Hi! I’m Helenka 🙂
Ethnicity: 50% Czech (father’s side), 50% British Isles mix (mother’s side)
Languages: English, French
Number of countries visited: 54
– Travel (obviously!)
I love all types of travel, but these days I’m focused on adventure tourism, like trekking, rafting or scuba diving. I’m always up for an adrenaline rush!
– Ukrainian dance
When I was five years old, my parents signed me up for classes because our Ukrainian friends were involved in it. All these years later, I’m still going strong. To put it poetically, the music and steps light my soul on fire. I can’t imagine my life without it.
I enjoy going to the theatre wherever I am in the world. I have a special place in my heart for musicals, and I performed in four of them when I was in high school. Whenever I have the opportunity, I try to catch a show at the festival in Stratford, Ontario.
I devour books, especially when I’m on a trip. My Kobo is my best friend! Lately I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs and mystery novels. And it may be a Canadian cliché, but my all-time favourite book is Anne of Green Gables.
1986-2004: The Early Years
I was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I grew up in Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa. Throughout my childhood, my parents took me and my brother on trips to Europe to visit our relatives in the Southern Moravia region of the Czech Republic. We often also toured the neighbouring countries (Slovakia, Austria, Germany and Hungary). Those trips opened my eyes to the world and gave me the thirst for adventure that still burns inside me today.
I went to high school in Nepean, which is next to Kanata. In March 2003, when I was in Grade 11, I travelled to France on an EF tour. I vividly remember climbing to the top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and catching my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. That was my first of many major travel highs!
In summer 2003, I travelled with my rhythmic gymnastics team to the World Gymnaestrada in Lisbon, Portugal. For 10 days, we slept on the floor of a classroom at a school that hosted us and 400 other members of Team Canada. We performed our own routines several times, and we saw mind-blowing mass gymnastics shows. It was a wonderful finale to my rhythmic gymnastics career, which started when I was four years old and ended after that trip.
2004-2005: The France Year
French has always played a major role in my life. My parents put me in French immersion starting in Grade 1, and I stuck with it all the way through school. By the time I graduated from Grade 12, I could understand the language just fine and I could read Molière and Voltaire like a boss. However, my speaking skills left much to be desired. I desperately needed more practice!
Instead of going straight to university, I decided to do an extra year of high school in France. I lived in a host family in Tence, a commune in the Haute-Loire department. My host parents ran a restaurant and hotel, and we lived in a flat underneath the restaurant. I attended the Collège-Lycée Cévenol in the nearby commune of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, and was placed in “Terminale L”.
The year was a dream come true from start to finish. I have nothing but good memories. My host parents and siblings were incredibly kind, and I loved the other kids at my school. I had so much fun integrating into village life. I took ballet and jazz classes with other girls from the Cévenol at the local dance school. I had a great time talking to all the pilgrims who would come through Tence on their way to Santiago de Compostela. I feasted on artichokes, goat cheese and all the other amazing food served at the restaurant. The region had excellent hiking trails, and I enjoyed taking the family dog on long walks whenever I could.
During the school breaks, I did a fair bit of touring both with my host family and on my own. Some major highlights were a ski trip to Les Arcs and a visit to Palamós in the Costa Brava region of Spain. I also went on a school trip to England and Wales, where I was supposed to spend a week practicing my English 😛
Best of all, after a few months in France, I was no longer searching for my words and I could carry on a proper conversation. By the end of the year, I was yakking away! Mission accomplished 🙂 I still have an English accent when I speak French, of course. That will never disappear. But I’m told it’s adorable (it’s not!)
2005-2009: The Montreal Years
When I returned from France, I moved to Montreal to attend Concordia University. I spent the next four years obtaining a bachelor’s degree in translation.
I had a blast living in Montreal. It’s such a fantastic place to be a student. I joined the Troyanda Ukrainian Dance Ensemble and immediately found my place in the Ukrainian community. I also became a member of the Delta Phi Epsilon sorority at Concordia, and my social life exploded. My life was filled with nights out with friends, epic apartment parties, Great Big Sea concerts, visits to local skating rinks, annual trips to the sugar shack, and all sorts of other awesome things. I made friends with a group of Francophones and was able to keep up my French-speaking skills.
I did two co-op terms at Parks Canada in Quebec City. It was an absolutely beautiful place to live. I was lucky enough to be there in summer 2008, when the city celebrated its 400th anniversary. There was an endless stream of events and concerts, the most memorable one being Paul McCartney on the Plains of Abraham.
During my university years, I took several trips to the Czech Republic and Austria to visit family. In December 2008, I backpacked on my own down the east coast of Australia, then reunited with my best friends from high school for a fabulous Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Sydney.
September 2009 – March 2010: The In-Between Year
I finished my degree in June 2009. Like many grads, I had no idea what to do next. That summer, I went to my first Ukrainian dance workshop at Soyuzivka in the Catskill Mountains of New York. The workshop involved two weeks of dancing for eight or more hours a day, then a performance at the resort’s Ukrainian festival. It was Ukrainian dancer heaven!
I spent the rest of the summer in Prague taking a beginner Czech course so that I could finally speak a bit with my extended family. I would one day like to continue that program and properly learn the language.
I moved back to Ottawa and signed up for a Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) course at Algonquin College. For the practical part of the program, I lived for a month at a hotel in Milocer, Montenegro and gave the staff free English classes.
On my way home to Canada, I did some more touring in Hungary and went on my first Contiki tour in Italy.
I ended up dropping out of the TESL program because I got a job as a translator! Currently, I translate between 2,000 and 2,500 words of written French into English every work day.
March 2010 – November 2012: The Career-Building Years
I also took trips to the Dominican Republic (November 2010), Las Vegas (April 2011), Greece (September 2011) and Los Angeles (May 2012).
November 2012 – September 2013: The Round-the-World Trip
I knew that I would never be satisfied in life if I didn’t take time off work to scratch every travel itch that had been building up over the years. In November 2012, I packed a backpack, boarded an airplane and flew to Fiji. My journey took me to New Zealand, Southeast Asia, East Asia, Europe, Africa and back home. Hence the blog name, Helenka360 🙂
2013 – now: The Post-Trip Years
Since coming home to Ottawa from my round-the-world trip, I’ve been focusing on work again. That said, whenever I have vacation time, I immediately head abroad. I have continued to document my travels on this blog. I write for my family and friends, and for anyone else on the Internet who might find my adventures interesting. But mostly, I write for my own benefit to keep my memories alive.
Life is good!