On the road: Engineering a journey across Canada

Abdullah Barakat outside in his coveralls.In Abdullah Barakat’s final days before convocation, he decided to take a road trip across Canada, visiting the different engineering programs of different schools in the country. As a student graduating from the University of Waterloo with a degree in mechanical engineering, he wanted to take a chance and see what he could learn from each province and institution in April 2018.

Then, he created The Road Trip of the Travelling Covies blog, where he wrote about his day-to-day experiences travelling cross-country.

During his time on the road, Abdullah visited “40 cities, stayed in 29 different homes, drove 19,537 kilometres, visited 47 schools, returned to Waterloo within 43 days, and made a lifetime of memories.” While exploring the different areas, he also wore coveralls (also known as covies) with various patches he made for each of the places he visited.

I was able to sit down with Abdullah and learn about how he immersed himself in the different cultures of various cities and schools, and how the trip changed his perspective on how other Canadians live and challenged his personal growth.

What inspired you to travel on a road trip across Canada?

Abdullah: It was a combination of knowing people in every university in Canada and the fact that I wanted to learn more about the engineering culture everywhere else. It was so awesome to see Canada as a whole because a lot of my friends went to Europe and Asia, but I hadn’t even explored the country I lived in for most of my life!

Why did you decide to blog about your trip?

Abdullah’s road trip schedule to 47 different schools across Cananda.Abdullah: It’s funny because the idea at first seemed impossible, as I had to make enough time to get back for convocation and only had about 40 days. However, the more I planned out the logistics, the more possible it seemed. So I decided to devise a schedule and I followed that schedule to a tee. Then, everyone kept asking me to keep them updated so I thought “you know what, I’ll just blog every single day.” I also used the blog as something to look back on because I’ll always remember the trip but it’s easy to forget the little details. Even though it took two to three hours to write a post each night, it was worth it in the end.

How did the different cultures of each campus compare to Waterloo?

Abdullah: Waterloo is a unique beast since co-op is such an integral piece of what we do, versus other schools where it isn’t as prominent.

Also, at places like UBC (University of British Columbia), McGill (McGill University), and UofT (University of Toronto), there are always events happening that differ from the university, because they are in such major cities. Whereas, Waterloo has more of a student life on campus.

However, we all share the same student struggles. Every school is bound to have bad profs and unbearable schedules, but it also has community and a fresh perspective, which is very cool.

A collage of different Abdullah visiting Laurentian University, UBC, and Queen’s University, the University of Sherbrooke, and Universite Laval.What is the backstory behind your coveralls (a.k.a covies?)

Engineering coveralls with patches from different Canadian universities.Abdullah: I was inspired by my friends at the University of Saskatchewan because they’ve gone on two road trips and they made their own patches. I thought it was a good idea, so I went with it.

I went completely dressed in my coveralls and I made my own road trip patches to give to people to thank them every step of the way. I made 100 patches and would give them away whenever someone gave me food or a place to stay.

Can you share some unforgettable spots you visited?

Abdullah: I got to stop in Wawa, Ontario where I saw Canada’s largest goose. I stopped off in Drumheller, Alberta where I saw the world’s largest dinosaurs and in Victoria, B.C I saw the world’s largest totem pole!

Abdullah visiting the world’s largest goose.

What has this experience taught you?

Abdullah: People say Canadians are nice but they don’t understand just how nice they actually are. I was on the road for so many days and I only stayed in my car once because everyone was so hospitable!

How have you grown as a person from this experience?

Abdullah: It made me go out of my comfort zone since I have never been outside of Ontario before. I also learned how welcoming people can be while getting to see so much of Canada, which not many people can say. I got to see so many things that I didn’t even know existed before this trip. It goes to show that there’s so much you can see in your own neighbourhood.

Has it changed your perspective as a graduated student?

Abdullah: I haven’t really been out of the Waterloo engineering bubble for years, and I had the chance to expand my bubble and reach out to others. I was able to build so many connections along the way. As someone who is now in search of a job, it made me open to the possibilities of going anywhere in Canada. I feel comfortable moving now because I now know one or two people in each place.

Abdullah’s journey allowed him to reflect on his experiences and view many different cultures that were unfamiliar to him. It was amazing to hear his first-hand account of achieving his goal and crossing this experience off of his bucket list.

Read more about Abdullah’s road trip on his blog, The Road Trip of the Travelling Covies, and view his Instagram page @abdullahdollabills for more photos of his time in 40 cities.

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