In 2008 I participated in a nationwide exchange called My Explore. For six weeks I lived in Saguenay, Québec with a host family attending an immersion programme at the local university. Looking back on this adventure, I've always characterised it as out of the ordinary. However, lately I've come to rethink my ideas of exploration and adventure because its literally right in front of us on a daily basis.
Since relocating last summer, I've been incredibly lucky to call a city like Ottawa home - with hundreds of kilometres of dedicated bike paths, a phenomenal system of public transportation, and a plethora of waterways, forests, and parks. In the nine months I've lived here, I feel like I have a solid understanding of my surroundings, but I haven't stopped learning and exploring - nor will I because there is so much to see and experience.
It's unfortunate, in my opinion, that there is such alienation in our society. Notions of community have been on decline for the past century in North America, eroding our vital social networks. Although we, as a society, have been forced into these conditions, it is important to fight back where we can. Get to know where you live and the people that share your environment. You will be surprised at how little you probably know about the world around you. There is a spinoff benefit to this - strong connections to community make you happier and healthier and also give you a support network so that you can make where you live a better place.
And that brings me to a point I've been pondering the past few days. I know that many people my age feel compelled to go abroad in order to find themselves or in order to gain a wealth of new experience. I am sceptical. Never in history has so much technology allowed us such limitless opportunity to understand our world. Simultaneously, however, we have never been so disconnected physically from our natural and social surroundings. Although I totally approve of going abroad for the right reasons - to volunteer or to have a truly culturally unique experience, I have to say that there are many needy causes here and all the "new" that you want to see is around us. We have such rich diversity - whether of culture or religion, or of experience or perception. It's a real shame that we throw up walls instead of forming meaningful relationships with others.
In getting back to the point, I would like to issue a small challenge to those of you who may stumble across this. Take an adventure this week - alone and without a book or an iPod.
Step one: Use a bike or public transit (which are both less expensive and more fun as getting there is an activity in itself) and go somewhere nearby - it could be a place you know well or someplace undiscovered.
Step two: Try to engage someone in a conversation - perhaps someone you wouldn't ordinarily talk to, but only if you feel comfortable (safety is key).
If you find this rewarding and enriching, just keep doing it again and with your friends. There really are exciting, affordable, and sustainable means for leisure out there. You just have to try. Hope you enjoy Your Explore. For more information, check out Jane’s Walk - for walkable neighbourhoods, urban literacy, cities planned for and by people.