to convince my vice-principal that physics was important and that maybe we should have a curriculum which actually taught something, instead of having us watch Apollo 13 over and over again. That's a long story, but basically, when it came to finding out where to go, what to do and how to get there, I was on my own. No one else could answer my questions, and maybe that's normal, but I would think it's also normal to at least be pointed in the right direction, or several. I received nothing but confused expressions from everyone except my family, who as I said, weren't experts either.

My financial upbringing taught me two things: the power of hard work, and how not to rely on money. I won't go into the details and no matter how bereft of financial security we may have been, my family has always been better off than most of the world, and we gained a closer relationship because of our struggle.

Why do I go off on a tangent like this? Well, in learning more about myself, and learning to appreciate what I've done, I have to acknowledge where I started. I have much more to do, but the fact remains: I was not given a lot of the same privileges as most, and while I think it has helped build character, it has been quite an uphill journey and I must learn to remember that. Let it inspire me to do more, while also helping me to not beat myself up too much for the difficulties it presents.

As mentioned in a previous post, I found some graduate programs which I thought looked perfect for me. Learning more about the space environment and designing tools and machines to help us work and better understand the final frontier, that is where I see myself, and soon. I go back to York in January, to finish some courses and graduate. My next step is to immerse myself in some grad work, most likely in Europe, and live this dream. It will not be easy, it never is, but it is worth the effort. I also realize I have a lot of work to do. I have not accomplished as much as I should have in the past few years and that will make the application process more difficult. But my dedication is unparalleled, my enthusiasm has never been greater, and I am ready to show you, them, me, everyone, just what I can do.

I liken my experience out here to forging a sword. Incredible heat (seriously, Edmonton, you made me wear shorts, I almost never wear shorts), complemented by repeated strengthening. The finishing touch, these past few months, was the brisk exposure to a completely different environment which gave me the chance to bring the elements together into something powerful, something wonderful, something which has taken a lot of work to create.

So, thank you Edmonton. Thank you for taking me in, keeping me safe, and giving me what I needed. Thank you Shaw for giving me a chance to support myself while asking only that I do my best. I thank my family for putting up with me, supporting me, and for not guilt-tripping me anymore than love deserves. I thank my friends from Ontario and the UK for also putting up with me, for their support and their patience. And I thank the Doucet family for their hospitality and generosity.

As I continue on my journey, I learn more and more of the power of others, and the power within.

Thanks for reading, my next personal blog post will feature something new and exciting, Christmas in Cuba! My family is trying something different this year and I am very excited to go!

After that, I plan on kicking this blog up a notch by sharing some more about space mission design. I'll keep you posted.

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