Awesome # 2: Custom-Built Community

As an educator, I’m very blessed with the opportunity to travel – both professionally and for leisure. The universalization of the English language means a growing slew of classrooms available for me to teach in worldwide. Christmas, Easter and summer vacations mean plenty of time for globe-trotting. And life in a tiny fly-in Arctic village with virtually nothing to spend my money on means sufficient wherewithal to do it.

The ability to combine two of my greatest passions – teaching and exploration – is just one of the reasons why I believe that teaching is the perfect profession for me.

But, if ever there was a downfall to this subjectively (almost) unblemished lifestyle, it would be the growing sense of aloneness that ensues from never spending quite enough time in one place to establish anything more than superficial relationships with the people and places with whom and which I am surrounded.

Now, I do spend the better part of 10 months of the year living and teaching in Tasiujaq, and the nearly 2 years in which I’ve done so has afforded me plenty of time and occasion for immersion into this little Arctic community. My experience with this, I wrote about here. However, if you asked me what the most difficult aspect of Arctic living is, I’d say that it’s the fact that no matter how long I choose to live in the North, I’ll always be an outsider. I’ll always be an ethnic and linguistic minority with very limited recourse as far as social inclusion is concerned. And, always at the back of my mind will be the brutal reality that the majority my qallunaat friends will come and go before I really get to know them, as their contracts come to an end, as their services are required in other villages, or as they decide that they’re just not cut out for Arctic living.

A recent conversation with a friend has further heightened my awareness that I’m very much surrounded by contextual friends – friends who come and go as I, or they, move from place to place. I have been since the age of 17. When I ventured into the world of higher academia, my social circle came to consist, for the first time in my life, of a number of people from all over the world who, at the end of their university career, would likely return to their provinces/states/countries of origin and move on from the life we shared together in the realm of Mount Allison University.

Losing touch with friends is, in some ways, an unfortunate natural byproduct of adulthood, I realize. But as the years that followed unfolded in much the same manner socially, this further contributed to my recent and blatant state of solitude.

Between my days at Mount Allison University and my life in the village in which I currently reside, I’d lived, studied, volunteered and worked in Moncton, Halifax, Wolfville, Dawson City and Shanghai – in 3 different provinces and 2 different countries; at 3 different universities, a handful of temporary jobs and both domestic and international practicum placements. And now, as I find myself with horizons significantly more broadened, I’m more aware than ever of my severely disintegrated roots as the vast majority of the people with whom I’d spent my time in any given place have slipped in and out of my life far to infrequently to establish any real degree of intimacy.

The bleakness of this circumstance, I’d felt at its the strongest upon my return “home” to visit my family for Christmas – where I’ve discovered that life has, indeed, continued without me, and that I’ve all but lost touch with all but 1 of my closest childhood friends.

Determined to find the silver lining in this rather dismal experience, I’m inspired to write this second post of awesome – this awesome being my custom-built community. 

Community is a phenomenon that I imagine I would have become a part of quite easily, had I opted to lead a more stationary life (which most likely would have been in the Maritimes). But, had I done so, I can’t help but wonder 2 things:

1. Whether this community would have been something I’d have taken for granted, given the passivity with which I would have become a part of it (depending on where it was I’d chosen to settle); and

2. How well-suited this community would have been for me (the more time I spend elsewhere, the more conscious I am of the fact that my personality, my interests, my beliefs and values, as well as my passions are not so congruent with life in the Maritimes).

Though I can’t go so far as to say that I have found a specific niche, I can say that I have a much clearer picture of what my niche looks like, and one of the cool aspects of my nomadic lifestyle is that I’m able to custom-build the community that’s perfect for me (with the help of snail mail, email, Facebook, Skype and airline seat sales, of course). The more I travel, the more I meet (or reunite with) people who share my passion for teaching and travel, and my affinity toward discovery and new experiences. Thus, the more I am able to become a part of a community that compliments my personality, my interests, my beliefs and values, as well as my passions – even if this community is a tad scattered globally.

The plus side of the little social rough patch with which I’ve been struggling as of late is that I been forced to better understand the nature of my custom-built community. As a result, I’ve found a much greater appreciation for the friends that I’ve made recently, as well as those with whom I have kept in touch – in Moncton, in Tasiujaq and everywhere that I’ve been in between – as well as a much stronger drive to strengthen my connection to my custom-built community.

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