Scholastic and fantastic

13 06 2012

“Scholastic and fantastic” sounds so incredibly nerdy and uncool, but I’m very excited because I have just registered for courses for at Amsterdam University College. I’ll be on exchange there for the fall semester, leaving August 18 and returning at the end of December. I’ve booked my flights, applied for my residence permit and submitted my housing form, so there’s no room to chicken out now.

Here are my course selections:

From Dada to Hell’s Kitchen
This one-off special course is a seminar for upper-level students which will be offered in the fall semester. Students become familiar with concepts of Performance Art through Futurism and Dadaism in Europe and follow a historical survey into the present. They examine various artistic schools of thought and philosophical manifestos, which influence multi-artists into the 21st century. Though this is a reading and writing intensive class, it also requires weekly impromptu public improvisations inspired by what is studied in the class during that particular week. Students are equipped with video cameras and they document their public performances and audience reactions through video- recordings. They write their own manifestos, and try to influence audiences to follow them. Through the use of language, sound and space in time, silence, visual stimulation and emotional manipulation, students imply new ways of artistic collaboration.”

Basic Research Methods & Stats
This course provides a general introduction into the methods of behavioural and social research. It covers four general fields: the foundations of behavioural and social sciences, research design, data collection and data analysis.

Community & Society in a Globalized World
It is nowadays commonplace to argue that ‘globalization’ affects people’s social lives. This argument is founded on the observation that social contact increasingly stretches beyond traditional community boundaries, dissolving old configurations while at the same time creating new ones. But how does this work in practice, and how do individual persons respond to the challenges that globalization presents them with? Key to the course is to equip students with approaches, (theoretical) ideas and skills to untangle the complexities of this. The course focuses on globalization from below, i.e. on local actors and their social practices. Hence the course is critical of ‘grand’ views stressing the universality and predictability of globalizing forces.

To unpack the complexities of people’s social lives under globalization, the course explores particular linkages between the ‘local’ and the ‘global’. In this exploration, a distinction is made between social, economic and cultural aspects of globalization. To make this more concrete, the course focuses on three broad themes: i) migration and transnational life, ii) global circulation of goods, iii) cultural globalization. During lectures, key ideas and thinkers in these themes are introduced, followed by empirical case studies wherein these are applied on particular actors, products and ideas. Central throughout is what this all means for common people, and how they respond to this in different ways.

History of National Civil Rights Movements
Starting with the American civil rights movement, this course will provide students with a comparative perspective on civil rights, protest, and other collective action movements within specific nations. One of the objectives of the course is to examine how civil rights discourse as it was developed in the United States became inflected and transformed as it was incorporated by these other movements for the purpose, however, of formulating of their own specific programs and goals. Focusing on cases from different countries and time periods, students will gain and on cases from different countries and time periods, students will gain an understanding of not only the history of these movements, but also the political forces that have shaped them. Questions addressed should include: Why did these movements arise? What are their strategies? Why do they succeed or fail? These discussions will provide a framework that allows the students to more fully understand current national and transnational movements such as environmentalism, anti-globalization and minority rights.

How have I done? Hopefully these courses will further inform my Question and my Keystone project. Then, in January, back to Quest for my final semester!?! I can’t believe it. It seems like yesterday when I was driving the wagon across Canada to start at Quest. Four years, just like lickety-split!

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!

Back to the grind

5 02 2012

Just got back to beautiful British Columbia after an extended stay at home in Ontario. My mom had a minor stroke on Christmas Day, after which she was in rehab for a couple weeks and then she had to  transition to life back at home. So, I decided to stick around an extra month to support her in her recovery and encourage her along the way. Another life block! Although I struggled with the decision to stay or not to stay at the time, in retrospect, it seems obvious and I have no regrets. Fortunately, I go to a school that operates on the block program, and by taking one course at a time, I can jump right back in at the start of a new block. The way I see it, these difficult circumstances present an opportunity to learn to love, care and give of ourselves, and it only made sense to embrace this opportunity. It was also nice to spend some time with my family. Both my sisters now have their own places, so lots of changes on the home front.

Additionally, this past month, I had the chance to catch up on some other work. I was able to finish reading Cities on a Hill, one of my seminal works. Also, I was able to seek out some opportunities abroad. I applied for an exchange to either Zeppelin University or Amersterdam University College for next year. I also applied for Canada World Youth’s Youth Leaders in Action program, where participants work in teams of 18 youth (half Canadians, half from the partner country), volunteering in a Canadian community for three months, then in a community abroad for three months.

Plus, I spent some time thinking about my Question and where I might want to go with it or how I could focus it a bit more. Currently, it reads, “What is the role of collaboration in developing effective institutions?” Maybe I’m thinking about it too much, but it seems too obvious. I attended a screening of the film of The Economics of Happiness, hosted by our local Transitions group and rediscovered one of my passions that had somehow slipped off my radar – localization. Despite being problematic for my sometimes insomniac mind, it triggered lots of ideas. Here’s a snapshot from my spiral-ringed notebook of my post-film mind explosion…

Page of spiral notebook covered in chaotic writing

I missed going to Guelph Organic Conference and the Combining Two Cultures Conference on interdisciplinary education as I had contemplated, but I did have the opportunity of catching Wiarton Willie’s prediction for the first time and catch up with some friends from high school who I hadn’t seen in awhile. Despite the shortage of snow, I managed to get out for at least one snowshoe and one ski.

