Most people very likely remember where they were when they heard about the September 11 attacks for the first time. I was in school. In Canada. I had just started a year abroad as an exchange student in Medicine Hat, Alberta and it was my second week in school. My English was still, well, let’s call it tentative. I had not made any real friends yet (I always need a bit of time for that). I had just about gotten used to my new family (who were quite amazing) and was getting to the point where the newness of it all looses its power and homesickness starts to set in. I was about to get my first real culture shock. In the second period, our principal made an announcement and told everyone to turn on the radio. I couldn’t understand a word and had to ask my clearly horrified classmates what was going on. They explained and while I understood the gist of what had happened I did not understand at all what that involved. Everyone kept talking about it all through the day and I just didn’t get it. In the last period, our Social Studies teacher had a TV and video coverage of the what had happened during the morning. It suddenly struck me. I suddenly understood all the horror and when they showed the plane flying into the tower and people jumping off I started crying. So much that I couldn’t stop and the teacher made me leave the classroom. At that moment I just wanted to go home and be with my Mum. I realised, even though I was only 17 and didn’t know anyhting about anything yet, that the world had just changed and not for the better. Fear had come into my life. I spent the rest of the day and almost the whole week afterwards alternately glued to the TV or to the phone talking to my mother. Over and over again I watched the footage until my hostmother told me that it was enough and forbade me to watch the news more than half an hour a day. It was a good thing she did, I think I would have worked myself into a right frenzy otherwise. Thank you, Molly! It took me a long time to adjust to all these new things. I started to become interested in politics (I still am). The way that some people started talking about Muslims horrified me and I became an ardent believer in tolerance and defeating fear through learning about what we fear (I still am). They started the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq and I became a fierce though cynical pacifist (Istill am). 911 has shaped my life in many ways, like most of my generation. Today I remember all the men and women who died and I thank them for the good lessons they have taught me. Be brave. Stand up for what you believe. Don’t let others around you tell you what is right and wrong, discover it for yourself.
In case you were wondering: The culture shock was discovering that the only newspaper available in Medicine Hat had only one page dedicated to both national and international news. I started using the internet then and look where it got me!