Begin in Cape Breton and drive just about 1,720 kilometres down the coast and you’ll find yourself in Richmond, Virginia, the hometown of Annabelle Bugay. Although Richmond is where Annabelle’s story begins, it was actually in Ireland that the young musician and dancer first heard about her future home, Cape Breton University.
While pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Irish Music and Dance at a university in Ireland, Annabelle learned about CBU through her school’s study abroad program. At the time, despite her interest in Cape Breton and its music and dance traditions, Annabelle wasn’t sure if she was ready to jump to another country after having just gotten settled in Ireland.
As fate would have it, while performing in Austria, Annabelle unexpectedly ran into an upper-year classmate who had just completed his study abroad term at CBU. “He had nothing but good things to say about his time in Cape Breton,” says Annabelle. “The whole evening was just so serendipitous that I filled out my application from my tiny phone in the hotel the next day. And thank goodness I did because I unknowingly made the best decision of my life.”
Before arriving at CBU, Annabelle’s excitement outweighed her nervousness and she couldn’t wait for the new adventure. After arriving, Annabelle says the magnitude of her decision set in and she felt a little more nervous, but her nerves quickly dissolved after meeting Mario and Carol Colosimo. The Colosimo’s love helping international music students explore the Island, encouraging them to become involved in the music scene by performing at various events. “By the end of my first month I felt so settled and welcomed into Cape Breton that I felt like I had been living here for much longer than I had,” says Annabelle. “A month later I felt so attached to CBU and the Island that I decided to transfer universities and make this my new home.”
Now, Annabelle is a full-time student at CBU, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts Community Studies in Music and Folklore and says she loves the new challenge of academia as opposed to the more conservatory-like setting of her previous university. A champion Irish dancer and talented pianist, Annabelle says coming to Cape Breton has also provided opportunities to expand on her skills. “The piano is more commonly found in Cape Breton music than Irish music,” she explains. “And the prevalence of step dancing and square dancing has allowed me to learn and incorporate local styles into my own dancing.” In addition to the great learning opportunities, Annabelle says her favourite part of the music scene in Cape Breton is how kind and welcoming the people are. “The camaraderie I’ve experienced among musicians, dancers, and those who simply enjoy listening and watching is immense,” says Annabelle. “I’m about to do what I love while being surrounded by good company.”
To those considering studying abroad at CBU, Annabelle says she would absolutely recommend it. “CBU has so much to offer music students on exchange, from wonderful course selections to attentive and helpful professors,” she says. “On top of that, the music scene is vibrant and having the chance to attend events such as Celtic Colours is an invaluable opportunity.” But as Annabelle likes to say, she came for the music but stayed for the people. “As much as I recommend studying abroad at CBU for the education and musical opportunities, the highlight is truly the sense of community in Cape Breton,” she says. “It’s something you must come and experience to believe.”
When she’s not dancing up a storm or perched behind the piano keys, Annabelle is working hard to soak up as much knowledge as possible in the classroom. As for what comes next, Annabelle’s options are open, be it sticking around for a while after graduation, pursuing a Masters in Folklore, or returning home to open a dance school. No matter where life takes her, Annabelle says there’s one thing she knows for certain, she’ll always keep visiting Cape Breton.