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Relationship to home and place — Corbett Scholar Stuart Heslop

April 1, 2022

My first memories are of my family’s old house on Bainbridge Island, taking the ferry to or from Seattle. We moved when I was still little, and I spent my elementary and middle school years in Indiana and Tennessee. Even though I’d spent most of my life east of the Mississippi, I held onto the identity of a “Washingtonian.” Living in land-locked states, the sea was my strongest reminder of my first home. When we returned to visit Seattle years later, I remember standing on the Seattle pier waiting for the ferry—the normally off-putting smell of seaweed and salt water comforted me more than anything. The cries of seagulls still put me at ease.

When I was 14, my parents announced their decision to move the family to Edmonds. I was excited to come ‘home.’ Nostalgia, unfortunately, couldn’t account for spending the last eight years away. My identity as a Washingtonian was flimsy in comparison to classmates who had spent their entire lives living within a few miles of the Sound. I had bigger concerns in high school, though, and didn’t consider it much.

Then I started my degree at the University of Washington. Like so many young adults, college presented an opportunity for reflection, growth, and reinvention. As I waded through my American Indian Studies (AIS) major in particular, I became painfully aware of my own misconceptions about where I lived, and the superficiality of my relationship to my home region. I’ve spent much of the last few years working to better understand the history of the Puget Sound and Seattle, connect with the Puget Sound watershed’s natural cycles and understand how they impact my own life, learning and practicing the Lushootseed names for places, plants, and animals. It’s been an eye-opening experience, but I focused almost entirely on the Puget Sound—which is only half (or less than half) the story historically, ecologically, and culturally. I knew from my classes that Coast Salish cultures and the local bioregion span the Salish Sea and US-Canada border and have for millennia. I could understand that, but knowledge wasn’t enough to transform my perspective.

Despite planning to attend graduate school in British Columbia, I hadn’t really considered whether or how to acquaint myself with the region beforehand. Thankfully, I was introduced to the Corbett Exchange by my AIS advisor. Our workshop on the Salish Sea was especially enlightening, pushing me to challenge and complicate my assumptions about the region and to broaden my view of it—the relationship between the many waters that lead to the Salish Sea; the lands, plants, and animals that make the Sea what it is despite never swimming in it; the peoples and beings who travel these waters from near and far. To understand the Salish Sea, I also must understand its connections to the Frasier and Columbia, and to the Pacific, and the ways humans have chosen to divide and conceptualize these waters.

On a more personal level, hearing the stories of other students living near and across the US-Canada border has challenged my own assumptions about the experiences of Canadians in B.C. and USians in Washington. I have had to question how and why I implicitly consider the lives of those in B.C. to be so distinct from in Washington and reflect on how the border has impacted my life personally. Beginning to make connections with folks from across the border region has also been really valuable.

All in all, the workshops, events, and discussions I’ve had through the Corbett Exchange have been invaluable in de/reorienting and de/reconstructing my perspective of Washington, the Puget Sound, the Salish Sea, and my own relationship to my home. It is clear to me that this is only the beginning of a long (if not lifetime) process of learning, but my experiences so far have been challenging in the most exciting way.

The Corbett British Columbia-Washington International Exchange Program Fund provides an opportunity for undergraduate students at the University of Washington to spend two semesters at the University of British Columbia or University of Victoria; and for students from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria to spend three quarters at the University of Washington.