Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ten years gone

This month marks the 10-year anniversary of my graduation from university. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this mind-blowing fact. Did I really graduate from university 10 whole years ago? And how the hell did the last 10 years go by so fast?

I wasn’t this freaked out when my 10-year high school reunion came and went. But there’s something monumental about the first decade of your post-university life. That’s when you’re supposed to go out into the world and make something of yourself.

Some of my Carleton University classmates are doing amazing things. My friend Mark just published a book. My friend Steve is a foreign correspondent with CTV. One of my former roommates is an award-winning journalist in Calgary and the other is finishing her PhD in London. Almost everyone in my graduating class has had their accomplishments listed in the pages of the alumni magazine.

As for me? I’ve done nothing in the past 10 years worthy of a write-up in the alumni magazine. Not that I’m bitter (stupid alumni magazine).

Okay, so maybe I’m not the most successful person to have ever graduated from the unesteemed halls of Carleton University. But that doesn’t give the alumni magazine the right not to publish profiles of debt-ridden losers. We’re graduates too.

I may be a slacker compared to the rest of my graduating class but I’m generally pretty happy with the choices I’ve made.

So to mark the 10th anniversary of my graduation from university, I’ve created a list of the top 10 highlights of the past 10 years (Carleton University alumni magazine, eat your heart out!):

1. Working at the Toronto Star: Barely two weeks out of university and greener than a Prius, I was thrown head first into the deep end of the daily news pool. I covered everything from murder trials to missing cats. My stint as a Toronto Star journalist was only a four-month internship but it was the best job I ever had.

2. Moving to New Brunswick: In September 1997, I packed my bags and moved to Saint John to work as a journalist for the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal. My plan was to stay for 12 months but I fell in love with Atlantic Canada (and a farm boy from Nova Scotia) and ended up staying three years.

3. Going to Bosnia: My dream of becoming a foreign correspondent came true for a brief shining moment when I was sent to Bosnia to report on the war-recovery efforts. I traveled around the country dodging landmines in armoured tanks. I slept in sea containers. I interviewed dozens of people every day and filed stories every night. It was an incredible experience.

4. Traveling in Russia: In 1999, one of my good friends was living in St. Petersburg while studying for her master’s degree in Russian history. She was staying with a Russian family and had a big group of Russian friends. So when I went to visit her for three weeks, I got a real insider’s view of the country. It was bleak, depressing and utterly fascinating.

5. Moving to Vancouver: After three years as a newspaper journalist, I was itching to try something new. So when the David Suzuki Foundation offered me a job in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I jumped at the chance. I quickly learned that PR isn’t as glamorous or as exciting or as interesting as journalism. But I also learned that PR could be a lot more challenging and creative than journalism.

6. Joining the English Bay Swim Club: You wouldn’t think that joining a swim club would be a life-changing experience. But, for me, it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I’ve met some of my closest friends through the swim club. I also got back into competitive swimming for the first time since being kicked off my high school swim team for showing up at one too many practices with a hangover (hi, mom. Don’t tell me you actually believed all that vomiting in high school was due to “food poisoning”).

7. Discovering the joys of backcountry camping: I went on my first backcountry camping trip when I was 18. I hated it. I was cold, wet, tired and hungry the entire time. I decided to give it another try after moving to Vancouver because this is the sort of thing people do for fun in B.C. I found out that heading into the wilderness with everything you need for a week or two strapped to your back really is fun. I’ve hiked from Alaska to B.C., across a chunk of southwestern Utah, over the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California and along the West Coast Trail in British Columbia. I’ve been cold, wet, tired and hungry but my B.C. friends have successfully brainwashed me into believing it’s a pleasurable misery.

8. Crossing the Ironman Canada finish line: I wanted to do something really big to celebrate my 30th birthday in 2004. So I decided to sign up for an Ironman. I figured swimming 4 kilometres, cycling 180 kilometres and running 42 kilometres all in one day would be a great way to kick off my thirties. I wanted to prove that I was fitter, stronger and more determined than ever. Well, now that I’ve done an Ironman, I’m not sure if I’m fitter, stronger and more determined but I’m definitely a lot smarter. Good lord. What was I thinking? I’m never doing that again.

9. Starting a blog: I’ve really enjoyed this little hobby of mine. It’s helped me feel more connected to people (um . . . yes, I am aware of how ironic that sounds while writing this sitting alone in front of a computer). But it’s been rewarding in ways I never expected. I’ve met all sorts of quirky characters, from Hot Rob to Keith to George. The National Post has even started quoting me in stories as “blogger Sarah Marchildon.” I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

10. Moving to Japan: Living in a small rural town and working as an English teacher in the Japanese public school system has been an amazing adventure. Just scroll down the page. You’ll see what I mean.

So that’s it. The highlights of the last 10 years compressed into 10 paragraphs. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

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