Category: student life (Page 1 of 13)

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

“It’s the people that make you feel at home” | Rosalyn Dao

I was always a quiet kid—quite aloof, utterly idealistic. My time was primarily spent wandering in my own head rather than engaging with the Big Wide World outside the closed doors. So it was no surprise that the idea of me spending my high school years abroad shocked my parents, even more so since I initiated it.

Studying abroad is inarguably a risky financial investment with the hope of securing a better future somewhere else far from home, but in the mind of a 13-year-old, the whole concept was stripped down to “travelling to Neverland” to see with my own eyes what is ever and what is never.

Soon, we found ourselves looking through different options, considering several hotspots for international students, and we picked Winnipeg due to the simple fact of it having lower costs of living. Winnipeg is a pleasant place once you’ve settled in and made amends with it. Now that I’m used to living here, it’s going to take some convincing to relocate anywhere else.

Rosalyn Dao

Despite being a high school graduate in Canada, it was not easy for me going through the transition to a post-secondary institution. Graduating is never an easy step for any of us, really. Not only is it a milestone of academic success, but also the gateway to adulthood. What is it like being an adult, anyway? Peers drifting away, days that seem to last for an eternity now that you’re working, the realization of unrealized dreams and aspirations? No. Most likely, you find yourself back at Base Zero (after ascending to a higher level, of course—it’s like playing games) with a new set of vital choices to make.

One can only imagine how difficult it must be for you—especially the international students—to deal with the additional amount of stress that comes with this trade-off. People handle this situation differently: attend university immediately after high school, take gap years to travel, take on part-time jobs, or learn a new skill. In my case: an uneventful graduation followed by a contagious global virus. Soon after, I fell into the lap of CMU. At Base Zero.

I had no expectations coming to CMU because this was not in my initial plan, yet I was welcomed by the sense of friendliness that is uncommon elsewhere. Despite the scale of our school, it seems like we are constantly working on something more significant than ourselves. Most decisions are made with the consideration of an individual to best accommodate everyone. There will always be someone to talk to if you feel lost. Community plays a crucial role in fostering self-growth and individuality, which is characteristic of the university.

Many foreign students grew up in urbanized areas of our home countries, which adds an extra layer of challenge to the adjustment phase at CMU, if not outright culture shock. It’s going to get easier; I promise. You will become more in-tune with the rhythm of this mid-sized city in the Canadian prairies and its people. Sometimes it’s the people that make you feel at home, not the house itself.

The 15-year-old me would never have imagined that I would be at CMU, writing this blog post. All living things depend on their environment to supply them with what they need. However, in order to thrive, they have to push themselves out of their comfort zone, just as a caterpillar sheds its cocoon and spreads its wings to become a butterfly or moth. The choice is yours.

I hope you find your place in this Big Wide World.

Rosalyn Dao is an international student in her first year of a Bachelor of Business Administration degree.

Community and sexual violence on a faith-based campus | Guest blogger Nathan Dueck

Nathan Dueck

The claim that Canadian Mennonite University has a strong sense of community is clichéd, but it is also true. Most of my classes have fewer than twenty students, many faculty have students over to their houses for meals throughout the year, and office doors are open more often than closed. There is also a real feeling of Mennonite identity on campus, where so many students share faith and genealogy (often an important research task before asking out a peer). This sense of campus-wide community is genuinely good, especially in an era when deep social connection and cohesion can be difficult to find. It is why I decided to attend CMU, and why many students feel the need to foster and protect it semester after semester.

But “community” can pose challenges to responding to instances of sexual violence on campus. I want to highlight two challenges in particular. First, the celebration of community can implicitly discourage actions that may be seen as damaging to it. If a survivor of sexual violence feels that coming forward with their experience might put stress on their university’s valued communal identity, it is plausible that they might feel deterred from addressing it through a disclosure. Second, perpetrators can be included in, or even integral to, campus communities. When this is the case, survivors may be concerned that those in positions of authority will not effectively respond to their disclosures. If a perpetrator is one of only eight students in your favourite professor’s class, if they eat dinner at a senior administrator’s house once a semester, or if you see them regularly drop by a staff member’s office just to chat for a minute because the door was open, it might be difficult to envision how your experience of sexual violence would be handled impartially by the institution. The same bonds that make some university communities so tight-knit can also restrict the sense of freedom that their survivors feel that they have to share their experiences.

Smaller post-secondary institutions like my own need to grapple with this tension between protecting their sense of community and fully supporting survivors who want to share their experiences within them. But even if the tension can never be fully resolved, it is heartening to see my university adopt the REES reporting platform this fall. It is heartening to me because REES is precisely not a product created by, or for, CMU specifically. Instead, as a platform designed for all post-secondary institutions, REES stands distinctly outside my campus’s specific culture. As such, it exists as an avenue through which survivors can disclose their experiences without having to engage directly with another member of the CMU community, if that engagement would cause discomfort.

REES

Yet, even as REES is being introduced as an extra-communal platform, its creators have remained sensitive to the value of community. When I participated in a feedback session for the platform, I was impressed when the session leader stressed that REES is only one, optional way through which a survivor can share their experience in a university setting. In doing so, she made it clear that the introduction of REES still allows for the face-to-face disclosure methods that other survivors might find helpful or even necessary. In other words, the introduction of REES should address the risks of a campus’ communal identity for some survivors, but in a way that does not compromise the presence of a community that can be helpful for others.

