Category: practicum Page 1 of 2

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

SALT: The film | Natasha Neustaedter Barg

*IMDB, please don’t sue me for doing a blog post like a movie review*

SALT (2018-2019) 10/10 ⭐️

PG-14 | 8,184 hours or 11 months | Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Documentary | February 15 (Canada, United States)

20-year-old Natasha Neustaedter Barg takes a gap year to fulfill her practicum requirement for CMU, travel the world, and learn and serve as a teacher in Vietnam.

Directors: Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)
Writers: MCC and Natasha Neustaedter Barg
Starring: Natasha Neustaedter Barg, Sun, Rain, Food, and Students

Cast overview, first billed only:
Natasha Neustaedter Barg . . . starring herself


A burnt-out university student wants a change of scenery, so she decides to volunteer for a year as an English teacher in Vietnam with MCC’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program. Natasha heads out for a week of training in Pennsylvania, where she meets forty other Canadians and Americans serving worldwide. She befriends people going to Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Honduras, Egypt, Lebanon, South Korea, and South Africa. Fellow ‘SALTers’ will work as librarians, teachers, nurses, baristas, designers, grant writers, editors, and more. In Pennsylvania, Natasha meets Evelyn, another “SALTer” flying to Vietnam with her. Evelyn will also be working as a teacher. It is while bonding over lesson planning that she and Natasha become good friends. Evelyn is not from a Mennonite background, which leads to new conversations between the two friends. Upon arriving in Vietnam, they have language lessons for a month before moving to Viet Tri to begin teaching. Evelyn and Natasha visit cafes, temples, and nature reserves in their area. Natasha teaches kids in grades 6-9 in the morning and grades 3 and 4 in the afternoon throughout the eleven months. As her year progresses, we see Natasha be a judge at English competitions, go on multiple photoshoots with other teachers, and come to love her city. Her year is filled with delicious food, exploring, tons of lesson planning, and discovering that it is possible to call a place vastly different than your own home.

Plot Summary | Synopsis
Plot Keywords: practicum | friendship | growth | travel | food | adventure | teaching

Did you know?

– At CMU, your SALT year can count for up to 9 credit hours and fulfill your practicum requirement!
– You don’t have to be a Mennonite to do SALT!
– Don’t have a teacher’s degree or a communications degree? You can still do SALT!
– Although the application deadline for SALT was February 15, applications will still be considered!
– How do I learn more about SALT? MCC’s website, of course! Visit

– “SALT is awesome!”
– “Are you a salty SALTer?”
– “I can do it as my practicum?? Woah!”
– “Practicums are cool”
– “I am so grateful I got to see how what I’m learning is practical and helpful outside of class too!”

Natasha Neustaedter Barg is a fourth year Social Sciences student.

Practicum is a zoo (literally)

Every student who graduates from CMU does a practicum placement. It doesn’t matter what you’re majoring in, whether you’re completing a three or four-year degree, or whether you know exactly what career you want (fun fact: it’s okay if you don’t). Every single student does a practicum. And if you ask any student here about their practicum, they are bound to tell you story after story about why the experience is SO very worth it.

Jana Klassen is one of these people.

Jana is a fifth-year science major, captain of the women’s volleyball team, and a hard-core animal lover. When she walked into the practicum advising office last year, she expected to leave with a bit more direction in her step, but she never expected that these next steps would lead her into the veterinary offices of the Assiniboine Park Zoo. I sat down with Jana for a conversation about her wild practicum experiences…

So Jana, I know that you LOVE animals. How did that begin?

So growing up, we lived in the city (Calgary), we had a dog which was super great, but my cousins lived a few hours away and they had a big farm with horses, rabbits, cats, and dogs. A random assortment of animals was always around. It was through that relationship that I wound up getting my own horse that lived at a family friend’s ranch. I got exposed to even more animals there. They had sheep, chickens, a donkey… I helped out around the ranch, and even got to experience a lambing season which was a great experience.

When did you realize you wanted to work with animals one day?

