10/09/2012 01:06 EDT | Updated 12/09/2012 05:12 EST

Shad Valley 2012 -


So this summer, I spent one unforgettable month at Carleton University in Ottawa. It is virtually impossible to express every moment that made this experience out-of-this-world in one blog post, but here goes.

First of all, what is Shad Valley? A program whose motto "Drive, Stretch, Dream" is synonymous with "Live, Laugh, Love". A place where more than fifty, youth from across Canada can bond in just one month at each Shad campus. Shad Valley is where any youth can experience a healthy 2012-09-21-IMG_2502300x225.jpg dose of creativity, fun, laughter, challenge, friends, and tears (when it all ends). Want some actual logistics? Every July, around 10 Canadian universities scattered across the country play host to 500 students from all provinces/territories and even internationally. Although the program is for open-minded high school students who are not afraid to delve into any subject and become challenged or inspired in ways they never thought possible in one month, I hope to break the stereotype that this is "nerd camp". My program consisted of 56 total Shads and we lived in residence at the university. If you find yourself asking why anyone would want to go university before absolutely necessary, keep reading as I share my personal experiences from this summer.

When one thinks of university, the first thing that may come to mind are lectures and we certainly had our fair share of those. But you'd be surprised to see the subjects vary from artificial intelligence, imagination, the hedgehog theory of business, pharmaceuticals and patents. The hands-on workshops were equally as diverse, featuring activities such as d-j'ing, photography, virtual simulation, electronic music composition and the list could go on. However, we were not just exposed to a school-like environment and when we were not busy killing brain cells, us Shads were out camping, hiking/caving in Quebec, exploring the beautiful city of Ottawa, trying out yoga, squash and fencing, racing dragon boats and building sandcastles (yes, that last one is not a typo).

2012-09-21-ScreenShot20120920at9.34.43PM.png I clearly remember the first evening when I arrived at Carleton on July 1st excited but without a doubt a little nervous. Although seemingly daunting, it was comforting for all the Shads to share their hopes, dreams and fears for the next month together. Finally, what better way to end my first day on the other side of the country then by watching the Canada Day fireworks from the tallest building on campus in the nation's capital with my future family.

I just as clearly remember the three days we spent camping together at the beginning of the program. Throw 70 people together in a wildlife conservation area and you get an extremely mosquito bitten group whose newest occupation is to sing campfire songs together. Another fond recollection of mine is the karaoke nights and coffee houses we held, where I would do the unthinkable step out of my comfort zone to sing in front of my peers and then stand back and watch in awe as the other talented Shads perform. I really makes me chuckle when I think back to the time we spent at Mooney's Bay beach, and subsequently managed to convince the rather surprised beach volleyball camp sharing the place with us that we were not math and science "geeks", but rather a sandcastle building camp.

Finally, I recall, perhaps most strongly, the last evening that the 70 students and staff would share all together as we exchanged our most heartfelt, memories, sorrows, words of wisdom and goodbyes. Among other ideas, this included expressing the fact that people are like onions (complex and multi-layered), the realization that each and every one of us holds an immense power to affect the world around us and reminiscing about what makes us a true family - the latter of which there can be no set answer for. One of the Shads however, seemed to say it best - " it's strange to find the familiar in a corner of the world you've never known". In the end, it all came down to this: although we may not all see eye to eye in every situation and we are as different from each other as people can get (and no matter how cheesy this sounds): the bittersweet bonds of love we formed in one month are truly unbreakable despite distance, time and the knowledge that we will all be suffering from PSVD (Post Shad Valley Depression) for months to come.

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