Last July my friends and I went to Canada for an international conference. At the time, I flew halfway around the world to the Maple country carrying this stereotypical mindset that most of the people there will be Caucasians. However, as I found my way around the city of Ottawa, I gradually learned how wrong I had been, and that Canada was truly diverse and tolerant.
Why? To begin with, I became acquainted with many people from different countries during the conference – the Caribbean, Egypt, and South Africa to name a few. I was sure the reason they came to Ottawa was to attend the conference, and that once it was finished, they would go back to their country. Again, that was not the case.
Prof. Hossain, for instance, is originally from Bangladesh. He told me that he had travelled to more than 50 countries, and even with those abundant experiences of going abroad, he decided to make Ottawa his home. The case is similar with several other people that I met who turned out to be the residents of this country. In short, a Bangladeshi, an African, or a Chinese person living in Canada is a natural thing.
Furthermore, I saw a sign in front of a church on Bank Street that says, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” It was written in French, English and Arabic, and it strikes me that these people must have equipped themselves with kindness.
I saw with my own eyes how the people there paid no attention to the palpable physical differences when interacting with one another, how the other participants went the extra mile to shower us with earnest appreciation upon witnessing my presentation, how one professor warned us about non-halal food during lunch at the cafeteria, and how we were united by the things we are passionate about, not by where we came from.
Even the manager of the guest house where we were staying was a fellow Moslem from Morocco. Later, when it was time for us to leave the guest house, he told me that we had a Moslem brother if we ever planned to visit Ottawa again, and that my friends and I would always be welcomed there.
Warm smiles and sincere greetings are simple acts that have the power to transcend all kinds of boundaries. After all, kindness is universal. It was never a trivial thing, and certainly it will not be obsolete.
Kindness made me befriend a mother of two children who was also staying in our guest house for a holiday. It enabled me to start a conversation with a Chinese woman living in Montreal. Kindness made my short stay in Canada a truly rewarding and memorable experience.
I guess that's what travel does to you. It gives you a chance to see the world with your own eyes, but through a different lens, a better one. It makes you learn without having prejudice, and it widens your horizon in order to understand more.
Miriam is currently a final year student majoring in English Literature, Universitas Indonesia. She is in the process of (ambitiously) deepening her passion in environmental as well as animal issues. She enjoys swimming, travelling, reading comics and playing games during her spare time as well as when she’s procrastinating (a lot).