Day 124 - Noelle

Day 124 - Noelle (2nd person I approached)
May 04, 2014 - Noelle described her place as the middle child of three as being “a rose between two thorns.” Born at British Columba (BC) Children’s Hospital, Noelle’s family lived in Delta until she was in Grade nine.

“I watched Sesame Street as a young girl. They counted in French and I thought that it would be great to learn to speak French, so my parents enrolled me in a French immersion school. I had been in dance lessons from an early age. I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up. We moved to Vancouver so I could attend a school that had a sport and arts based program. I attended classes in the morning and then it was dance lessons all afternoon. We weren’t a wealthy family, and in Grade 11 I left that program and stopped taking dance classes,” said Noelle.


In Grade 12 Noelle turned to religion.

“I don’t even remember if there was a big epiphany or anything like that. A girl I had become friends with at school was a Christian and I become quite immersed in the church. As time went by I became more and more involved. I had been working at McDonald’s while going to school. I graduated from high school at 17, and I continued working in restaurants as a server. When I was 18, I went to Uganda to work with a British church-based organization. I spent my time caring for sick children and counting pills for distribution. It wasn’t really the life-changing work that I had thought I’d be involved in. I also got very sick while I was there. I had Malaria four times. It was a rough trip. I had my 19th birthday while I was in Uganda. When the year was up I came home to Vancouver,” said Noelle. She spent the next year working as a server and thinking about what she wanted to do. Her best friend married her younger brother and became her sister-in-law. 


Noelle remembers vividly having a conversation while driving in Surrey with her father. She was considering going to Bible college or University.

“I can remember the road we were driving on, the curve of that road as we were talking about school. I told my Dad I wasn’t sure I had what it takes to go to University. I told him I was thinking about Bible College instead. He told me he knew I had what it takes to go to University. He told me he believed in me, and that I could do it. It was encouraging, validating and comforting. It was a pivotal moment in my life,” said Noelle. She went to Kwantlen College and took classes in order to be able to attend University. Noelle completed her Undergraduate degree in Political Science at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

“While I was at UBC, I took an amazing class in Gender Studies. I realized that gender hadn't even been mentioned during my entire four years studying for my undergrad degree. I started to do research and became interested in The Gender Institute at The London School of Economics (LSE). I decided to go to London to visit some of the women I had met while I was in Uganda. When my father was taking me to the airport, he suggested that I take some time while there to look at schools and universities. He also said, ‘Go take look at the LSE while you’re there’ as well,” she said.


On the day that Noelle had planned to visit LSE, there was a transit strike in London.

“I went to the campus by bus, which took forever, and when I got there, I found out that the campus was essentially closed. They had cancelled all classes due to the transit strike. I decided to walk around the campus anyway, to get a feel for the place. To see if I could imagine myself going there to study. I came upon one building that had the front door open. I looked up and recognized the address. It was The Gender Institute,” said Noelle with astonishment in her voice. 


Through some fortunate encounters, Noelle found herself in the office of the school’s Administrator. They discussed curriculum and details about application and enrolment. When Noelle returned from that trip, she applied and was accepted to The Gender Institute at LSE to study for her Masters degree. Considering the cost of tuition and living abroad, Noelle deferred for one year. 


She started to make preparations. Giving up her apartment, Noelle sold most of her belongings and living with friends to save money.

“I worked as much as I could and started to take care of the  student visa paperwork,” she said. Sadly, the financing didn’t fall into place and Noelle had to decline her acceptance to the the LSE.

“That was such a difficult time for me. I became depressed and sad and disappointed. I had given up my apartment and sold all my belongings. My visa also didn’t come through, so it definitely didn’t work out. I had been volunteering with a another church and I felt let down by the people that I had spent so much time to help and assist. It seemed like no one was willing to reach out and support me in my time of need,” Noelle said.

"In hindsight, I know that wasn't their intentions, it was just how I felt at the time." At the same time, a good friend of Noelle’s was diagnosed with cancer and became quite ill.

"I went to visit her in hospital every day for about a month. It was an emotional time. I really started to examine my faith.” During this time of difficultly Noelle was introduced to man at a wedding.

“We really hit it off and became good friends quickly. He is an atheist, and we had many conversations about religion and beliefs. He had been a Christian prior to becoming an atheist. I was able to ask questions of him and his experience. The friendship helped me a great deal. I’ve learned so much through him and have really explored and expanded my own belief’s. And not just about religion. I fell in love with him,” said Noelle.


Noelle had another experience that caused her to question her faith.

“I was volunteering for an organization that works with women on the Downtown Eastside (DTES). It’s run by one man and depends on volunteers. It’s a shower program. Volunteers literally go out onto the streets of the DTES and help women to avail themselves of shower facilities and supplies. I volunteered for a season. It was heartbreaking. No one showed up to volunteer. This man is doing what he can and no one is helping him. I had been going to church and been a Christian for years but I had never willingly gone to the DTES before to help out. I started to see the hypocrisy all around me and realized that I was a hypocrite,” said Noelle. We continued to speak for a while about belief structures and the circles of life.


Last year, Noelle applied to a number of universities here in Canada.

"I got accepted to every school I applied for. I’m now half way through a two year Masters program at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. I’m studying Global Development. I just got back to Vancouver a few weeks ago. I’m here for the summer, and doing research to plan for my thesis. In September, I’ll be heading back to Uganda for four months to conduct a research study for my thesis paper. I knew when I first came back from Uganda that I’d like to go again and now I am. I also came in top in my class this year at Queens. I won a number of scholarships, and I got full funding for my Masters program as well. This is the first time I’ve gone to school and not had to worry about money to pay for it!” said Noelle. I mentioned that her father had given her some good advice, when talking about schooling. His belief in her has been validated.

“Yeah, who knew?! He sure did.” #notastranger