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My biker friend | Guest blogger Natasha Neustaedter Barg

It was day two of orientation for Mennonite Central Committee’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program. We were learning about managing our expectations, something that I learned at CMU but still hadn’t fully come to internalize. Looking down at my last remaining goal, I couldn’t help but smile at the seemingly simple, unimpressive, and unimportant goal that I had left— smile at one person a day.

I lived in a studio apartment by myself. It was at the far end of a courtyard inside the school gates of Chuyen Hung Vuong, the school where my SALT friend Eva taught. Every day an old man would do laps around my courtyard. We would occasionally cross paths and I decided that I was going to try to smile at him every day. So when we crossed paths I would look up into his weathered and wise face, give my best Natasha smile, a bit of a head nod, a mumbled “xin chao” (hello) and keep walking. But instead of smiling back at my over-eager face, he would nod his head a bit, and continue biking on. He would do laps for an hour or so and then disappear only to return the next day, where we would do the same thing. I’d smile at him, he’d nod his head and keep pedaling on. This happened day in and day out. Throughout the seasons, my good days and bad days my biker friend (as I have come to call him) would bike, I would smile and we would go our separate ways.

Many times this year I have felt like my biker friend, continuously going in circles, not really getting anywhere or feeling ‘successful’ as I had come to understand that word. I didn’t get a participation mark for every day that I sat in the staff room surrounded by a spoken language that I did not understand. I didn’t get a grade for noticing that the architecture was different, or for how many people would stare at me for a myriad of reasons as I walked down my street. I most definitely did not get a grade for every time that I would reach for something with my chopsticks only for the food to splash in my bowl and stain yet another of my shirts.

This year I have come to see the meaning of success not only through an academic lens, but also through the lens of my biker friend. He showed me that success means showing up and being present. It means becoming part of someone’s fabric, routine, and life. It means acknowledging the anxiety and laughter, the homesickness and joy, the constant embarrassment and grace, and continuing to persevere. It means noticing the unspoken languages of love, courage, and hope amidst the spoken language of Vietnamese.

Two weeks before I left Viet Tri, I made my way back to my room bleary eyed, in desperate need of a nap. I had stayed up late lesson planning the day before, not so uncommon to my late nights of studying, and had two hours before I taught again. Through my narrowed eyes I saw my biker friend doing his laps and approaching me. I didn’t want to smile at him. I was tired, and he hadn’t smiled back at me for the last nine months, so I didn’t have much hope that today would be the day. But a goal was a goal, so I opened my eyes wide, gave my best tired Natasha smile, and was shocked when instead of seeing a weathered face, I saw eyes that twinkled, lips that twitched into a smile, and a hand that was raised and waving at me.

Like my time at CMU, this past year has given me another perspective and lens through which to look at the world. I have come to act on the lessons that I learned through classes, conversations and friends. I have come to learn that the biggest challenge we face wherever we are is to show up, be present, and to keep smiling every day.

How CMU studies: Exam-prep tips from students

Ahh, exam season. The hustle and bustle of students in and out of the library, the furious flipping of notebook pages, the smell of coffee and stress-sweat in the air…

Yeah, it’s not always the prettiest picture. But look at us go, making it through successfully, year after year!

I don’t want to say that I’ve mastered the art of studying (is that even possible?), but I have my weird ways that work best for me. And it was only when I realized that I don’t have to study exactly like the person next to me at the library that exam-prep became easier.

hands at a laptop

I was in Folio Café this morning, working on my precious flashcards (my personal go-to study method) and drinking too much coffee, and began wondering how the people around me hit the books.

So I asked! Here are some of the weird ways that CMU students like to study:

“Invest in a whiteboard! I love whiteboards. Drawing pictures and diagrams helps me a lot.” – Jadyn Lennea

“I choose one song I love and then put it on repeat. That way I don’t get distracted by new songs and playlists.” – Levi Klassen

“What I usually do is read something, distract myself for a few minutes, and then see if I can remember what I read. If I can’t remember it, I read it again.” John Nieckarz

“I throw on some of the thrashiest punk music I can find and zone out with my textbook.” Myles Tiessen

“I just do it.” – Nicholas Willms

 “Summarize your notes on single sheets of paper, because an entire notebook is overwhelming.” Emma Heinrichs

“Put on a funky tune, guzzle some coffee, and rewrite your notes, condensing them each time.” Andi Jacobs

 “Being outside if I can is great. I love the sunshine and feeling like there’s more to the world than just my desk.” Jacoba Buist

“Sometimes when I’m memorizing something, I make up a song! I don’t sing it very loudly though.” Anne Kelm

“I study in the morning so once I hit noon I feel super accomplished.” Renee Desroches

“TAKE BREAKS. I take outside breaks, I take coffee breaks. Combine the two for an EXCELLENT BREAK.” Madeleine Friesen

Best of luck to you all as you prepare for exams, in your own weird ways. Who knows, maybe you’ll find the key to study-success by trying out one of these student-approved strategies!

