Author: Student Ambassador (Page 1 of 40)

Learning on Estamos: the special, the scary, and the silly

This fall, eight students traveled to Guatemala as part of CMU’s Estamos program. They lived, worked, and studied there for three months. Now that they’ve returned, the Estamos cohort is sharing their experiences with the broader CMU community. Here are some highlights and memories from their time in Guatemala.

One of my highlights from living in Guatemala this past fall was when I moved locations in November to complete my practicum credit. I lived in Santiago during this time, which is a smaller Indigenous community. Every morning, I looked out of my window and had a view of Lake Atitlán and a nearby volcano. I grew so close to my host family during this time. I lived with two sisters and their parents who all cared for me. I am so grateful for the opportunity I received to live with them and learn about their Indigenous culture and ways of life. One month is short, but I will always remember the meaningful time I spent with this family and how warm and loving they were with me. At the end of November as I was preparing to return home, my host family gave me a gift so I could always remember our time together. They embroidered a Quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird, on the back of my jean jacket. As I traveled home with this new embroidery, I was reminded of why I had come to Guatemala in the first place: to connect and learn from people who are different from me in many ways, yet also so similar. The Quetzal is a symbol of achieving this goal. It represents the many lessons, memories, and relationships I gained from this experience that are now a part of who I am.

  • Jillian Recksiedler, third-year Bachelor of Arts, Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies major

My experience living in Guatemala for three months was rich in many different ways. It was rich in culture, laughter, challenges, and learning. I feel very grateful and privileged that I had this opportunity to learn what it is like to live in a different country, culture, and language. While the experience was exciting and positive, it was also scary. I was pushed in ways I never have been before—and I will continue to reap the benefits of that for a very long time. One experience that pushed me out of my comfort zone was living with an Indigenous Maya family for the month of November. It was difficult to adjust to at first. There was only one sink, which was used to wash hands, clothes, and dishes. There was no hot water, and sometimes the nights got very cold in my room. Through this experience, I learned about the beauty and benefits of simple living—something that I feel was necessary for me to experience. I have taken so many things for granted here in Canada. I am thankful that my social location has become clearer to me, which has led me to have a better understanding of how our societies function. I will continue to learn about this experience and integrate the lessons it has given me for the rest of my life.

  • Grace Bruinooge, fifth-year Bachelor of Arts, Communications and Media major

One Saturday morning, my host brother and I headed to the neighbourhood outdoor court to play basketball. Julian was about a foot-and-a-half shorter than I was, and much stockier. Although he was a better shooter than I was, I could stand in front of him and block every shot he attempted. We dissolved into a hopeless case of giggles as he shot time and time again with no hope of getting the ball past me. With my little Spanish, I tried to teach him the game “HORSE,” which does not involve playing defense. Since I couldn’t remember the word “horse” in Spanish, we played with the word arbol (“tree”), which I had learned that day. Thinking arbol had an “e” at the end, I got to shoot an extra round even though I should have been out. Julian was kind enough not to correct me as I shot for the non-existent “e.” What I thought would be an embarrassing revelation of my poor basketball skills turned into a hilarious, confusing, bonding experience. My first weeks in Guatemala consisted of many moments like this one, trying desperately to communicate, but ending up in fits of laughter over what I was trying to get across, and what the other person was understanding. The richness lay in finding avenues that brought us together, even if we could not always understand each other.

  • Danika Warkentin, fourth-year Bachelor of Arts, Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies major

A reflection on the loving and eating in Eat, Love, Reflect | Mike Thiessen

When John Boopalan gave a 90-second pitch of his upcoming course, Eat, Love, Reflect, at the annual course launch forum back in April, I knew right away that it would be the only possible option for me to wrap up my Biblical and Theological Studies requirements at CMU. It was just too good to pass up (a thought many other people also had—the course apparently filled up within several hours of registration opening).