I think that was something I always really knew. I remember in the third grade I told people I wanted to be a marine biologist, even though I was scared of water. My true dream was to be a vet, though. I just thought marine biologist sounded cooler!

What was the process like when you decided it was time to do your practicum?

It was surprisingly easy! I went to go talk to a practicum advisor and they said, “Okay, let’s talk! What are you studying? What are you interested in?” So I said I was interested in physio or maybe vet, and they asked if I’d be interested in working at the zoo. And I said “ABSOLUTELY – YES!” I met with my supervisor, and everything was a go!

So, what do you get up to at the zoo?

I’ve realized that in the setting of a zoo, there’s not a super structured schedule that vets have. There are a few routine exams, but a lot of it is based on the specific needs of each animal at that moment. Basically, I get to join the vet team and observe, help where I can, and ask questions!

What’s your favourite animal to spend time observing at the zoo?

Right now, I’d have to say the polar bears. I know they’re a classic, but they are just SO cute and SO big. Every time I’ve walked through their exhibit, they are so happy and playful, kind of like big puppies.

How would you say your practicum has prepared you for your future?

Overall, it’s really expanded my knowledge of not only animal health but animal welfare. Also, since zoo settings are more focused on conservation, it goes beyond just the clinical aspect of being a vet. There’s a broader focus on things like climate change and endangered species. It’s opened my eyes to the fact that veterinary medicine isn’t just used for pets or livestock, but it can solve problems on such a broader scale. I had never thought about that before my practicum.

What will you take away from your practicum experience?

Having this much exposure to such a wide variety of species is something I don’t think many science students have experienced before, and aside from how mind-blowing it is to get up close and personal with these animals, the experience also strengthens any resume that I’ll write in the future. Also, seeing how deeply the vets that work at the zoo care about these creatures is something I’ll never forget.

As we know, every single student at CMU does a practicum placement. Do you think this is beneficial?

It is ABSOLUTELY beneficial. This has been the best part of my year. Going into practicum I was like, I’ll find something to do just to get it done and get the box checked, and now I would highly recommend this to everyone. I’d do it again if I could! It’s so much more than checking a box. It’s strengthening an application and providing incredible real-world experience.

Thanks again for chatting with me, Jana. I’ll have to go wander around the zoo again sometime soon!

Chloe Friesen is a 3rd year Communications and Media student.

A procrastinator’s guide to practicum | Guest blogger Cristina Waldner

I had always thought of myself as responsible and all that entails: hard-working, self-motivated, and self-disciplined. My conscientiousness was even seen in the way I limited myself to two Friends episodes in a row to avoid the embarrassment when Netflix condescendingly asks, “Are you still watching Netflix?” (For all of you binge-watchers out there, you’ll be happy to hear I am now a reformed limiter and have been asked this question on several occasions.)

However, I was recently taken aback by the realization that I had fallen victim to the tricky tactics of procrastination. I really did not see it coming, but there it was. How did this happen?

Cristina WaldnerTo better understand my surprise, let me add some context. I have been a student at CMU off and on for the past 12 years. Because of my physical disability, I have only been able to take one or two courses at a time, slowly chipping away at my BA. I struggle a lot with fatigue but have poured myself into every assignment, partly due to pesky perfectionist tendencies and partly for the sheer joy of learning. I have loved my time at CMU, feeling nothing but support and encouragement from faculty and staff. But when it came to my practicum, I felt panicked.

I have actually dreaded the practicum requirement since Day 1 of attending CMU. I have never had a traditional job before and practicum would be my first real taste of what adulthood will look like. For me, there were so many tedious, and sometimes scary, details to consider:

  • Full-time or part-time? Definitely part-time.
  • Work outside the home or from home? Hopefully from home.
  • If that doesn’t work out, is the workplace accessible? Like, totally accessible?
  • Would my attendant come to work with me? Possibly but would it be weird to have an attendant with me in a cubicle?

Hustle picI won’t bore you with more details but this really was just the tip of the logistical iceberg. These thoughts swirled in my mind for about a decade. It wasn’t until my transcript read,  “111 credit hours completed“ that I knew I had run out of time to procrastinate. (I even chose to participate in graduation this past April before I did my practicum!)

