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Niagara Region: An Awakening of the Senses

This is the first piece in a series of three, highlighting Revilla’s experiences of being a student from abroad.

There are different ways to experience the world.

Sometimes, we grow accustomed to an environment and it takes distance (a little over 2000 miles in my case) to realize it.

It wasn’t until I moved to Canada that I began reflecting on the senses which had impregnated my world before. Coming from a vibrant metropolis like Mexico City, I rarely experienced silence. Car horns, street vendors, loud publicity in the radio, and music coming from stores weaved together into a background melody which followed me wherever I went. As I walked through the streets, my senses were sharpened with the scent of food (a combination of fried corn tortillas, beef, and of course, chili pepper) emanating from each corner, and with the heat of the sun as I pushed my way through the crowds. All this became part of a mosaic of my everyday life.

When I moved to the Niagara Region, the pieces of the landscape which constituted my daily routine were replaced by others. The presence and absence of certain senses reshaped my experience of the world. With this in mind, I endeavored to reflect on the sensations evoked by living in the Niagara Region.

As an international student, and having talked to friends from Brazil, China, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, and Russia, I can honestly say that, in the realm of the senses, we each experience the region differently. What may seem familiar to some is new to others. Yet, there are certain traits which build up the region. How can we personify it?

What does Niagara look, smell, taste, feel, and sound like? First impressions are important, but once you get to know a place, perceptions may change too. Here, we have all experienced many “firsts.”

First time in Canada, first extreme weather changes (from burning sunshine to freezing cold in a matter of hours), first time hearing so many foreign languages, first time living abroad, first time playing in a fancy casino, first time being awed by the Falls. From the start, Niagara Region seemed open and wide. The highways running through endless patches of green foliage, water, and vineyards (It only took me a few weeks to discover the eccentric icewine) constitute a unique landscape. Adding to this, the aromas evoked by the region, although not necessarily bound to this place, are freshly-cut grass, cherry blossoms, and coffee (as graduate students, it is a must). Personally, I believe taste is one of the most valuable senses. Although I have not discovered one particular flavor yet, some people agree that Asian food, wine, tropical fruits in the supermarket, poutine, and the exquisite Beechwood Doughnuts in St. Catharines are all part of living in Niagara Region.

Coming from a warm country, the strong winds I have experienced here will always be something I associate with the Region. Living so close to Niagara Falls, and basically surrounded by water, the humid winds have the ability to almost knock the senses out of me.

This, however, is contrasted with the deep breaths that one can take, inhaling the freshness and fragrances of the outdoors. Finally, the sounds, or rather the absence of sounds are also linked to the experience of living here.

Despite having different opinions, we mostly agree that Niagara Region is a peaceful place, in which sometimes we experience nothing but silence. Occasionally, we are interrupted by the humming of birds in the background, the rustling of the wind against the leaves, the speeding cars in the highways, or our own footsteps which produce a different tone as we step from pavement, to grass, to trails, to leaves, to snow, to mud, to puddles, to pebbles. The background music of my everyday life has taken a different turn.

By talking to other international students and from my personal experiences, it is safe to say that senses are inevitably mingled with memories: memories of our own hometowns and memories that we are constantly creating.

Whether it is the taste of certain food, the sight of foreign brands, or the expectations of a sound which will not come, there is a moment when you feel at home (wherever in the world) and a moment of realization brings you back to this region. Perhaps when I go back to Mexico, the absence of certain senses will allow me to re-encounter Niagara from a different perspective. Only time will tell.

Thank you, Will, Huihui, Eaman, Antonia, Ruslan, Shayan, Andrei, and Isabel for sharing your thoughts.

Sarah Revilla is a Masters Student at Brock University from Mexico enjoying her last summer in Niagara.

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