Morning y’all and welcome to the blog! This week I am highlighting one of my best friends from Vancouver – Martin Derige. For those of you who know me, even decently well, you know that I usually always have a smile plastered on my face. Well, Martin is no different. In fact, when we started the interview for this post Martin asked, “What percentage of the conversation do you think we will both be smiling?” Our bets were 96.5% of the time. Lol! Needless to say, I am super excited to share some of Martin’s journey and his thoughts on various topics with you all.
Martin is another one of those lovely people I have had the privilege of teaching with. I met Martin in Vancouver while working together at BrainBoost Education. This school has the ability to hire the most incredible people who challenge you to be yourself and to reflect on the beauty of life everyday. It is no wonder that Martin is one of their longest lasting employees because I feel like these values really speak to him.
We weren’t super close when I first started working at BrainBoost, but Martin’s smile was too infectious to not be drawn to him. It took a bit of time for us to actually hang out. However, once we did we became almost inseparable. It also helps that him and Keenan became really close. In fact, there were four of us – Martin, Keenan, Emily and me – who spent almost all of our time together over the last few months that Keenan and I lived in Vancouver. These were some of the best months of my life and I will cherish those memories forever. But more on that later.
Martin was born in the Philippines and immigrated to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada when he was around one or two. Though he has lots of family still there, he hasn’t visited in almost 20 years. He is the middle of three children with an older brother, Mark, and a younger sister, Gretchen.
I feel it is important to mention the date of Martin’s birth for several reasons. One reason is that his birthday – October 24th – is my half birthday. So it’s like we were meant to be friends, right?! Another reason is that his birthday is very mathematical. October 24th, or 1024, is 2 to the power of 10. Martin also pointed out that my birthday is quite mathematical because 4! is 24 and my birthday is April 24th, or 424.
Now, don’t be thrown off by all this math talk. This is just a way of life for Martin and myself. Remember how I mentioned Martin’s question about what percent of our conversation would we both be smiling? Well I failed to mention until now that Martin also suggested we graph the outcome. Lol! This is just one of the many reasons why I love Martin. 🙂
In February of 2010, Martin moved to Surrey, British Columbia after he graduated from university. For those that don’t know, Surrey is a suburb of Vancouver. He basically moved with two bags – one of clothes and one of books. It was sort of a sudden move, and it was pretty challenging for Martin during the first winter he was there. He had moved with his cousin, but that was the only person he really knew. Keep in mind that Martin has many strong friendships he left behind in Winnipeg. He likes to say that one of the perks of living in the middle of the country where there is so little to do is getting to focus on communicating with people and building strong relationships through that communication. He mentioned that some of the best people in his life still live there and he misses them greatly.
When discussing the difficulties of being away from his friends and family, Martin mentioned that he never had a problem being away for extended periods of time, not even when he was part of the Shad Valley Program. If you’re scratching your head like, “Uh, what’s that?” well, I thought the same thing too. Martin went on to explain that this is a fairly competitive program offered in Canada to academic keeners in Grade 11. Martin took part in this program in the summer between Grades 11 and 12 at Memorial University in Newfoundland. It was a one month long program where 50 students lived in a dorm and took classes on engineering and entrepreneurship. He said it’s basically like a month-long summer camp for nerds. Lol! It sounds like so much fun and I am super envious that I never experienced anything like that.
Eventually Martin moved from Surrey to Burnaby, which is technically another suburb of Vancouver, but it’s practically Vancouver itself. One of the reasons he was so happy to move to the Vancouver area is because he didn’t need a car to live there. In fact, Martin said he would be content to go his whole life without owning a car. He mentioned that he thinks a lot less people would own a car if they thought of it more as an option and not a necessity. For him, it’s a health thing and an environmental thing.
