The Travelling Student – Beginnings

My name is Philip Kirkbride. I’m a college graduate from Ontario in the field of Multi-Media Design and Production working on upgrading to my Bachelor’s Degree at Athabasca University (AU). I’ve always wanted to do an exchange program or study abroad but never found the right fit or time to do so. This is the story of how I decided to make my own study abroad program using the flexibility of AU.

I’ve been an AU student for a little over a year now, doing courses part time while working as a web developer in Waterloo Ontario. When the area’s tech giant, BlackBerry, started doing badly, I was laid off and found it tough to find any work that interested me. I decided that there would be no better time to finish my Athabasca degree. I down sized from my two-bedroom apartment to a single room in my hometown, London, Ontario.

While it was great to catch up with family and friends, I quickly grew bored there. A friend of mine, Matt, who does seasonal work, told me he was leaving Alberta, where he had been tree planting for the summer, to go do brush cutting in Northern Quebec. He offered to stop by and pick me up on the way, he could even get me a job with him at the final destination.

Matt had always been a sort of maverick traveler. Only a few months after we finished high school, over 6 years ago, Matt decided to hitch hike his way from Ontario to BC. While everyone from our school thought he was crazy and would likely die on the trip, he made it all the way to BC and back. Over the last 6 years he had worked all over the country doing interesting jobs, like picking exotic mushrooms in the wild, tree planting, and forestry. I lived vicariously through hearing about Matt’s travels and journeys.

Any other time I probably would have turned down the offer as impractical, but with little opportunity in London I figured this was my chance to have a crazy adventure. With only a three-course workload from Athabasca, I could work on my classes just as easily from Quebec as I could from London.

A few weeks later he arrived. I helped him in his Dad’s shop as he repaired four giant saws using a welder and some spare parts scavenged from old lawn mowers. As someone who had, in the past, mainly worked on computers I watched in a amazement as scrap metal was turned into highly valuable saw parts (each saw being worth $1500 a piece).

When everything was ready we packed his 16-year-old SUV with equipment, clothing, and of course a few Athabasca textbooks. Our destination was Val D’Or, Quebec, which translates to Valley of Gold. We had two choices in which route we could take. The first route was slightly quicker and would involve going through Northern Ontario past North Bay. The second was slightly longer but allowed us to travel through a more popular area heading from London to Toronto to Kingston to Ottawa and then roughly 5 more hours northwest to the final destination. We left that morning not knowing which route we would choose, but, either way, we first had to head toward Toronto.

On the way to Toronto we weighed the benefits of each route. The brush-cutting season had already started, so we were in a big hurry to get there quickly and the Northern Ontario route would ensure that. On the other hand, we might end up needing to stop at a hotel that night, and finding one in Northern Ontario would definitely be a bit more difficult. About 10 minutes from the exit we would need to take to head north we still hadn’t decided?and a decision had to be made.

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