Excellence and diversity in a global city

3 09 2012

Right now, I am sitting in a cafe (not a bar, but a cafe in the North American sense – I would say coffee shop, but I’m afraid that too has other connotations in these parts), doing some readings for a class called ‘Community and Society in a Globalized World’. Yes, even though I don’t have any classes until tomorrow, I’m afraid my summer has been cut short by 50 pages of reading. After an hour or so of reading and about only 10 pages in (yes, my brain is clearly still in summer mode), my mind begins to wander, not completely off topic, but wander nonetheless…

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been fortunate enough to meet other students from around the world. It is rather interesting to discuss cultural differences and find common ground. Particularly at Amsterdam University College, where I am currently studying, I have found the students to be very diverse, just as the AUC motto suggests (see title). Not only is the student population diverse, but the individuals are quite multifaceted and diverse. For example, I have met many students who have lived in a handful of different countries, speak an equal number of languages, even dual citizenship is rather commonplace. This certainly isn’t high school. I can’t help but think that AUC’s selection of these students was intentional. And for good reason. Like Quest, the classes are small – about 20 or 25 students, and from experience I know how much richer class discussions are when you have a variety of cultural perspectives. My experiences with the wonderfully diverse students of AUC seems to be just another example of our age of globalization.

But, I can’t help but to be mildly troubled by this sense of rootlessness, or as a friend referred to a “culture of transients” when she was presenting her undergraduate thesis. How can we really know a place when we are constantly moving about? How can we observe the discrete changes in the ecosystem if we ourselves are moving across the landscape at such a fast pace? How can we form a broad web of social connections and really create community? How can we give back to our community?

So, here I am. Caught at this crossroads, searching for reconciliation.

Then, I realize, for me, I will continue to seize every travel opportunity that presents itself, especially at this point in time. I will journey forth with a nomadic spirit and explore with my eyes wide open. Yet, I still know where home is. And who home is. I know where my roots are, and what they are so I can carry them with me wherever I go. And when it’s right, I will return to them.

As for my peers, I will be grateful for their diversity. Just as we need the specialists and the generalists, we also need the rooted and the transients. It is more interesting that way.


An ordinary weekend in the life…

23 04 2012

What a weekend! Event after event on campus kept me pretty busy, leaving little time for homework.

It all kicked off Friday afternoon, dismissed from class early and we headed up to Telus Fest in Whistler to check out the free outdoor Michael Franti concert (not so coincidental considering the holiday)! Then, back to campus for the second Cabaret production, with this year’s theme being “rhythm”. All original pieces, I was utterly amazed by the artistic talent within our little student body…from poetry to music to paintings to sculpture to short skits. Amazing! Also, the way the loading bay (yes, in our cement underground parkade) was transformed into an intimate and comfortable space.

Then, Saturday morning, we had a garage sale to mitigate the mass of stuff that ends up in the garbage at the end of the year. I might have snagged more than I sold, but what can I say, I love garage sales!

After checking out the sale, I went to a community workshop, based on this report, that involved taking an inventory of the various programs and services in Squamish and identifying gaps and possible actionable solutions. There were twelve priorities in particular, as identified in the report, including child development, learning, the environment, belonging and leadership, housing, transportation and arts and culture. I didn’t count, but a decent number of people participated, including almost all of city council and a number of other movers and shakers in the community. What struck me in particular was the number of times the word “collaboration” was used! Because collaboration is central to my Question, I have thought about it quite a bit, but I still learned (or at least reaffirmed a few things: 1) Collaboration is important, especially in the context of limiting redundancy (that occurs as a result of the “silo effect”) in the non-profit sector where funding is scarce, 2) Collaboration is elusive and ambiguous, a concept that a lot of people use freely, meaning quite different things, 3) Collaboration is difficult, mainly because it takes time that no one apparently has. I keep these observations in the back of my head as I continue to study this concept.

After this facilitation, I was quite ready to go out and dig around in the campus garden behind the cafeteria. With about half a dozen of us working, we got quite a bit accomplished – finished the fence, planted the herb spiral, made a composting bed, and I shoveled a bunch of dirt around, making the furrows and turning over the soil and working in the mulch. I also planted my little bean and pea seed babies that I had planted a couple weeks ago. They were overflowing their tray. Hopefully it isn’t too early!

Saturday night was another night of incredible talent with the term-end Classics Plus concert, from Bach and Mozart to opera to original compositions. The last performance for some of the graduates! And then, this morning, we had our 5th annual adventure race! This year, for the first time, it was at the Easter Seals camp in Brackendale (we usually have it at Alice Lake), so there was a bit less running involved. Our team was a bit on the slim side, but it was fun nonetheless, as always!

And there you have it! Now, four more days of class, and that’s all she wrote for another school year!

P.S. Two songs worth downloading…”At the Birds Foot” by City and Colour and “Big Blue Wave” by Hey Ocean!, and of course some Michael Franti!

Idea generator: “Learn to Love the Revolution”

14 03 2011

I’m proud to say that I came across my second “idea generator” without the use of the conventional Google search, or the internet at all. After a wet and snowy morning of skiing, I was ready for a warm bowl of soup. Also, about this time, I started to feel guilty about not starting my Question homework, so I stopped by the magazine racks on my way to the café. “How hard can it be to find an article that relates to my broad Question on collaboration?” As I suspected, it was pretty easy and after reading a handful of headlines, I found this one in TIME and it seemed to fit. This particular headline caught my eye because I have always had this obsession with the idea of revolution, from childhood tantrums to reading Animal Farm in grade 10 to listening to learning about the hippies of my parents’ generation to teenage rebellion to my present, slightly more sophistically political charge. And of course it relates to my Question. Isn’t revolution a form of collaboration? Although much different than Botsman’s exchange of goods and services, revolutions are another form of people coming together to address a common concern.

In this TIME article, the author identifies five persuasive reasons why the recent revolution in the Arab Middle East should not evoke international panic or concern. In summary:

  1. Inadequate provision is the common and justifiable motive for all revolutions.
  2. Despite this constant, the history of colonial rule, international relations and culture characterizes each revolution as unique, making generalizations very difficult to make.
  3. This complex interplay of factors takes time to study and understand, so patience becomes invaluable.
  4. A sense of “state power”, which often comes in the form of political institutions, is important because Twitter and Facebook cannot govern a country…yet.
  5. The West does not have the answers, nor should we impose our theoretical solutions. A revolution is a way for local people to respond to the eminent problems themselves.

TIME Magazine’s large colour photos and minimalist margins highly restricted my side notes while reading this article. Similar to Botsman’s talk, it uncovered a wide range of possible fields of study that I am deeply interested in, but I hadn’t previously been considered integrating into my Question plan, such as history and religious studies. Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised to draw parallels between this article and previous courses I’ve taken, such as Communities and Conservation and the Great Bear Rainforest. International conflict demonstrates the significance of multi-stakeholder collaboration as well as the ability to work across different levels and scales, from local to global.

Above all, I am naturally intrigued by the complexity of the situation and the opportunity to understand the political situation entices me. This level of complexity provokes an endless stream of questions, but to name a few:

a) Can we apply lessons across different scales and contexts? To what extent can we do so while being judicious about generalizations?

b) How can we practically and efficiently facilitate collaboration on this scale? What are the limits of informal mediums of collaboration, such as Twitter and Facebook? Do they offer more promise of peace and stability than nation states?