Speaking of health, Martin is one of the most active people I know. He is always biking everywhere, like we just discussed above :), and he is an avid climber. He loves moving his body for several reasons, one being that it just feels good. Also being in shape just makes life easier. You sleep better when you exercise, which allows you to wake up and start the next day a bit better. And the cycle continues on and on. He mentioned how your body is a tool that gets better at doing things the more you use it. For example, Martin climbs every day, and his body gets better at it each time. Whereas a tool like a knife gets more dull the more you use it. I find it super cool to think about your body in this way, and Martin is always full of these cool ideas.
Continuing on the topic of hobbies, learning is a big one for Martin. In fact, when I think of Martin this is one of his biggest defining characteristics. Life long learner = Martin and Martin = life long learner is how I see it in my head. He does the New York Times (NYT) crossword puzzle religiously and plays a related game called Spelling Bee on his phone to help keep his brain active. Martin’s love for the NYT stems from his childhood. He didn’t get an allowance growing up, but he got a dollar each time he finished the daily crossword puzzle. Perhaps Martin’s parents are just as nerdy as him, and I mean this in the best way possible! Lol!
Moving on to Martin’s passions, it might seem like the environment is his main passion, but really it’s people. In order to understand this better, let’s first dive into Martin’s education. Martin went to the University of Manitoba and got a bachelor of science degree in biosystems engineering specializing in environmental engineering. Martin finds that taking care of the environment allows people to enjoy their life longer. This is one of the reasons he bikes and is mostly vegan. It’s also one of the reasons he doesn’t think he wants to have kids in the future. So the environment is not the passion for Martin, but rather the avenue in trying to make people have a better quality of life long term. Taking care of the environment guarantees that for as many people as possible and for future generations. The fact that each subsequent generation’s lives are worse because of how the previous generations have treated the environment doesn’t sit very well with Martin. The human experience is so unique. Our brains are the most sophisticated and hardest thing to understand and imagine. So the human experience is something worth protecting, and taking care of the environment helps do this. He thinks that people living awesome lives is what everyone should fundamentally care about the most.
I found it very interesting when Martin said he doesn’t want kids of his own because I have seen how well he engages with children of all ages. He says it’s partly a biological drive thing, but also because of the environment, like I mentioned above. A child will have their own environmental impact, but you as a parent provide that impact. If he has a child and that lineage continues, then he’s created an even bigger level of impact. So basically if he adds to it, then it affects other people as well. He also feels like he has a lot of kids from being a teacher. His job provides an outlet of being around kids that being a parent would provide. If he wasn’t a teacher, he would probably consider the idea of having kids more. He does think that having interactions with younger kids and people outside of your age range is so good and so helpful because it gives you a perspective different than your own.
We moved on to discuss a book called The Body by Bill Bryson (US link here) where things about the brain are explained in layman’s terms. Martin mentions how we all have a brain and we have it for free! That’s one thing that makes the brain so great. But this is also a reason why religion is kind of weird for Martin. He feels like the thought of a god designing your brain takes away from your own freedom.
We then discussed religion a bit. Martin is not religious in any way. He doesn’t believe there is a god, which would technically make him atheist. He mentioned that a lot of people would find that extreme, but people who are religious are atheist for all other gods that are not their own. I find this thought so interesting because it’s so true! Martin thinks of a god as the forces of the universe. This is because the universe dictates what is going to happen, but it doesn’t care what he does or the actions he takes. He does say there are a lot of great values that come with religion, but a lot of history and baggage come with it as well. He wouldn’t try to convince people who are religious otherwise, this is just his own opinion on the topic.
To stay sane Martin strives to connect with people regularly. That is one reason why COVID has been so challenging for him. In fact, he went through a depressive bout during lockdown because of the lack of connection with people. Mental health and depression runs in his mom’s side of the family, so when he started to not feel like himself, he reached out to a hotline for assistance. He mentioned how an hour long conversation with a stranger was very helpful for him. He did reach out to his family and a friend who is a counselor, but hearing a stranger say similar things to him that his loved ones were saying resonated with him a bit differently. This is because those close to you see you through a certain lens and may have a skewed perception of you. But this idea is removed when talking with a stranger.