Chloe Friesen, 2nd-year Communications and Media student

The art of the possible: A graduation reflection

Hello! I’m Mackenzie Nicolle, and I hail from the Mennonite Mecca of Rosthern, SK.

I have almost completed a four-year degree in Social Sciences with a minor in communications. When people ask me what that means, because it’s a very nondescript name, I tell them that I have basically created an interdisciplinary degree minus the title. I have primarily focused on four things:

  • Psychology, because I am fascinated by how our brains work and how what we think impacts what we do;
  • Sociology, because I am fascinated by how society affects us and how we affect society;
  • International Development Studies, because I am curious to know how those two other things work in different cultures and contexts, and
  • Communications, which helps me to convey all of my thoughts and learnings to others.
Mackenzie Nicolle

Mackenzie Nicolle, just weeks away from completing her 4-year Social Science degree

CMU has given me the opportunity to both learn all of these things theoretically, but also in lived-experiences, and I think those are the things that stick in my mind the most as I reflect on my last four years here. Here are some of the things I learned.

In my Intro Psych class, I often had the same guy sit next to me, and we later became friends. It was fascinating to watch him in class, for where I have a really hard time not being interested in the classes I’m in, as soon as the lights of the lecture hall was turned off, he fell asleep instantly. Every time. I probably poked him three times a class so that he could pay attention. And yet there were times where he would seem to remember details of what Prof. Delmar Epp talked about even when he seemed to be asleep. The human mind is a miraculous thing.

In my Sociology of Religion class, I got to do one of the coolest projects of my whole degree. My team and I went to the Greek Orthodox church across from CMU for a month, and simply analyzed how the church functioned from a sociological perspective. We learned when to sit and when to stand, we learned the rhythm of a liturgy in Greek, and we learned about how hospitable that congregation is as they served us spanakopita in their basement. By contrast, a group of us then went to another church more closely aligned with the Anabaptist faith tradition, and I was shocked by how uncomfortable I felt there. I learned that I felt closer to the rituals of Greek liturgy than I did to alter calls in my own language.

In my time living in residence, I have had the beautiful opportunity to sit across the cafeteria table from many diverse groups of people. Some days I am sitting with students from six different countries, learning about the traditional names of their home communities and their favourite food that their moms used to make. Other times, I’m sitting across from Canadian students who have had life changing experiences in other countries through programs I’ve never heard of. International Development can truly begin at home when you start analyzing your own biases and ways of perceiving the world.

In my current communications course, Christianity and Mass Media, I have spent the past month on a project trying to summarize my thoughts of the past four years by trying to understand why CMU matters. I have had the joy of interviewing six people from this community and listening to their hardships and triumphs.

And over and over again I was told that this place matters. This place invites people to explore their curiosities. This place is a community that values people beyond their productivity. This place allows people to delve into their faith with hard questions, and provides guides to get to the other side. We are learning how to deconstruct what we think about the world, and trying to find new ways of being.

To quote James Magnus Johnston, we are learning about the “Art of the Possible.” And if that’s what I’ve learned through a four-year Social Science degree, I think that’s pretty incredible.

Mackenzie Nicolle is a 4th year Bachelor of Arts student focusing on Social Science

Look for the helpers

As a Communications and Media student, I spend a lot of time looking very carefully at the news. I listen to the radio, read the newspaper, and probably spend a little too much time on social media.

It’s what I love to do, but if you, like me, spend too much time reading the headlines, you know the accompanying feeling of hopelessness that can come along with it.

Gun violence, famine, and borders. Death, disease, and destruction. It’s enough to make one want to throw their TV out the window, lock the doors, and draw the blinds.

But there’s a quote by the one and only Mr. Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, that I like to remember when I feel this way, and it goes like this:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’.”

I was walking around campus after class, and I came to realization that Canadian Mennonite University is a school that is equipping its students to become helpers.

My friends in the science faculty will be the helpers fighting climate change and sickness.

Our English majors will one day write the books and poems that inspire us to go on and look for beauty in this world.

I cross paths with the counsellors and music therapists of the future, and play volleyball with the business leaders of tomorrow who are learning how to run a business that creates profit while respecting people and the planet.

I hear the beautiful music throughout the halls that comes from my friends that have chosen to live their lives making a joyful noise, and I rub shoulders in the cafeteria with people who will one day become the pastors of our churches.