Next up, Identity and Perspective.

Little boxes

20 04 2011

In the absence of time to properly reflect, here is a video that encapsulates my current mental and emotional state. Caroline, a friend, member of the first ever-graduating class and one of the first people I met at Quest, performed this a week or so ago on campus. Maybe it was just my overactive perceptions filter at play, but I found it very relevant. So here it is. And expect a backlog of reflections coming in over the summer, when I have time to properly synthesize my thoughts and ideas. As of late, my learning curve has been steeper than what I can keep up with. Another week or so and I’ll be able to relax, unwind, slow down and be the confused, spontaneous 19-year old that I really am. Until then, I’ll just listen to Pete Seeger and embrace the chaos of planning Dancing Bear Music Festival, finishing my Question plan, and above all, taking care of myself and the people who I love most. Talk about perspective! I wish I had this much clarity and rationality all the time!

Wisdom from Quest faculty and staff

16 03 2011

Thus far, I have met with many faculty and staff members to discuss and organize my ideas. In the two months prior to Question block, I spoke to many faculty members to varying degrees to organize my ideas as well as brainstorm potential directions. (Check out our faculty bios here..they are pretty spectacular!) In addition, I have also shared some of my preliminary ideas with a few former colleagues and personal contacts. I have deliberately cast this wide net in order to make sure I am gaining diverse perspectives from a range of academic fields as well as personal backgrounds. I feel very fortunate that the faculty is so accessible to students as these meetings (both formal and informal) have been incredibly helpful as I try to find an academic focus of my own.

Most recently, I scheduled meetings with Andre, Jim, Court, Steve as well as a second meeting with Eric. I went into this second round of meetings with much more focus than my preliminary sessions, and was even able to propose possible Questions, such as “How can we facilitate collaboration effectively?”

  1. Focus – What is an appropriate balance between breadth and depth? How can my Question be broad enough to encompass a wide range of curricular and co-curricular interests and to provide adequate flexibility and freedom during my Concentration years? However, my Question needs to be narrow enough to offer sufficient academic focus and direction?
  2. Integration – How can I acquire a well-rounded education that integrates concepts from different disciplines in a meaningful, multidisciplinary way? To what extent is it possible or even desirable to pursue both arts and sciences with equal rigour?

My goals for these meetings were to:

  • Gain perspective on the importance of focus and integration when forming a Question.
  • Receive constructive feedback on the wording of my Question
  • Identify some relevant sources of information that would aid further independent research, such as search words, topics, disciplines and possible readings

During these meetings, I gained a lot of insight about some possible areas that I would like to further explore as well as some specific courses that might be relevant to my anticipated academic journey. I was pleasantly surprised by the meaningful links I was able to identify between seemingly different fields, all occurring within the scope of my Question. For example, Court identified parallels between natural resource management and human resource management. Furthermore, population models used in the life sciences could inform human population models. On the other hand, Andre and Jim highlighted the importance of first defining the terms that I am using, such as management and collaboration, to make sure I mean what I am saying, after all definitions can be subjective. In addition, Andre suggested that I also define the anti-theses of these terms. Rather than strictly thinking about the motivations for collective action, he suggested it might also be useful to look at individualism.

Also, out of pure coincidence, I also began talking to Steve, our new international admission counselor. I described the nature of my Question, and then asked about his academic background. As it turns out, he has an Honours degree in Sociology, a discipline that Eric had directed me to during our meeting a day earlier. Sociology is defined as “the study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society.” Steven has also worked in varying capacities within the field of institutional organization. According to Steven, I am destined for a career in human resources. I have fully processed that notion quite yet, but I’ve accepted it for now. Similarly, I learned that Vanessa, our university librarian, is currently undertaking graduate studies in leadership. She is currently writing a strategic plan for the library, which serves both her responsibilities for work as well as one of her courses. Coincidentally, I plan on writing a strategic plan for the Quest Students’ Representative Council (SRC) as experiential learning over the summer, so she will be an incredible resource. Melanie has also been extremely helpful in the past couple months as I attempt to integrate both my curricular and co-curricular activities. Once again, I am completely intrigued by the professional and personal backgrounds of the staff and faculty at Quest, and their willingness to take time out of their daily work to exchange ideas with students.

Also, Eric proposed a few more possible Questions: i) “What is the role of collaboration in political and social organization?”, or more broadly, ii) “How do institutions transform themselves?” Alternatively, in consideration of David’s suggestion, I could merge the two to read, “What is the role of collaboration in institutional transformation?” As you can tell, each of these versions has a slightly different focus. I’ll keep all three for now.

My next step is to start the next round of research, based on the keywords that I received. A long day in the library for me, but luckily, I am so interested and excited about my Question that it won’t even really feel like work. I was hesitant and overwhelmed at first, but I think I’m going to like this whole Question thing after all.

Resurrection…take 2

9 03 2011

Here I am, back to the blogosphere, resurrecting my blog for the second time. Rather than lack of virtue, I hope my inconsistency represents the dynamic relationship with technology as well as the evolving prioritization in my life.

What brings me back this time around? Well, in short, my exploding brain necessitates a place to reflect on my ideas and . I am currently taking my Question block with none other than Mai, the instigator of my deepest deliberation since coming to Quest University.

So, here, over the next block and maybe beyond, I will be tracking my journey towards my Question (with a capital Q!). My Question plan will be my road map for the second half of my academic career at Quest. I can’t wait!