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Student Voices

Lorelei Lester: Losing, Revitalizing and Maintaining my Spirit

August 06, 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.

I sit here in graduate student housing on SFU Burnaby campus and listen to the wind in the trees outside my window. The shushhhing sound of the leaves and branches is the chorus for the bird song solos that interject into my hearing. I remember a childhood among the fields and woods around my home. Sitting quietly listening and being soothed, wandering about in inquiry or running about shrieking and laughing with my siblings and friends. I was learning how to live.

Interaction with others is very important to nurturing and maintaining individual well-being. No matter how busy and stressful my life has become as a student I always seek and find solace in silence and stillness. A vital balance to silence and stillness is human connection. Such connections validate of my very being. Family members, friends and those who lead the classes and tutorials I have attended become important connections for my learning experience.

While learning and retaining course material is basically an individual endeavour, my connections with the people who are important to me are essential. Over the years and in many learning situations and across three fields of academic concentration I have found that learning occurs more easily when I have strong social ties with others.

The times when I have retreated into my studies and abandoned social connections and human contact I have withered, become weak, and my drive to continue dissipates. Lost, drained and hurting, my health fails. I can not feel the wind on my face as it plays with my hair, I cannot hear the birds sing, and I find no solace in the silence of my academic trappings. It happens slowly and I don’t plan to land in such an oppressive and dark place devoid of passion or inspiration.

I have come to recognize it when I find myself there. I crawl out of my isolation and on unsteady legs seek a place of connection and nurturance. It has become easier to seek human reconnection: a smiling face, a hug, an uplifting and encouraging email or phone call. I am invigorated by my human connections and needs. It’s only when I maintain these connections and hold onto all of my humanity (not just intellectual capacity) that I find joy and inspiration in my learning journey. I don’t walk alone.

After many long months away from my family I feel the need to be among them. All those months of study alone in the city I do not notice myself slowly disappearing. I become a shell without inner strength or support.

This spring I went home for two family events that were just five weeks apart. The first was a traditional memorial for one of my grandfathers and five weeks later a community celebration of my parents’ wedding anniversary. I saw many family members including nephews that I had only seen in pictures online. I got to hug those I love the most. A few wonderful days in my parents’ home provided long overdue doses of nurturance and connection with the source of my strength. I feel deeply renewed and whole. All it took was a brief return home, to see my parents’ faces again, to hold the babies, watch the children play and bathe in the sound of their laughter and I am complete once again.

The only way I can remain strong is to keep the connections with my family strong. It is among them that the sun shines the brightest, the trees dance the most gracefully and the birds sing their most beautiful songs.

Human connections are deeply important for continuing the journey of academic study. If you can’t be among your family you must find or create a family to sustain your academic studies. Reach out to other students who also need human connection and a surrogate family. They are all around you.

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

Tags: Student Voices; Aboriginal students

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