Student Success Story: Karen Johnson

Student Success Story: Karen Johnson

By: Karen Johnson | SFU Alumni
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Name: Karen Johnson

Nation or Affiliation: Nlaka’pamux

Where did you grow up?

I grew up here in Burnaby, BC with my Mother and two younger brothers and an older sister. We spent most summers with my Father in Lytton, BC.

What were some of the challenges you faced growing up?

My mother was working shift work and we hardly saw her and even in Lytton with my father we hardly saw him as he was off working. We had to depend on our siblings and there was very little food. I remember living on porridge for weeks and when we were in Lytton we spent many hours eating in the apple tree. We were very poor and had little clothes and personal effects and no direction from any adults as there was none to be found.

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I thought about being a teacher even though I went to a catholic school run by nuns.

When did you start thinking about attending post-secondary?

I thought about attending post-secondary after I finished grade 12 but ended up traveling to Europe and meeting my first husband and having two children. We divorced and I came back to Canada and married my second husband and had three more children. I was a stay at home mother for over 25 year before leaving my abusive husband and fleeing to the safe house. I tried to find work but it was difficult as I had no real experience and 3 small children at home and two in high school so I decided going back to school was my best option.

Share your experience of your schooling experience and finding funding.

I first applied at the Native Education College in 2009 for the Aboriginal Justice Program where I was funded by ACCESS for school and Welfare paid my living expenses as I was refused funding by my band. This was a big adjustment not just for me but my children and I traveled two hours on the bus and then the sky train both ways every day. My children were crying it was very difficult as a single parent and my ex did not help in any way. I thought that once I got the certificate I could get a job and I was wrong there were no jobs. Other students in my class said they were continuing on to Nicola Valley Institute of Technology. I really was not interested in continuing my school I really wanted a job but decided to ask my Band for funding again. And again I was refused. I decided to write other Band’s and ask them for funding and also wrote Indian Affairs and all of a sudden my Band found funding for me as I began my Associate of Criminology Degree. I applied for several scholarships and Bursaries and started to work in the library at NVIT. I was voted on to the Board of Governors by my peers. I continued to look for work in the summertime but could find nothing not even at McDonald’s or Timmy’s. I had no choice but to continue my studies and applied to Simon Fraser University this was pretty scary as I would be the first in my class from NEC to start the Criminology program no one else would be starting until the next year. My first year at SFU I became very sick and lost 50 pounds and had high anxiety I went through many tests with my doctor but they found nothing. I was 50 years old and trying to support five children and my ex decided to take me to court for sole custody as he did not wish to pay me anymore. There was many fights and arguments within the family and it was so difficult just to continue at SFU. The judge kept telling me to find a job and to quit school and yet in the summer when I looked for work there was none. I did join Work-Study in order to get the connections and experience that I would need since I was a stay at home mom for over 25 years. This was great I learned a lot and made a lot of friends and being with Work-Study meant I was automatically included in Bursary’s that I would not have to apply separately. So I was given bursary money automatically it was great. I wanted to quit so many times. So many times I was walking to class in tears because I did not want to be heard and many nights. I never want to do another paper and I hate presentations they are the worst. I just kept going no matter what I was in class.

Share a time when you wanted to quit.

One semester I was in court a lot with my ex and my daughter was going into the hospital and I decided I had had enough I could not do it any more even if I had to live on the street. I called my Band and spoke with the education guy and he drove all the way down from Lytton to meet and speak with me. He urged me to continue and that my funding would be in place for September. I started crying I could not believe that he had come all this way to get me to stay in school. The following September I continued by now everyone was pulling for me people that I went to school with at NEC and NVIT and teachers staff at the Indigenous Center got me tutors and they all helped me to continue.

Share your proudest moment.

My proudest moment was being the first of a class of 12 from NEC to graduate at SFU. There are so many obstacles one must crawl over to get a degree especially being an older student.

 

Where are you currently in respect to your education?

I have a Bachelor of Arts Degree with a major in Criminology and a minor in First Nations.

The education path was not meant to be easy no matter what age you are but it has been memorable.

My son is starting at SFU in communication it is his turn now!

Posted on June 17, 2015