In the course description of Eat, Love, Reflect John asks, “What would it mean to engage head, heart, and taste buds in the pursuit of spiritual and social transformation?” Paired with this is a notion that is central to the course: balancing love of God, love of self, and love of others through the act of eating. These two main ideas are emphasized every single week. The readings typically consist of New Testament passages featuring Jesus eating with others, theological writings exploring these events, and articles that are not explicitly religious looking at topics such as food insecurity, Indigenous understandings of bodily nourishment, and general reflections on the act of eating.

Mike Thiessen

Eat, Love, Reflect is very much a discussion-based class. There is always a lively lecture component delivered by John (and occasionally other guests), but a good deal of time in class is devoted to talking with classmates, either in pairs, small groups, or all together. This is where a lot of the reflection in the “Reflect” part of the title comes into play.

Of course, it would be complete nonsense to have a course about food and not eat, and we’ve made sure to get our fair share of eating in. We took a trip to a downtown McDonald’s to consider the convenience of food and the intentionality of eating. We ate saskatoon and rhubarb platz on the front lawn of another professor to ponder hospitality. And, most excitingly, we took a field trip to Silverwinds Colony southeast of Carman to share a meal with the Hutterites there, where we thought about the importance of eating as part of a community on a regular basis.

As someone who grew up on a farm with both crops and cattle, I’ve always been very aware of where my food comes from—helping in the garden was always a mandatory summertime chore, and butchering beef and pork at my grandparents’ place has been an extended family affair for my entire life. Historically, I have had a good understanding of and relationship with the food I eat. This class has taken this to another level, however. The philosophy and theology of eating have permeated my mealtimes, with readings and lectures now often coming to mind when I eat. Particularly, I’ve become much more conscious of the love involved in preparing, sharing, and eating food together. Eat, Love, Reflect has been a true joy to be part of, and I am looking forward to the final four weeks, during which there will be even more learning, eating, and loving.

Mike Thiessen is a fourth-year Bachelor of Arts student, majoring in English.

“One of the best decisions I have ever made” | Cloe Penner

I honestly don’t know ‘why CMU?’

Cloe Penner

I am an out-of-province student from Ontario. Since CMU is a small university, you might think it’s not heard of in other provinces, much less the world. You would be mostly correct from my experience. I had not known that CMU existed until my mama’s friend mentioned that one of her daughters went there. At that point I hadn’t even decided if I wanted to apply for post-secondary education yet or take a gap year. I knew that eventually I wanted to go and be the first person in my immediate family to go to university, but I had no direction for that desire.

My high school’s guidance counsellors had been breathing down our necks, encouraging us seniors to apply for anything, really, as long as we applied. Apparently in the last few years there had been a decline of students going into post-secondary education, and the guidance department had made it their mission to get that percentage up that year. As this was during the pandemic, I can’t say I’m surprised with that outcome.

Nevertheless, I applied to CMU and only to CMU, after researching possible programs and classes. Looking back, I would say there was a nudge there, as I never really second-guessed my decision to apply. I don’t really have a name for that nudge—it could have been God, or just a gut feeling. I knew that if I got in, I would have to move to another province, and while that was certainly daunting, it was very much a problem for future me. The fact that CMU was a smaller, Mennonite-founded school, and cheaper than almost everything in Ontario, definitely sold it to my parents. The process was scary, but listening to that nudge gave me a great beginning to a new chapter of life.

Obviously, I am now a student here at CMU, in my second year and loving it. The decision to move here, away from anything familiar, was hard; it still is sometimes. Now that I have a year under my belt, I can reflect back and say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

The start of my first year was tough. It was hard making friends and settling into a whole new world, rising to a more challenging academic level and having my life so uprooted. That was when the doubt grabbed me. But living in residence brings the community right in front of you. Eventually I stepped out of my comfort zone and found confidence to make friends and develop a life here. That led to self-discoveries and the first steps to becoming an independent adult without my life and community back in Ontario, to really figure out who I am away from all the same influences.

