Sask. men cross paths at Kiwi conference

Matt Gardner
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Seems it is a small world, after all.

Prince Albert native Brett Douglas Meyer (left) and Greg Rouault of Nipawin both taught English in Osaka, Japan before meeting up again at an academic conference in Wellington, New Zealand. They later visited a lighthouse at the entrance to Wellington Habour, near the southern tip of North Island.

Brett Douglas Meyer and Greg Rouault had known each other casually for a few years while teaching English at different universities in Osaka, Japan, before discovering they came from the same region of Saskatchewan. Meyer is a native of Prince Albert, while Rouault hails from Nipawin.

After living in Japan for 15 years, Meyer applied for a PhD program in Applied Linguistics at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. But in a strange turn of events, an academic conference soon reunited him with his Osaka colleague.

“There was a language conference on independent learning … held here in Wellington, and a number of presenters and researchers came from everywhere,” Meyer said. “A lot (came) from Japan, and he was one of them. We thought it was kind of funny to have a P.A. and Nipawin boy here in Wellington attending the same conference.”

Before Meyer left for New Zealand, Rouault had discussed being accepted for the conference. But his appearance still came as a pleasant surprise for Meyer.

“We’ve seen each other several times at conferences in Japan, or maybe even Korea,” he said. “But it was quite nice to see each other here in Wellington. I had no idea he was coming all the way down here to Wellington to present. He probably heard through his grapevine that I was studying here at this university now, but it was really nice to run into an old colleague, especially since we always joke once in a while about how people from our neck of the woods are bumping into each other again at different corners of the globe.”

After the conference dinner, the pair went to the other side of Wellington Harbour for food and drinks by a lighthouse. Rouault came away with a very positive impression of the city.

“It seemed very much like San Francisco,” he said. “Lots of hills, seaside, it was pretty windy, they actually had a cable car, wineries are nearby … the architecture was even a little bit similar, and houses built on every nook and cranny and side hill and valley … It was very, very different than us flatlanders in Saskatchewan are used to.”

We thought it was kind of funny to have a P.A. and Nipawin boy here in Wellington attending the same conference. Brett Douglas Meyer

The difference between prairie life and their current globetrotting is not lost on Rouault, who was born in Nipawin, moved to North Battleford and spent his high school years in Wadena before returning to Nipawin.

“Everybody knew what kind of car everybody drove, and you feel sometimes like you’re in a bit of a fish bowl where you don’t necessarily have some of that privacy or identity,” he said. “Then you end up over here and … nobody knows you from a hole in the ground. So it is nice when some of those kind of small worlds come crashing together and you’ve got somebody who can relate very closely and — maybe more so for me — with small town people, because of … that common framework.”

Rouault said those from small towns have more in common than shared nationality.

“People who say they’re from Toronto, really, what am I going to talk to them about? OK, the Leafs suck and the Blue Jays might have a chance some year, but outside of my interest in sports, I’m not really going to relate much to anything that was happening in a big city like Toronto.”

Despite affinity for their small town roots, Meyer and Rouault are enthusiastic advocates of teaching English overseas and widening one’s perspective. Rouault still teaches at the university in Osaka, while Meyer is looking forward to his wife and children moving down to Wellington from Japan to be with him.

“Teaching English abroad can be an exciting opportunity for people — young people especially — who want to travel and live abroad and experience foreign cultures and languages and see how people live in different parts of the world,” Meyer said. “It can be a real adventure if you approach it with that kind of attitude.”

Organizations: Victoria University of Wellington, Blue Jays

Geographic location: Japan, Wellington, Nipawin Saskatchewan Osaka New Zealand Prince Albert Korea Toronto San Francisco North Battleford Wadena

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