In elementary school every autumn, we wrote What I Did on My Summer Vacation. For most of us, there were no unusual experiences, trips to exotic places or different adventures. Most children did the same thing every summer, playing with friends, visiting relatives, fishing, swimming at the local pond or beach, picking berries, camping if you were lucky. The only thing that was different every year was the teacher.
Long after those years, in the late summer of 1984, I had something to write. I had started my Master's degree at the University of Ottawa. At that time, I was principal in a small all grade school in Buchans, Newfoundland. Though married and a mother at the time, the first summer I went to Ottawa, I went on my own and stayed in residence on campus. This was an entirely new experience for me because I lived home while attending Memorial University in St. John's. I was late to the university residence experience.
Not only was staying in residence a new experience but traveling to Ottawa on my own, getting to the university from the airport in a taxi was quite scary. Ottawa was a big city compared to what I was accustomed to as well.
However, the hardest part of the experience was the self doubt I had about my ability to do the Master's program. While I did not have difficulty in school or university, I worked hard. I had no idea about what was required in this program and was afraid that I could not handle it. I doubted my academic preparation, wondering if Memorial, my Newfoundland background and small town experience had prepared me for what was to come. I reminded myself that I was admitted to the program, hoping that meant I could cope with the academic demand.
Getting to the university and settling in at residence was easier than I thought. However, I did not know anyone and there were much younger French immersion students on my floor, who had full class and social schedules. The first week was very lonely and I missed Rick and Claire terribly. The weekend was the worst, especially Sunday. This was in the days prior to cell phones and pay phones were the means of communication, making it hard to stay in touch with my family.
In classes that first week I sat back and listened. Other students were very vocal and contributed to the class discussions which were led by the professors. As I listened, I realized that I agreed with some but not with others and that I knew as much as the rest of the class. Could I write as well? However passing back the first assignment, the professor asked two students who wrote the best papers to read them in class. Mine was one of those papers. It was a revelation to me.
After that first week, I met other Newfoundland teachers who were at the university that summer as well. As so often happens, finding others from home made it easier because there was familiarity in our shared Newfoundland experience. In addition, I made friends with others in my class and sometimes socialized with them as well.
The experience in Ottawa that summer helped me tremendously and it had nothing to do with book learning. The course content was not where I learned the most useful information. Confidence both academically and personally was the outcome. My education and experience were as good as the rest of the students from much larger places in the country. In fact, I now knew that Newfoundland teachers did a great job, with far fewer resources than much of the rest of the country. My provincial inferiority had no basis in fact. I had the ability to do this program. Attending the principals' meetings the next year I was a different person, more confident in myself and my ability.
Learning for Life
However, my most important learning was the realization that I could get along in the world alone. I did not know that I needed to learn this fact. Living home when I went to university, working for a year while living in a teachers' hostel, then getting married had been a straight path in a life I set out for myself. It did not happen to me, I chose it. However, I had not known my own ability or my own mind prior to settling in to my adult life. I was always a happy person but in Ottawa that first year, I realized that every day I choose how I will live that moment, that day. I knew implicitly from that experience that my life, good or bad, was in my own hands as I chose how to handle whatever happened. I have lost sight of this path periodically, but I always come back to it.
When I was young, I did not understand how I made the decisions I did, but they were good decisions. Looking back, my experience of family, friends, schooling, my Newfoundland home, gave me a great start and I was wise enough to follow my heart.
As I age, my writing is more along the lines of What I Learned During A Lifetime. Thankfully, the writing is easier now. Ah... that was the teachers' goal all those years ago!