You know how there are often experiences and people in our lives that we look back upon and realize how much our lives changed in those moments? This is Katimavik for me.

In case you don’t know Katimavik was a volunteer program here in Canada that brought youth together from across the country to do meaningful volunteer work, learn a second language, experience what it means to be Canadian, and to become a family. I emphasized was because recently the funding for Katimavik was cut – devastating after having seen the positive impact it had on so many people’s lives.

I was 18 years old when I left and looking back I realize how profound the experience was from the moment I left my family at the airport security. As I went to board my plane I was unsuccessfully trying to choke back tears when the woman ahead of me noticed, turned around and came down the stairs to give me a hug. She is the reason I knew things would be okay in that moment and I don’t even remember her name.

In the Katimavik program we spent 3 months in 3 different provinces for a total of 9 months away from home. We lived with 10 other youth in a house or apartment and traveled with the same group. Each house had a project leader who lead the group through all of our necessary weekly tasks. We had no tv, limited Internet, and not a lot of personal space. But we had creativity, energy and a whole lot of love.

There is no way I could condense my nine months of life changing experience into one post here so instead I will give you the important lessons I’ve learned from this experience.

1. The scariest risks we take can have the most inexplicably amazing rewards.

My Katima-Group in our first rotation.
My Katima-Group in our first rotation.

2. Ping pong tables work great as dinner tables.

The perfect size for 12 person dinners.
The perfect size for 12 person dinners.

3. Friends from different backgrounds have so much more to offer.

Our map of where we come from.
Our map of where we come from marked with a special symbol.

4. Small living spaces allow for the most love to grow.

Our first place was a 3 bedroom apartment for 12 people... and it was perfect!
Our first place was a 3 bedroom apartment for 12 people… and it was perfect!

5. Life is better when you let loose! If this means dancing in the streets to Rasputin or painting your face or just laughing until you cry – don’t hold back!

Picture 274
One of our (almost) weekly dress up nights!

6. Respect is the most important part of living with people and  relationships in general… sometimes a hard lesson to learn when you are 18 years old.

A team building night.
A team building night.

7. Cooking for a big group is a privilege and sitting down to eat with that kind of family is priceless.

Our dinner table every single night!
Our dinner table every single night!

8. You may find home in the most unlikely of places if you are open, willing and with the right people.

Outside our third house.
Teary-eyed goodbyes outside our third home.

9. There are people who will make such a difference in your life that it will physically ache when you can not be with them at times… Even after years of being apart.

Just the best people right there!
Just the best people right there!

10. Never forget the ones you care about and never forget to let them know for life is too short.

A mini-reunion with some Montreal bagels... November 2012
A mini-reunion with some Montreal bagels… November 2012

For you, Julien-Pier. You continue to inspire me to be a better person every day.

Meaghan