Wednesday, June 13, 2012

On becoming a migrant once again

Next week I’ll be presenting a paper on labour migration at a workshop at Cornell University. But this week, I decided to become a labour migrant myself, having agreed to take up a position in the Department of Geography at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, starting August 1st.

Like many migrants, many factors weighed into my decision, some economic, some professional, many family-related. Also like many migrants, I will be leaving my current home with a good amount of reluctance. The University of Ottawa has been a wonderfully supportive place to work, I have many excellent colleagues here and made many good friendships as well. The students I have taught at uOttawa have been remarkable, I have no doubt many future leaders have sat patiently and politely as I droned on at the front of the class about things that could have been made much more exciting, but weren’t.

I will also miss the city of Ottawa, a truly enjoyable place to live, even if the winters do hang on a bit long. I will miss my neighbours, as well as the moms and dads I chat with each day at my kid’s school. I won’t miss Ottawa drivers; I’ve never seen so many distracted, red-light-runners collected in one place (and remember, I was in the foreign service for over a decade and have seen a global sampling of bad drivers). I will miss the cycle paths and easy access to paddling and forests, and it is a joy to live in a city where good museums, galleries and national landmarks are taken for granted.

Yes, I will leave Ottawa with reluctance, but at the same time will arrive in Waterloo with enthusiasm for the possibilities that await there. Until recently, it had been many, many years since I had spent any length of time in Waterloo, and my but it has grown. There is a tremendous amount of intellectual energy gathered there, with Laurier and the U of Waterloo down the street having both advanced tremendously their standing on the academic scene over the past couple decades. Waterloo’s main street, King Street, is no longer the forgettable collection of nondescript taverns and failing movie theaters I remember it as, but is now more like the attractive Wellington Village or Westboro shopping areas of Ottawa. The geography department at Laurier is a much bigger one than I’m used to, and hosts some very accomplished geographers. I hope I’ll fit in OK. I’m told I’ll get a chance to teach some first-year environmental studies courses, and I’ll look forward to it if I do, it has been one of my favourite things at uOttawa.

This Geographical Life will continue notwithstanding the change of scenery. I’m already thinking about future posts on the environmental legacy of Wilfrid Laurier (the man, not the school), on market halls as community anchors, and on old order Mennonites and the environment. But first, off to upstate New York, one of my favourite places, and what promises to be a fascinating workshop at Cornell on food security. More to come.

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