testimony from amélie, mary barclay grant awardee (2018)
Week 1: Ireland
I started my journey with an evening in Dublin. I found Couchsurfing hosts not far from the downtown area, which allowed me to visit this city and its many neighbourhoods where the streets come to life at night with Irish folk music playing in every pub. The following day, I took a bus to Derrylhagan, in Donegal County, where I was staying in a hostel with the plan to hike the Slieve League cliffs (which are called Sliabh Liag, in Gaelic). After the hike, my day took an unexpected turn as I was hitchhiking back to the hostel. A policeman named Kevin picked me up. In the car with him were Ana and Nacho, a couple from Spain who just had a car accident. The reputation of the Irish being welcoming hosts is far from stretched because Kevin invited us for dinner at his house by the sea. We left altogether for Galway the next day, which was a lot of fun. Galway is a mid-size city standing by the ocean, very vibrant and full of students. It was love at first sight! The musical culture there really is impressive; I even added to my bucket list to spend a semester there someday. On the following day, I went on an excursion at the Moher cliffs, which provided an enjoyable view despite their touristic feel. A lack of attention forced me to find a plan B when I realized I had missed the bus back to Galway while having dinner in the little town of Doolin. I decided to hitchhike again and was picked up by 2 Americans and 2 Irish. I spent the evening with them in Galway, which was really nice because it gave me an opportunity to experience the city with locals. I went to the Killarney national park before heading back to Dublin, where I finally took the time to visit the amazing Trinity College library.
Week 2: Tall Ship Races
I knew I would like being aboard the Oosterschelde, but it exceeded my expectations by far. I arrived in Sunderland (UK) early enough to enjoy the festival and admire all the boats that would be part of the competition. I boarded the schooner at 6pm to partake in a 2-hour sail where I met the other trainees, with whom friendship developed almost instantly. We officially left the Sunderland port the following night. The crew members gave us a good crash course on navigation basics and answered all our questions. The rotating surveillance system that was in place allowed us to admire the sea at different moments of the day. No greater joy than lying down on the deck on a starry night free from any light pollution, with the sound of the wind on the sails and the waves crashing on the boat’s hull. Nothing is more intense than walking on a leaning ship going about 10 knots under the pouring rain. No view is better than watching the sunset, perched on the highest mast. The crew members came from Canada (me), England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the United States. Working as a team and creating bonds was really easy and we left the ship feeling like we were old friends and wanting to get back on board.
Week 3: Wwoofing in Denmark
I went to Margrethe and Michael’s Stratesburg Old farm the day following the docking of the Oosterschelde at the Esbjerg port. I was still suffering from land sickness when I started to work. A young couple from France was also hosted there. We were working from 9am to 1pm, mainly picking fruits and cutting wood. Even though I didn’t learn much about farming, this experience confirmed my taste for outdoor work and agriculture. I am planning on doing more wwoofing in Lac St-Jean (Quebec) in late August. I had the opportunity to discuss the challenges of farming (like competition and heat waves) with the owners, which was very interesting. My European journey was concluded with a week in France at a family member’s place and a short 24-hour layover in Reykjavik.
One of my biggest challenges during this trip was to keep my zero waste lifestyle. Despite my best efforts, it turned out to be impossible. Plastic and unnecessary wrappings are everywhere. I hear a lot that living a zero waste life is the consumers’ choice; that it’s up to them to avoid over-packaging, to bring reusable bags and refuse straws… but it’s not enough. Restaurants, shops, airports and every other type of businesses must get on board and offer more environment-friendly alternatives to their customers. This trip gave me great motivation to come up with ideas to stop the growing problem of plastic excess back home.
My minimalist luggage impressed many people during my trip. I left with my camera and a school bag containing enough clothes for a week, a rain jacket, toiletries, an iPad mini, a cell phone, a notebook, a towel, a swimming suit, a reusable bottle, my wallet and a Ziploc bag with my important documents. Travelling with such little baggage presented many advantages, the first was the price of plane tickets being lower because I didn’t check a bag. Going through customs and airport security was much faster. Since I didn’t really have extra space, I ended up saving money on souvenirs and only spent for the essentials like food and lodging. Travelling around was easy as I didn’t have to carry a heavy suitcase up and down stairs and my hands were always free. I had always travelled with a suitcase before but I think these days are over; not only will I try to convince my friends and family to adopt this new habit, but I am considering applying the minimalist lifestyle to my daily life and limit my belongings to the bare minimum.
revival of my passion for music
Music is important. No matter the language, the nationality, the age; music unites people from different backgrounds because everybody can appreciate it and dance to it. In the past, I tried too hard to understand music from an academic standpoint, playing scales and boring jazz standards 8 hours a day alone in a cubicle. I had completely lost track of the social essence of music and my week in Ireland gave me a chance to witness Irish musicians presenting themselves and their art in a totally different way to their audience. I had put too much pressure on my shoulders when it came to my musical career, without ever listening to my own needs, and it led me down the road of self-doubt. I could no longer stand the serious and cerebral approach to music, but now I think I could be a professional musician without following a path already made. Folk music seem to fit me better and be more aligned with my values.
I have always been calm and discrete. My introvert tendencies gave me a hard time opening up to others in the past. This summer, I was pleasantly surprised with my ability to make friends and ask for help. I built strong relationships with the trainees of the Oosterschelde and even convinced one of them to come visit me in Montreal this winter. Travelling alone definitely allows you to become more comfortable when meeting new people.
Reduction of My Anxiety
Since graduating from high school, I had let my anxiety grow to take too much space and ruin many occasions. When I decided it was enough, I thought what better way than challenging yourself to silence that little voice in your head, telling you that you will fail. Like leave on a month-long backpacking trip alone, hitchhike in a country you don’t know, climb up a 20-foot mast without a harness or safety net, hike a foggy mountain without a trail, fully disconnect from social media to live in the moment and keep calm when things don’t go according to the plan, because unexpected situations are bound to happen while travelling. This adventure helped me to understand what I’m capable of. I learned to move forward instead of being afraid of what can go wrong. I learned to appreciate the present moment and seize the opportunities when they arise. And I know I can now apply this state of mind to my daily life.