When I met with my practicum adviser last year to start planning my practicum, I came to the meeting with a glimmer of hope and a bundle of anxiety. I was so nervous to start the process of finding a work placement with how little physical abilities I had to offer.

Well, to my absolute amazement the meeting went remarkably well! In a short amount of time, huge progress was made in terms of figuring out the logistics of my placement.

So, what for 10 years had been holding me captive had now been set free. I was dreading this process for so long, feeling that the stakes were too high and my abilities too low to have success. But now that I’m here, it’s not as hopeless as I thought.

On September 23, 2018 I officially started my practicum at Society for Manitobans with Disabilities (SMD) and I am thrilled with how it’s going so far. My supervisor has been wonderful and it has been exciting to have an opportunity to explore my passions for disability services, writing, and advocacy. Now that I am in my second term, it is amazing to me how manageable life can seem when you have people around you who want you to succeed.

This is not to say that I am magically problem-free. There are still harsh realities I face every single day being a person with a disability. However, I have learned three valuable lessons during this process that make these realities a little less daunting:

  1. People are kinder and more gracious than I thought. They are more willing to accommodate my unique needs and even find a way to make me feel like I have something to offer.
  2. God is more in control than I thought. He is kinder and more loving than I gave Him credit. He only wants the best for me, so I don’t know why I put His abilities in a box by thinking my circumstances were too much of an obstacle for Him. My Jesus has got this.
  3. Procrastination might seem cool on the surface but it is really just fear masquerading in skinny jeans. Putting responsibilities off and avoiding the inevitable only feeds the voice inside of you that tells you the cost of showing up and trying is too high. Don’t believe the lies!

If I would’ve known these truths 10 years ago, I would not have let the fear of practicum rule my thoughts and actions.

textbookSo, what is something in your life you have been dreading that gives you that pit-in-the-stomach feeling of anxiety at the mere thought? Maybe you are wanting to apply to university but feel intimidated by the work load or maybe you are planning your own practicum but don’t know where to begin. Or maybe you are going to be graduating from CMU soon but feel you have no idea where to go from here.

Well, I am here to tell you that it might not be as insurmountable as you are expecting.

*Adapted for #myCMUlife from “Breathe In, Breathe Out” originally posted on Beautiful, Complicated Life.

Cristina Waldner is completing her practicum requirement after finishing her studies with a 4-year Bachelor of Arts in Counselling Studies, and a 3-year Bachelor of Arts in English.

The fourth floor has sweet chairs: An interview with students of CMU’s Social Innovation Lab

CMU’s North Side has a fourth floor?

Mackenzie Nicolle and Jeremy Dyck

Mackenzie Nicolle and Jeremy Dyck in the Centre for Resilience

It certainly does, and it’s called The Centre for Resilience, a space that CMU students Mackenzie Nicolle and Jeremy Dyck spent a lot of time in this past semester.

Nicolle and Dyck are the self-professed “guinea pigs” of the Social Innovation Lab: brain-child of James Magnus-Johnston (CMU’s instructor of Social Entrepreneurship and the director of the Centre for Resilience). 

The Centre for Resilience is a “co-working lab for civic-minded social innovators, entrepreneurs, and researchers” (Centre for Resilience website). Creative entrepreneurs can rent out desk space and collaborate with each-other and enlist the help of enthusiastic students completing their practicum. (Did you know that every CMU student completes some sort of hands-on work practicum before graduating?)

 I sat down with Mackenzie and Jeremy to chat about their projects, experiences, and the space they work in.

Tell me a little bit about the class you’re in and what it entails!

 Centre for Resilience interior Jeremy: So we’re in the Social Innovation Lab, that’s what the class is called, and it’s run out of the Centre for Resilience. It’s kind of like a consulting/mentorship hodgepodge/cornucopia, a little bit of everything. We’re working with the organizations that are up here at the Centre of Resilience and identifying some of their challenges and working on them in the time that we have.