He is feeling much better now, and wouldn’t hesitate to call the hotline again. Knowing that there is a resource like that is very helpful. Martin would consider regular therapy if he felt low like that again because he thinks therapy is a good tune up for your brain. However, he doesn’t know if he needs a tune up just yet. Also, it’s a money thing. We both agreed that therapy should be free, but that’s a whoooole nother topic for a different day.
Going back to BrainBoost for a moment – I mentioned how there are some truly incredible people that work there. Well, I myself had a major bout of depression when I worked at BrainBoost (completely unrelated to working there), and started taking depression medication that I am still on to this day. But one thing that really helped me was chatting with Martin and another colleague named Markie in the mornings. We were some of the first people to school each day, and as we would be prepping for the day ahead, I would occasionally mention something that I was struggling with emotionally. Both Martin and Markie would provide me with little snippets of support, which is exactly what I needed at the time. I knew that they were there for me and I trusted them. Looking back on it, I feel so fortunate for both of them. I don’t think either of them knew that I was going through such a hard time, but they were so open to chatting with me. They provided me with enough motivation and encouragement that I felt like I could tackle the day ahead. Though Martin didn’t realize how much I was struggling at the time (I’m very good at hiding it), he remembers how we would all walk away from the moment feeling enriched and ready for the day ahead. Martin iterated that that space operates that way for all of us. Again, I cannot thank the two of them enough for their support during that time.
As I said above, the people I have met through BrainBoost are incredible. They helped me grow and become more content in being myself. Martin is one of the key people that has taught me that. He thinks that being able to be authentic and genuine is so important for your health and happiness. If you have to fake who you are or feel insecure about where you are at in life, then it is such a hard state to live in.
There are so many things to love about Martin, but the main thing that stands out to me is his heart. Whatever he does, he does it with love. He reflects deeply about himself and his own experiences, but also about the journeys of others. He is never one to judge and truly wants the best for every single person.
I have had so many amazing moments with Martin, but one that I will never forget is the day Keenan and I moved from Vancouver to Calgary. We were leaving at 5 in the morning because we had a long drive ahead of us. Emily drove from her place and Martin biked 45 minutes from his place to see us off. He remembers that bike ride as something so unique and special because he didn’t have to stop once. His feet never touched the ground the entire 45 minutes. Keenan and I were so excited to start our new chapter in Calgary, but completely heartbroken about leaving some of our best friends. We shared so many hugs and ‘I love you’s. It’s a moment I will never forget because I truly felt so loved and like I had the best friends in the world.
Now every time I see Martin it is not uncommon for us to link arms and chat the day away. We always reflect on our friendship and it never fails that some (or many) references are made about math and how it operates in our daily lives. I will always cherish my friendship with Martin as one of the most special relationships I have in my life. No matter what kind of mood I am, it instantly improves by just seeing his smile. I feel very, very lucky to know him and call him my friend.
In closing, Martin wants to share that there is nothing special about the Martin experience, though I beg to differ. He says he is the end result of having parents and teachers and friends that cared and nurtured him so well. He says there is no magic sauce to ending up like him. So if students and kids are nurtured in the right way, there’s going to be little Martins running all over the place. The environment you are privileged to be a part of definitely does shape you, and Martin is aware of that and wants to pass that along. Thinking that he is just lucky and that it is others who have made him this way is such a “Martin thing”. He is too humble to admit that he might play a role in how awesome he is. When I mentioned that to him, he again said that it is only because his parents instilled these values in him. He said his parents were strict when he was young, but he always felt perpetually loved and cared for. And this allowed him to grow into the person he is today.
This is a great reminder for me as a teacher and as a mother. I have the ability to mold and shape Andee and those around me. I feel it is important to be firm in what I believe in, but make sure these children know they are so loved, just like Martin’s parents did for him. And hopefully, I too can help spread little Martins all over the place. What a magical world that would be. <3
If you or anyone you know would be a good fit for my Feature Friday series, please leave a comment below or message me on Instagram. As always, thank you for reading and happy day y’all!