Elliot’s unforgettable summer in Ottawa, ON

October 13th, 2016
Elliot dreams of being a graphic novelist.

Elliot dreams of being a graphic novelist.

My name is Elliot Betsaka. I’m 18 and am from Nahanni Butte, NT. I’m a pretty shy person and I don’t have a ton of experience being inside large cities (my village has a population of roughly 100 if that tells you anything) but I was excited to try something new and to travel away from home for the summer. NYA gave me the opportunity to see who I am, who I could be, when I’m unrestricted by everything that weighs me down back home. I’m transgender, and while I’m not in the closet, I don’t openly publicize it either. Being different in a small community can be difficult at the best of times, and nearly impossible at the worst of times.

When I was told I was being placed in Ottawa with a queer host family, and that one of my host parents was actually transgender as well, I was beyond excited. NYA actually cared about the issues I face being a trans youth and did their very best to be accommodating. They called me and asked me if I would be comfortable with a male or female host buddy, if I’d like to stay in the guys’ cabin at camp, what name or pronouns I prefer, and they made sure to let me know that they had my back.

Being in Ottawa meant that EVERYONE I met only knew me as Elliot, not my birth name, not who I used to be. I felt accepted and understood like never before when I met my host family. They introduced me to other trans and queer people and took me to some pride events where I was able to fully express myself.

The Northern Youth Abroad Canadian Program has given me so many wonderful experiences that I’ll never forget. I’ve met people from all around the world, each of them with their own lessons to teach me. I’ve had wild adventures together with my host family and an awesome time at my work placement. I worked at Virtual Ventures, an engineering and technology camp at Carleton University, and got to teach kids about programming, electronics, and multimedia.

Being away from home was hard, but it proved that I was capable of standing on my own, that I am able to survive out in the world. It gave me the reassurance I had been craving for a long time. I’m anxious about going to secondary, about leaving the North, but NYA helped me with that anxiety. I’m excited like never before to go on to the next chapter of my life and further my education.

They taught me and the other NYA participants all about scholarships, where to find funding, different degrees, colleges and universities, future careers, etc. They gave me the knowledge I needed to know what my next step is. There’s so much I don’t know about the South and secondary, and sometimes I didn’t know where to start. NYA made that easier for me. Now, I have a clearer understanding of what I want to do, where I want to go, and how I can get there. This summer changed me in a lot of ways, and all of this was made possible because of Northern Youth Abroad.

I’ve really enjoyed this program and can’t wait to come back again to do the other phases. Travelling and being away from home for so long can be really difficult but I think it was a good experience for all of us participants. We all need to leave the nest eventually and NYA gives you the chance to safely experience that while you gain valuable work experience. I know I’m coming back from this program better and badder than ever and I’m happy to know I’m still not done growing as a person. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and about the world this summer. I would recommend this program to anyone who’s eligible; you have to work hard, but in the end, it’s all worth it. I’ve had a great summer that I’ll never forget.

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