Friday, October 30, 2009

Shared Space: Living in Community at The Menno Simons Centre

Sharing space, both personal and public, is viewed and acted upon differently throughout the world. In western cultures, we tend to like our privacy, independance, and personal space--the warmth of communal gatherings is more or less sought out when the holidays come round, meetings and events take place, or when personal grief or celebration warrants obligatory (and mostly welcomed) solidarity. That this is a massive generalisation, I'm well aware, however, spend any amount of time in a 'warm-climate culture' and you'll realise that from Southern Asia to the Arab World to Latin America and even the Deep South, the notion of being in someone's 'bubble' is not taken nearly as seriously as it is in the cold climates of the 'west'. If you've traveled to any place where the only time you find yourself alone is the on the can (or hovering above a hole) you know precisely what I'm talking about!
I mentioned the various types of occasions in which 'westerners' (and I use that term very loosely--this I say just to keep the politically correct off my back) congregate, but very rarely do we ever choose to live together unless we're family. One of the few opportunities to do this, aside from joining the military, comes in the form of dorm life. I always wanted this experience, and had the privilege of living with dozens of other students between ages 18-35 over the course of a couple years at a place called the Menno Simons Centre, located in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The Menno Simons Centre is a dormitory open to Christian students no matter the denomination they belong to or the post-secondary institution they attend. A former convent, the MSC was started by a group of Mennonite church members and professionals (including my great aunt and uncle) who wanted to provide a place for students to live while pursuing their studies. Near the University of British Columbia, Regent College, and several other Vancouver-based institutions, the old convent was the perfect location for such a residence. Over twenty years later, the MSC still maintains itself as a place for students to live and grow in community, with plenty of communal space, events, and of course, chores (but thank goodness our own rooms)!
While I was attending the Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design (now Emily Carr University) I lived for two years at the Menno Simons Centre, and visited frequently the year after as my sister and several friends moved into the building. Throughout those years I solidified some amazing friendships, worked through some of the trials that come with community living, and enjoyed some unforgettable experiences. Since then I've kept up with many former residents, photographed many of their weddings, and continue to be blessed by my time at Menno. Menno was one of the best things about life in Vancouver for me, and I truly hope and pray that the Centre continues on in the spirit and tradition it currently upholds.

If you ever get a chance to experience living in community in some form or another, I highly recommend it--my own travels and ability to adapt to other cultures and ways of doing things have been shaped immensely by my years at Menno, and I am a more well-rounded person because of them.


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