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Student Voices

Lorelei Lester: Lil’wat Urban academic anvil

July 22, 2014
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Guest post by Lorelei Lester, a new graduate student in History. She'll be writing these posts on a biweekly basis.

When I returned to school in September 2012 it had been almost 5 years since I had left. I had to learn how to be a student again. Taking notes during lecture made my hand sore so I considered using my laptop. That would require learning to keyboard faster and it would also result in an unconditioned hand for the final exam. I did remember writing for hours for finals and the course I was in had a 3 hour final. So I continued with pen and paper in lecture. I also find that writing while listening to the lecture helps me retain information better.

One part of the course that I jumped right into was the tutorial. I love talking about, listening and asking question about the course material. I’m also not shy about it. It’s amazing what can be learned from your fellow students in the things they say. Whether it’s a question or comment that stimulates your own thoughts and ideas or an approach to the material that differs from your own. A lot of my ability to analyze course material has resulted from tutorial discussions.

I was pleased to note that SFU had progressed in its Indigenous student policies, student support services and community activity. The Indigenous Student Centre was far more active and had more staff members that when I left, the university acknowledged the unceded territory on which it is located (Musqueam and Tsleil Waututh), the Office for Aboriginal Peoples was active, and there was now a First Nations Studies Department. I felt like I had a community here. Although I don’t participate in or attend every First Nations themed event on campus the fact that they are even offered provides me with support. My heritage is acknowledged. An important service is providing First Nations students with space dedicated to study and community.

Although I believe I’ve acculturated fairly well to urban Canadian life, my childhood on the Res still shapes my personal and social requirements for space and community. I recall when I first moved to the Vancouver area to attend college. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to manage living in an urban environment full-time. The majority of my childhood was spent in a very rural environment with our nearest neighbor at least ¼ mile away. At night the only sounds to hear were coyotes, crickets, owls and the wind. From the dark cubby-hole of my first college apartment I heard traffic, sirens and the neighbor’s TV.

During the day on campus I was rather overwhelmed by the crowds of people in the hallways. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry and no one looked at each other. I remember a few times during that first semester I actually stood with my back to the wall in the hallway and watched people going by. Did I miss some kind of alarm? Were they evacuating? Why were they in such a rush? No one saw me or acknowledge my existence. This was very alienating for me.

After a few weeks with a more than a full course load, I was also charging through the hallways to get to my next class too exhausted to notice anyone. My days started at 6 am and if I was lucky ended about 1 am six days a week (I allowed myself to go to bed earlier and sleep in a couple hours longer one day on the weekend). I was living on student loans and chose not to work in order to dedicate my time and energy to school. My finances were less than threadbare.

I also had to learn how to communicate in the classroom. As a child I had learned never to interrupt my elders or anyone in an authority position and to wait patiently to be heard. This simply does not work in academia. My social communication framework had to be adjusted to this alien culture. I also had to increase the volume of my voice as I found that people in this Canadian culture talk really loud and quickly.

I was no longer a younger child in a family environment but an anonymous student among countless others. I was determined not to be beaten down or left behind. Unfortunately, in time I would find out that determination and effort will not make a learning disability go away. Some things just are.

If you'd like to contribute a Student Voices post, contact gradstudies@sfu.ca.

Tags: Student Voices; Aboriginal students

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