I meet students who create their very own interdisciplinary degrees, who will do some job that doesn’t even exist quite yet, but it’s a job that’ll need to be done.

Our professors and faculty, who read the same headlines that I do, see us as helpers as well, whether they’ve watched Mister Rogers Neighborhood or not. They’re not scared. They have hope.

Mr. Rogers

If they didn’t have hope for a brighter future ahead and better headlines in the news, they wouldn’t be here, sharing their knowledge and experiences with their students. They wouldn’t share their testimonies in chapel, invite students into their offices for meaningful conversations, or care so much about their jobs.

And they care so much.

And you, dear donors, you see hope for the future as well. You’re investing in the next generation of helpers you’ll see in the news. And we are so grateful for all the opportunities that your donations give us that help us to become better helpers.

And me? I’ve decided that I’ll be the one writing the headlines of the future. Holding that camera. Doing that interview. Telling you the stories of the helpers that you invested and believed in. Sharing that hope that I feel every-day that I’m at this school. Becoming a helper in my own unique way.

Looking at the world around us, it can sometimes be hard to see the helpers. 

But if you take a look at CMU, you’ll see them everywhere. And that gives me hope.

– Chloe Friesen, 2nd year Communications and Media student

What you’ve heard about CMU? It’s TRUE!

Shpeel (definition): slang often a sales talk or pitch; to speak, usually at length, to present a position or rationale for some course of action or belief on the part of the listener(s).

If you’ve ever been to a CMU Open House or Campus Visit Day, or have even witnessed one in action, you’ve heard the classic “Come to CMU” shpeel.

“The class sizes are SMALL. There’s a wonderful sense of COMMUNITY. Marpeck Commons is NEW and WONDERFUL and FULL OF SUNSHINE and GOOD COFFEE.”

Chloe kickin' it on the bridge
ready to spheel

I’m here to tell you that the shpeel is true. No lies here. As someone who’s given tours of this beautiful campus of ours, I’ve heard these words come out of my mouth many, many times. So many times that sometimes I start forgetting why I’m saying them. Sometimes they sound too good to be true. And then I take a look around me and remember.

For what we have to offer, CMU is grossly underrated. So I’m going to keep doing my shpeel until everyone knows why I love this tiny university of mine.

1) The class sizes are SMALL

Studying with friends in the sun

Some of my favourite classes have been the one’s with the fewest people in them. I like to think back to my Creative Writing Poetry course, where I’d meet with eight of my classmates twice a week to share our poems and critique them together. I produced some of my best work in that class, and I know for a fact that my poems would have sounded a lot worse if they had been written in a lecture theatre. The faculty to student ratio is 1:18 (even for first and second year students). You really get to know your professors and classmates, and I think that those close relationships have encouraged me to do some of my best academic work.

2) There’s a wonderful sense of COMMUNITY

Fun with friends

I remember my first day on campus. I was nervous, stressed out of my mind, and knew almost no one. That all changed when I went to my faculty advisor meeting. We sat in a small circle, ate pizza, and before there was any discussion about classes or schedules or academics, we learned about each other. 15 minutes into my first day, and I was already part of a little community where I felt welcomed and supported. There are students in that meeting that I’ve never had a class with, but I still know their names and we say hello to each other on the way to our separate classes. Walking across campus and not stopping to greet a friend or neighbour is almost impossible, but it’s the BEST. It sounds cliche, but CMU is my home, and the people here are my family.

3) Marpeck Commons is NEW and WONDERFUL and FULL OF SUNSHINE and GOOD COFFEE

folio café coffee with a book

Facts. Marpeck Commons was opened in 2015, and it was entirely paid for by donors, nothing came out of students’ pockets (there goes that community spirit again). It houses CommonWord (CMU’s book/gift shop, that also sells perogies and noodles, of course), folio café (amazing coffee and friendly baristas, and featured in an article called “15 Winnipeg Coffee Shops You Should Go To At Least Once In Your Life”, but I prefer to go everyday…), CMU’s library (spacious tables, comfy reading chairs, floor to ceiling windows, and sweet librarians: what’s not to love?), as well as a public learning space for the community to gather and have public conversations. Oh, and it’s got a cool bridge that goes over Grant Ave. (cheers to keeping warm while crossing the street!). It’s a place you can spend hours in and not want to leave.

There’s a lot more I could tell you about CMU. I live here. I learn here. I grow here. So I’m going to keep on giving my CMU shpeel until everyone I know (and even people I don’t know) sees CMU the way I do.

If you’d like to experience CMU for yourself, I encourage you to stop by during our Open House on Wednesday, March 26 from 10:00 AM
3:00 PM. I’d love to give you my shpeel in person.

– Chloe Friesen, 2nd year Communications and Media student

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