Mackenzie: It’s a practicum course, and we’ve decided that we’re going to be evaluated based on how well the stakeholders feel that we’ve done for them. At the end they write a letter of recommendation. There’s no grade, it’s a pass/fail course. What we get out of it is the experience and letters of recommendation, which look very nice for prospective employers.

Could you tell me about the organization you’re working with and the projects you’re developing?

 M: The two of us are working with Compost Winnipeg, which is a branch of the Green Action Centre. They are a social enterprise, and they’re planning on building a compost site on CMU’s campus! They’re hoping to start in the spring of 2019, so our position was to try to get an idea of how people in the area and people at CMU felt about the project, as well as any concerns they may have.

Because there have been previous groups that have composted in Winnipeg and have done it incorrectly, we wanted to get rid of a lot of the stigma that surrounded composting and to educate people about how it’s being done differently here.

 Any stories or experiences that have stood out for you two?

Centre for Resilience interior J: We did a community survey door-to-door, down Shaftesbury and around the neighbourhood. And that was sort of interesting, to be soliciting people for information. They were surprisingly receptive, that was a nice surprise! I did get one house where I was walking up to the door and saw someone in the window. He was obviously there when I rang the doorbell, but then I heard the door latch lock, so he wasn’t interested in taking our survey… *laughter*

M: There was another house I went up to and a woman opened the door. I had three short questions for her. So I gave her a little blurb about how we were CMU students and that we’d like to engage in a conversation, and her assumption was that I was coming to talk to her because I was against composting. Because obviously nobody wants a compost site near them, and that’s why you’re talking to me, right? *laughs* So I was like no, I’m just trying to gauge what people’s reactions are. And then she got very actively angry about composting. It smells and nobody wants this, and why would you do this, and so on. And then her husband came to the door and the wife walked away. But then he was a lot more receptive when I explained to him the idea of an eco-drum, which is a large cylinder that helps regulate the temperature and the speed of the compost. It’s enclosed, has no smell, and he was a lot more receptive to that. It’s interesting to see how people’s opinions differ based on their prior knowledge.

How would you say this course differs from other courses you’ve taken at CMU?

 J: I wouldn’t say it’s night and day, but it’s pretty close. The fact that there’s no grade at the end sort of implies that it’s really hard to measure success, and that’s because our projects are so different. It’s pretty cool to have a say on what you want to work on, because we were collaboratively with organizations to choose what we want to do, to actually discover what would be the best thing to do for them after analyzing their situations. So it’s been a lot of fun. I appreciate being able to exercise my creativity.

M: Part of the reason we don’t do grades is because we want the opportunity to fail. So that if you try something and it doesn’t work, that’s fine. And then you can renegotiate, research some more, and come up with another idea. And since this is the first time that students have been working with anyone here, we’re the guinea pigs trying to figure out “what does this class look like,” or “what’s successful, what’s not successful…” It’s a good challenge!

Everybody talks about how beautiful the fourth floor is. Tell us about this space! What is so wonderful about working in the Centre for Resilience?

 Centre for Resilience interior J: It’s bright. The vibe is a little different, a little more energetic.

M: Right now it’s a very hopeful space. There’s a lot of people starting off and moving in here. There’s a lot of energy, it’s a different type of energy than school. University has the waves and the seasons of academics, and up here, this is a work environment. And everyone here is doing a unique project, but are still able to talk to each other. The space is still kind of blossoming. I keep telling everyone that the chairs are my favourite part of this space.

J: The chairs are sweet.

M: They are sweet chairs.

Anything else you’d like to say about the Social Innovation Lab?

 M: This is an experimental class. It’s kind of James’ baby coming to life. It’s fun to see how excited he is about the projects, what he likes and what he doesn’t like. He’s a third party in all these projects. He’s someone we can rely on and bounce ideas off of. He guides us and he guides them. This class is about helping us figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s a great experience to be able to work with him.

Mackenzie Nicolle is a 4th year Social Science major and Communications minor 
Jeremy Dyck is a 4th year Business Administration major

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