By Raphieal Newbold
During the annual My Halifax Experience gala, student bursary winners were announced. Bursary applicants were asked to write an essay about their experiences when they first arrived in the city. My Halifax Experience is publishing bursary winners’ essays over the course of several issues, to highlight their unique perspectives on the city we know so well. Raphieal Newbold is a 4th year Bachelor of Science student at Dalhousie University.
Significant flight delays, mountainous snow, and harsh temperatures all signalled the beginning of my first winter in Canada. The crisp fall weather I adapted to a few months prior to this had packed its bags and left for its vacation away from Halifax. That first Canadian winter seemed minuscule in comparison to what else was in store for me to adjust to. Learning how to navigate icy sidewalks and master the art of layering was incomparable to the challenges that awaited me. Life would call for me to make significant transitions beginning in my second year of university.
At the beginning of my second year of university, that same first winter—the worst in Halifax in years at the time—did not seem so bad when I learned that my father died of cancer. Being here while my family was at home in The Bahamas proved its challenge. I was torn. I knew I needed to return home to my family, but I was worried about my school life. My mother needed help with the funeral plans, my younger brother needed me around to take his mind off of everything and I simply needed to grieve, but I was concerned about my marks and extracurricular commitments.
Learning the university policy and procedures around the passing of an immediate relative was new to me. I struggled with handling this on a formal level. Conversations with university faculty and staff led to suggestions of a break from studies, but this went against my father’s last wishes and against what I wanted for myself. I was overwhelmed with emotions, but I wanted to continue with school. I read through the lecture material online while in Nassau, but the lack of an in-class experience combined with other personal concerns at that time hindered me in many ways. I returned to Halifax a few days after the funeral, but my difficulties presented themselves in my final marks for both terms that school year. Although it has been two years since he died, this challenge still arises occasionally and tries to deter me, but my commitment to my education remains firm.
More recently, category four Hurricane Irma swept through many countries in the Caribbean, leaving The Bahamas impacted. Despite the unusual sun and warm temperatures we experienced in Halifax this September, the elements were not as friendly to my family and my community. It was difficult to focus and keep an interest in lectures and extracurricular commitments knowing that there was chaos and danger surrounding my family. The empathy extended to me from university faculty and staff provided me with much needed support and helped me to process all that was going on more effectively. From all the way in Atlantic Canada, I weathered that storm with my family both emotionally and mentally.
Many of us were still in the aftermath of Irma a month later. I, too, still have an ongoing process helping me to cope with all that has taken place. The notice of a hurricane beckons immediate and intense preparation; however, there is always that element of surprise that you are just unprepared for. This sometimes forces us to slow down and internally reconsider everything. When I think of the full picture of my experience since being in Halifax, there were certainly difficult moments, but there have also been great moments of triumph.
The Abbie J. Lane Memorial Building is known for its mental health unit, but the building also houses the District Stroke Program Office. For about five days a week in my third year (last school year), I was a Research Student Aide tasked with building the database for the “Halifax Endovascular Thrombectomy for Stroke Effectiveness Study”. Being an international student in Canada comes along with certain conditions that must be adhered to. Although I had a study permit making me eligible to work off campus, I had to retroactively complete more steps to be permitted to work in this healthcare setting. The role I played on the stroke program team was my daily reminder that I can reach all of my goals and encouraged me to reach my full potential. The staff I worked with during my experience at the hospital demonstrated to me the importance of hard work. Working with numbers in Excel to translate them into a format that was useful for the healthcare team within the Nova Scotia Health Authority had given me a sense of purpose. With a strong interest in medical science and research, this encouraged me to have a positive outlook and appreciate all that is within my reach in Halifax and in Canada itself.
This opportunity has humbled me and made me grateful to assist current and future neurologists with information about the Acute Stroke Protocol implemented across the province. There were many days when I doubted myself and the value I brought to the team. There were also some days I doubted my ability to be successful in the future; however, there were even more days that this opportunity fuelled me to seek out that extra help I needed to understand a topic better and to give my academics my best. The ability to work in a Canadian hospital as an international undergraduate student doing research is one of the biggest accomplishments I have achieved so far.
In my favourite quote taken from the poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost ends with the character marvelling at an unfamiliar environment, reminding himself that he “[has] promises to keep/and miles to go before [he] sleeps…” Similarly, I have goals I wish to achieve. My experience in Halifax has stretched me in many ways and shaped me into someone I am proud of, someone who is stronger than they were before leaving home to pursue education, but also someone who acknowledges that there will be many times where life knocks you down. We all have our experiences, but our response to them can be our greatest ally.