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Clinging to the comfort of culture, a long way from home

Like most university freshmen, Vanessa McKinnon is adjusting to plenty of new in her first semester of nursing studies at the Universite de Moncton - undoubtedly more than normal, once one combines the global pandemic with her role as a member of the varsity women's hockey team.

Thankfully, there is comfort to be found in a culture that the graduate of College Notre-Dame holds near and dear to her heart, even while miles from home.

"My dad's side of the family is all english, but my mom's side (Chartrand) is all french," said McKinnon. "At home, I speak to my mom only in french. With her relatives, it's only in french."

"We're actually coached in french, and on campus, all of our friends speak french, primarily. With my two roomates, it's only in french - so it's a lot of french."

In that sense, September 25th was a very special day for the group, as the seven skaters who travel from the same province as McKinnon to compete with the Aigles Blues in Atlantic University Sport competition celebrated the "Journee des Franco-Ontariens" last month.

"We put together a little video clip that was posted on our university Instagram and Facebook," explained the graduate of the Sudbury Lady Wolves program. "We gathered on the ice and kind of gave a shoutout to all franco Ontarians to enjoy the day."

With all that is going on these days, McKinnon was thankful for some return to the norm. Some of that has come courtesy of her new hockey regimen. "Last Wednesday, we started practicing and we've practiced every day since," she said.

"We're on the ice Monday to Friday, with mandatory off-ice three times a week, but recommended five times a week. I like how busy I've been keeping, both with the on-ice and gym workouts. It's a nice way to get out of the house."

As of the moment, U Sport has indicated that no regular season game competition will take place until at least January of 2021. If, however, the governing body confirms this month that the targetted start date is a definite go, then exhibition games could begin as early as November.

For as much as numbers are generally spiking, McKinnon and company are not feeling a whole lot of stress. "I'm not sure of the exact number, but I believe our numbers (in Moncton) are next to nothing," she said. "We have our own bubble and when you come into the bubble, you have to quarantine."

"They are very, very strict here," she added, noting that she received at least a half dozen phone calls confirming her whereabouts during the course of her 14-day isolation upon arriving in the Maritimes.

With that behind her, it's time to begin focusing on her development on the ice. "I think I've been able to fit in, I guess, but the speed is a lot higher than midget AA, and it's a lot more aggressive," she said.

"I have to work on my aggression and my stick-handling. For me, it's about battling harder and being more aggressive in the corners."

And when practice is done, there is comfort to be gained from her immersion with a language and culture that reminds Vanessa McKinnon of home.

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