Examining the interplay between community and sexual violence can be uncomfortable, but it would be a mistake to fear for our communal identity in doing so. I am convinced that acknowledging the risks of community does not diminish it, so long as our responses to these risks are thoughtful and rigorous. Instead, when we look for new and creative ways to support survivors, like REES, our communities will become stronger than ever before.

Nathan Dueck is a fourth year student at Canadian Mennonite University working towards a double major in history and philosophy. He is a student representative on the CMU Sexual Violence Committee and was 2019-20 Vice-President Advocacy for the CMU Student Council.

I’m thankful for…

With the Thanksgiving season (and mid-term season) upon us, I decided to take a stroll through campus and do some impromptu interviews. I wanted to start some conversations that would stir up some warm and fuzzy feelings to contrast the stress of studying and blustery weather I saw through my window. And after chatting with some lovely people and compiling the answers, I’d say it was a successful mission. The question?

What are you thankful for, here at CMU?

“I’m thankful for Folio’s coffee” – Sadie McTavish

“I’m thankful that my learning has been lively because it has been lived” – Marnie Klassen

“I’m thankful for how close the profs are to the students. There’s tons of space made for profs and students to connect” – Daniel McIntyre-Ridd

“I’m thankful for my apartment and my roommate who loves me” – Kate Friesen

“I’m thankful for the basketball team and the community and friendships it provides me with” – Andrew Hutton

“I’m thankful for the free flu-shot clinic! You just walk on in and it only takes five minutes!” – Claudia Dueck

“I’m thankful that CMU has a volleyball team!” – Matthew Sawatzky

“I’m thankful for the very large windows in Marpeck that I can look through, and the friends who I see walk down the stairs” – Markus Stahl

“I’m thankful for the sense of belonging, comradery, and fun I get from being in choir” – Madeleine Friesen

“I’m thankful that I’m part of a small enough class that it’s possible to designate someone to bring a snack for everyone at every lecture” – Rhett Neufeld

“I’m thankful for really great interactions with my profs. They know how to have fun and joke around, while also teaching you a lot of new information” – Nicholas Harder

“I’m thankful for the bridge between south campus and Marpeck for keeping me warm and dry during this snowy weather” – Courtney Kuhl

“I’m thankful for all of my friends and my professors, and their genuine happiness and caring attitudes” – Nicolas Willms

And me? I’m thankful that I’m part of a community where I can take a short stroll through this beautiful campus, and be greeted by classmates and friends alike who are willing to answer my whimsical questions. Their smiles and stories are plentiful, and the inspiration they give me is endless.

CMU, I am thankful for YOU!

– Chloe Friesen, 3rd-year Communications and Media student

“So, you’re all Mennonite, right?” A reflection

“So, you’re all Mennonite, right?”

I should’ve began counting how many times I’ve been asked this question the first time I heard it. The number would be laughably high.

Most often, I receive the question in response to me stating that I go to Canadian Mennonite University. They hear the word “Mennonite” paired with the word “university” and their eyes narrow, the wheels in their brain spinning. The person I’m talking to has most definitely never visited campus; they don’t know what we all know.

If you head to the “Fast Facts About CMU” page on the CMU website, you get a quick rundown of what’s going on here on campus regarding faith backgrounds.

  • 44% of students are from diverse Ecumenical traditions
  • 37% of students come to CMU from Mennonite or Anabaptist related backgrounds
  • 19% of students disclose no faith or church background.

Wait a minute… we’re not ALL Mennonites? I laugh as I’m writing this, because I am Mennonite and I have met plenty of other Mennonites during the past few years, but I have also met the most culturally and religiously diverse student body that I have ever been a part of.

Last week in my Theology and Art class, we went around the classroom stating what our faith backgrounds were, just to get a sense of the different angles we would be approaching the art and readings we were about to dive into.

I began writing down what I heard, the “so you’re all Mennonite, right?” question surfacing in my mind. Here’s the list I gathered:

We're all different...

 “Pentecostal”

“Agnostic”

“Evangelical”

“Christian”

“Muslim”

“I’m still figuring things out”

“Not religious”

“Roman Catholic”

“Swiss Baptist”

“Buddhist”

“Mennonite Brethren”

“Mennonite General Conference”

“Anglican”

“Protestant”

“Ethiopian Orthodox”

The diversity of the list was interesting, sure, but what interested me more was the confidence in which these words were being said. No one felt like they were “wrong” or “an outsider”, and there was no perceivable judgement coming from the professor or the class. If anything, there was an feeling of gratitude emanating. If you’re a student or staff member here at CMU, you’ll recognize this feeling.

We all had this amazing opportunity to gather together twice a week, to have conversations about art and theology, and we were already being blessed with such rich conversations because of the religious diversity within our classroom. We were all different, and that was good.

I truly believe that CMU is a place for everyone, not just Mennonites. Yes, the university is built upon a foundation of important Mennonite values (check out the Mennonites and CMU page on the website for more info), but we’re a stronger institution when we recognize our differences. And students, professors, and staff all know it! My education has only benefitted from my conversations with and the contributions of everyone here.

So, are we all Mennonite? Definitely not. Am I thankful for that? Yes.

Chloe Friesen, 3rd-year Communications and Media student

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