CMU’s campus

Coming to CMU has given me a new perspective on life and changed my life quite literally and philosophically. The academics made me realize how much I love learning when it’s something I actually care about, and the classes are small and interesting enough to keep me engaged and on top of things. (That isn’t to say I don’t procrastinate. I am still a student, it’s part of our ramen-fueled bodies!) So that’s why I stayed. I found a place that feels like home away from home, that allows me to be who I am and be a student dedicated to something I enjoy learning.

Sometimes if we aren’t totally sure of what we’re doing, what’s going to happen, or if the direction we’re taking is the best one, the future has a way of surprising us. And then maybe that unknown future could be one of the best things that helps you become you.

Cloe Penner is a second-year Bachelor of Arts student, majoring in history.

Ukraine and armed conflicts: Pursuing justice and peace | Jillian Recksiedler and Danika Warkentin

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the United Nations (UN) held a student seminar in New York City this past November called, “Ukraine and Armed Conflicts: Pursuing Justice and Peace.” This event was created for undergraduate students in Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies or other related fields. As two CMU students who took part in this seminar, we have written a reflection on the event.

We stepped out of the elevator on the second floor of the Church Center of the United Nations in New York City, where Travis Dyck, one of the organizers of the seminar, welcomed us. The room’s large windows looked out directly onto the 193 flags that embellish the looming and glorious buildings of the UN headquarters. As we gawked, other undergraduate students trickled in and found their seats. Soon, the seminar was underway.

We had no idea what to anticipate in attending the MCC/UN Student Seminar. The purpose of the event was to bring together students to wrestle with the central question: “How do we pursue justice and peace in places of armed conflict, such as Ukraine?” It was difficult not to feel intimidated by such a complex question. At times, we wondered why MCC and UN representatives chose to devote their time to university students with no authority. With more time, it became clear that the seminar existed to communicate that, regardless of authority, we are relevant stakeholders.

CMU students Jillian Recksiedler (left) and Danika Warkentin (right) in NYC.

Our time in New York was quick and a whirlwind of new experiences and opportunities. Every morning, we walked to the seminar through the lively and bustling streets of New York, attempting to take in as much as we possibly could. In the evenings, we met up with other students attending the seminar to explore the city. Although we all came from different contexts, holding unique sets of experiences, a sense of community was immediately established as we navigated through these exciting experiences together. One evening, we took the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and get tacos. As we stood outside on the balcony of the ferry, looking out at the city lights, we were able to unpack the different stories and messages that arose throughout the conference.

Over the three-day seminar, seven different presenters informed us on their approaches to peacebuilding from their own contexts, several of which are countries currently facing violence, including Ukraine, Myanmar, and Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the end of each day, we all gathered in small groups to reflect on what the presenters had talked about. This was a great way for us to make meaningful and more personal connections with other students. Discussing peacebuilding initiatives with them was uplifting and hopeful. The conference became a space where honesty, questions, and difference in opinions were welcomed.

It is difficult, yet critical, to retain optimism in peacemaking work. Some of the speakers who presented to us spoke honestly about their pessimism regarding violence in Myanmar and Ukraine. Although this was hard to hear, there were also many speakers who shared experiences of faith in nonviolent practices. We take hope in knowing that there are knowledgeable, intentional people in government and UN roles, and thoughtful, justice-oriented young people moving into the working, peacebuilding world in Jesus’ name. In this way, communities of faith are working toward transforming conflict all over the world.

Jillian Recksiedler (second-year) and Danika Warkentin (third-year) are Bachelor of Arts students, majoring in peace and conflict transformation studies.

Stories from the Estamos program’s first cohort

CMU recently introduced a new intercultural program for undergraduate students called Estamos. This past fall, six students joined the program and made their way to Guatemala, where they lived, worked, and studied for three months. Upon their return, the Estamos cohort had the opportunity to share their experiences with the community, inspiring other students to enroll in the program for fall 2023. Here are some highlights and memories from their time in Guatemala.

