Ayla reflects on her first NYA experience

August 16th, 2018

Northern Youth Abroad has given me a wonderful experience. I joined this program because I thought to myself “Why not?”. I didn’t realize how much time was supposed to be put in, but the support of my peers made all the difference. Since I came here, I’ve tried so many things I haven’t done before and learned a lot about myself and others. I experienced culture shock when I realized that people down south are always on time. It’s different than back home.

My daily life was waking up 45 minute before my work, and walking to work which took 15 minutes. I worked at the Antigonish Heritage Museum for a week and a half and then I told my host mom, Claire, that I wanted to do something else. I didn’t want to be stuck in a renovated train station filing papers and old photos. I felt like one of the old items collecting dust. Thankfully, we worked it out and I ended up having 3 jobs. I worked at the heritage museum, a French camp for kids, and a traditional Acadian restaurant. I was much more satisfied this way.

Besides work, I went to a lot of places that I don’t have back in Baker Lake. There was much more places to eat, buy food, and get art supplies. There was a small mall, too! I visited one place after another with Sharon before she left. We tried on clothes, explored the bookstore, watched the Incredibles 2, and went thrift shopping. That was my first time trying on clothes. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do that, despite seeing many others trying clothes. I’ve never done that at home.

We also went to the Antigonish Art Fair, which is held every second Friday. We met an Inuk student who attends St. Xavier’s University. I saw different art styles, and bought a Link sticker for my dad. It made me want to attend the next Art Fair, and I eventually did! I felt pressured because I had to send a couple pieces of artwork before I could gain a spot. I drew as much as I could for a week. When I got my spot, I thought I wouldn’t be successful. Luckily, one of the volunteers asked for a portrait so I can get more customers. I ended up drawing 6 people in 3 hours. The money was rewarding, but I loved hearing the stories my customers told me while waiting to be drawn.

After a sleepless night, I traveled to Cheticamp were I would meet up with Geni, Jeannie, and their host mom. We were all happy to see each other. I could tell both the girls were tired as well. We ate and shared our experiences of the places we’ve visited so far. At lunch, we ate at the Dancing Goat. It’s a small, but hip restaurant. Michelle ordered pancakes, and we quietly ate. Then, we visited a store that had a giant red lawn chair. When I say giant, I mean gargantuan! It could fit all three of us and could’ve fit even more. We then left and headed to the camp. 

 I was also fortunate to hang out with Geni and Jeannie during a weekend in Cape Breton. Before I met them, I stayed at my host mom’s cousin’s farm. They had cows, a cat, and a big old white dog. The dog reminded me of a polar bear. The house we stayed at was over 4 decades old. It was old, and I felt like I had travelled back in time. The floors were eroded from years of walking over them, the paint was peeling, and had dark, matted carpets. The bed was creaky and covered with old and ratty quilts. Clothes were piled in worn bins, and the mirrors were dirty. It reminded me of my old home.

After Cape Breton, I went back to working, kayaking, and doing a lot more activities. I also got 3 comics from my coworkers, too! They told me I was super excited about Amka Aliyak (Snowguard), that they decided to give it as a gift. I was feeling euphoric because I’ve been waiting since spring to get them. My dad believed it was a hoax, thinking that it’s not possible for Inuit to have a positive and accurate representation. The comics made me motivated to create my own, so that I could utilize my drawing and writing skills I’ve gained in the past couple of years. It may take a long time to make this dream come true, but I believe in it, and I hope everyone else chases their own dream, too.

We got to the Skyline Trail, which is a two hour hike. It was hot and humid. After the first hour, we saw the beautiful rock side of the trail. We could also see the sea. I loved every moment of it. Coming back was even worse. We were exhausted and sweaty. After the hike, we stayed in and chatted. When it got dark, we invited out neighbours to have s’mores with us. We were on the topic of Inuit and losing culture. To make it bearable, Jeannie taught me how to throat-sing again. I haven’t done that since grade five. I was relieved that I could get back to it.

Thank you all for this once in a lifetime experience, and I hope to see everyone at next year’s program!

Ayla Kreelak

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