Cape Breton University in Sydney (Nova Scotia) was a long, long way from home as Karolyne Blain (now MacDonell) initially made the trek east in the fall of 2011.
"To leave home at 18, for me, was scary," noted the 27 year old former soccer star, who married a fellow CBU alum two summers ago.
"My friends were all in Sudbury - that was hard to leave behind. I'm not an extroverted person. I had a couple of rough months when I was first there, but looking back, I really found my groove after that first semester."
These days, Blain might be considered an honourary Maritimer.
Of course, between the time of her graduation from Ecole Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier and her current medical residency in Sydney, much has happened in the life of the young woman who had her jersey raised to the rafters at the home of the Capers in 2017.
Both on the field and off, Blain turned the corner quickly upon her arrival at CBU.
"Having great success in my first year I think helped me a lot," she said. "I don't want this to sound bad, but if I had moved all that way and was just sitting on the bench, I think my experience would have been much different. But having success on the field, doing well in my classes, and slowly starting to make friends helped me acclimate to being out here."
Still, it was important to Blain that life-long childhood friendships remain preserved.
"I remember on my first Thanksgiving back in Sudbury, that it was really nice to see that even though I had moved away, nothing had really changed with my friends back home," she recalled. "Everything was still the same, in terms of still having that support system that I had always had."
"My friends weren't lost."
A two-time OFSAA champion as a member of the Pantheres and standout throughout her career with the Sudbury Canadians, Blain would go on to become the all-time leading scorer in AUU women's soccer history and two-time AUS MVP, netting an astounding 53 goals in 55 games with the Cape Breton Capers.
"It probably sounds cliche, but choosing CBU was probably one of the best decisions of my life," she said. "It's a smaller university, a really tight-knit community. The professors are very engaged with the sports teams, as were a lot of the members of the Sydney community."
"You've probably heard people say that Maritimers are so friendly and kind, and it's absolutely true. They are so welcoming and warm."
Yet with her undergraduate degree in hand, it was the nation's capital that would become her next stop, completing her medical degree at the University of Ottawa. And where some might become overwhelmed at the work-load, Blain was fully prepared, in so many ways.
"The study habits that I had in high-school transferred well to university," she acknowledged. "I think that varsity athletes are used to having a little more on their plates, so it helped me become more efficient with time management and prioritizing."
"You have to balance your classes, and then you have nutrition, keeping up with your fitness, practices every day and travelling on the weekend for games. When I have too much time on my hands, I don't get anything done," she added with a laugh.
"And certainly being part of a team helped me to learn how to work as part of a group. Medicine requires a lot of teamwork, collaborating with other physicians, specialists, nurses, other health care professionals."
For as much as her varsity soccer experience added so much to her life, Blain also noted the gap that remained when her playing days were done. "I found that when I was in medical school and wasn't playing soccer, I had lost part of my identity. I ended up signing up quickly for intramurals and got involved because I thought it was important, not only for my sanity, but also the physical fitness and health as well."
In as much as the many facets of her soccer skills were recognized on the pitch, so too is the scope of knowledge that she brings to her career as a doctor. "I think I am pretty well balanced," said Blain. "I was always interested in a lot of things. People had told me to keep an open mind, just because you never know what might pique your interest."
"Pretty much throughout my time at medical school, I had an interest in pediatrics or emergency room, and also family medicine, because you get to do everything," she added. "It gives you the most diversity in terms of practice and types of patients that you see, so that's what I am currently doing in my residency."
As for her return to Nova Scotia, Blain acknowledged that it was not a decision that was completely within her control. Applying through the Canadian Resident Matching Service, she fully admits to having been open to almost anything.
"I was looking at maybe going back to northern Ontario, or staying in Ottawa, which is bilingual, a big thing for me," she said. "And then I applied out east because my husband was also pretty keen on coming back home."
According to Blain, there was not a bad choice among them.
And so she settles in, wearing a different hat than her initial move to Sydney almost a decade ago.
"One of the reasons that I liked coming back here was that I did miss the varsity level of athletics. I was happy to be back as a spectator, for the time being. I certainly see sports as being part of my life, moving forward, whether that is as a spectator, or in a coaching fashion, or maybe even a medical fashion."
She will move forward, with the memories of her time at ESMC, or with the Canadians, or with the Capers, still very vibrantly dancing around in her mind. "I think I consider them to be different memories, but with common themes," she said. "Certainly, some of the most memorable moments were big victories, whether it be at OFSAA or winning an AUS championship."
"They all kind of came in at just the right spot. There is a kind of evolution that seems very appropriate."