The best part of Estamos was waking up next door to one of the rarest ecosystems in the world. At 1,800 meters of elevation, the rainforest stretches high above the lowest clouds, which slowly drift through the trees and around the mountain ridges. Up in the cloud forest, the air is thick with moisture; orchids, mosses, and bromeliads cover nearly every available surface of the trees. I spent my practicum placement in the last month of Estamos at Community Cloud Forest Conservation, an organization that works to protect these unique ecosystems while alleviating poverty in the communities around them. After learning about the enormous biodiversity of tropical rainforests in classes, it was incredible to see it firsthand and find species every day that I had never seen before. I had the chance to work with people who knew all the intricacies of this forest, who could name every bird by a few notes of their song and could tell you all the traditional uses of any plant you chose. As a biology student, this was definitely my highlight.

– Malcolm Reimer, fifth-year Bachelor of Science, Biology major

Being part of the Estamos program gave me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone on a daily basis and to be ready for anything to happen. The immersion component of the program allowed us all to live with host families, eat different foods than what we’re used to, and use the Spanish we were learning in the classroom as our only way to communicate with locals. We had the opportunity to visit so much of the country, including the Tikal ruins, the cloud forest, Guatemala City, Antigua, the beach on the west coast, and Lake Atitlan. My favourite part of the program was spending a whole month in a town close to Lake Atitlan where I had my volunteer placement. There, we were able to explore the other towns on the lake, travel around in the back of pick-up trucks and visit lots of local coffee shops!

– Peri Wiebe, fifth-year Bachelor of Arts, International Development Studies major

When I first heard about the Estamos program, I was interested but I didn’t think it was something I would actually be able to do. It was very outside my comfort zone, something I had never done before… But as time went on, I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility of going, so I took a chance and went! Now that I’m back, I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I got a chance to live independently, away from friends and family back home, and figure out who I was on my own. In doing so, I learnt a lot about myself. I also got to do all sorts of crazy fun things that I would never do here, like climbing ancient ruins or hiking up a volcano, going paragliding or releasing baby turtles into the ocean! All of that, plus being totally immersed into a new culture, made it an experience of a lifetime for me. And through it all, I bonded with the people I travelled with and created strong friendships with them. I am forever grateful for that experience and it is something that I know will stick with me for a very long time.

– Kayla Chartrand, fifth-year Bachelor of Arts, Psychology major

A big highlight from my time in Guatemala was exploring its many different landscapes, including mountainous terrains, volcanoes, black sand beaches, busy cities, jungles, rural Indigenous villages, and a cloud forest. For such a geographically small country it is amazing the diversity it has and I feel so lucky to have experienced such a variety of environments. What made these experiences so meaningful was that I was able to experience them alongside my host families and other in-country hosts. One memory that stands out specifically was our time at Community Cloud Forest Conservation, where we were able to explore the cloud forest and learn about the educational programs they were running at their site. We became immersed in learning alongside their teachers and students. One evening, I had the opportunity to participate in a research walk with some local and international researchers, and we found and documented a large venomous snake! The way they included me in their project was really neat and memories like this remind me of how thankful I am for all the people in Guatemala that made my time so meaningful.

– Mia Loeppky, second-year Bachelor of Arts, Social Sciences major

Spending the semester in Guatemala was more exciting and life-changing than I imagined! (Cliché… maybe. True… absolutely!) I went from speaking only English to learning and speaking Spanish! Learning another language in another country and trying to communicate in that language is a totally epic experience. There were so many memorable moments. We were fortunate to travel to many different parts of Guatemala and experience the diversity of the land, culture, and peoples. A highlight for me was when we moved to our host villages and experienced another way of life. This is where I lived with my second host family and completed my practicum in two different organizations. I learned traditional Indigenous ways of life, like weaving, shopping at markets, beading, squishing clay with my feet to build a bench, and cooking meals (there’s nothing like homemade tortillas!). Studying in Guatemala was incredible. I was not prepared to do the crazy activities we did or meet the most humbling people I have ever met or receive the gratitude I did in Panabaj. I will cherish our semester in Guatemala forever. #Estamos #DoIt!

– Ainsley Rowan-Keogh, fifth-year Bachelor of Arts, International Development Studies major

The application deadline to participate in Estamos 2023 is February 28. Visit cmu.ca/estamos for more information!

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