Photogratree: The Final Adventure

For those who have been following this makeshift mini-series on my blog where I pretend to be a photographer, thank you. It’s been really fun getting outside of my comfort zone for a little bit and capture my semester abroad for myself and others.

When this is actually published, I’ll be back in the States and be revisiting my home campus during their finals week. It’s all so familiar and in a way like I never left, but I still have to reintegrate myself with the people who have been here for these past few months, carrying on as usual.

Before packing up my belongings and hopping on an airplane, I wanted to take a day last week to just explore. It was my last chance, after all, and the weather was beautiful enough to spend the entire morning and most of the afternoon wandering around Sherbrooke’s downtown area and seeing where my legs carry me.

Because yes, I do miss that place. It’s a beautiful city in a beautiful part of the continent. Being in Quebec, you do get some of that French charm mixed into the typical city atmosphere. Lots of my exploring had been on nature walks, but I still really enjoy cities. I like cities that have a nice balance of metropolitan and natural, when a long stretch of businesses is broken up by an area of well-kept greenery. It’s been awhile, but that was a big reason why I loved London so much, and Sherbrooke is no different.

Are the winters long and brutal? A thousand times, yes. I cannot deny being bummed that my best opportunity for city wandering was one of my last days, but you know what? I’m lucky for those moments of warmth and sunshine I utilized to my fullest extent because it made those days even more fulfilling and beautiful.

Usually when I went out, I liked having a plan of some sort. The time I stopped by local thrift stores, I probably spent the entire week beforehand mapping out the buses to take, the time they all opened, and every other little detail. But last week, I just…went. I’m not a spontaneous person by nature, and I don’t think a mini walking tour is too crazy or adventurous, but it was so freeing to not care much about the time, not plan out every destination, and soak it all in. That is what is so amazing about traveling, having a rough outline of some intended spots, but beyond that, it’s open. Admittedly, that fantastic day made me wish I hadn’t had the influence of college classes and frigid weather in the way of going out and doing that every chance I had, but when studying abroad, that’s not realistic. Life is not a huge vacation. There’s still responsibilities to consider. But the moments that are free, take advantage of them and treasure them. That’s what you’ll remember most.

So enough chit-chat, and here are some shots I took last Thursday. Hopefully I can continue taking pictures even when I’m close to home. If I learned anything from this semester and this day in particular, it’s to accept and embrace the moments of uncertainty that aren’t planned to a T. You can’t plan inspiration.


Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Welcome Back

As my last post before my flight bright and early tomorrow morning for the States, I figured I would take today to just reflect on these past months. Which it’s crazy to even say that I’ve been gone for months. I guess time is an illusion.

I’ve had a few people say to me how proud they are that I “stepped outside my comfort zone.” And to that, I don’t know how to respond. I feel like that is so fake and doesn’t apply to me, a person who of all the places in the world, chose to stay on the same continent to “study abroad.” And choose a place that when they consider the semester “Winter,” they don’t lie.

So I feel like I shouldn’t receive much credit for just living somewhere else for a few months. In my head, that doesn’t seem like a big deal. Study abroad is becoming more and more common, and I constantly see people I know off traveling and going on adventures. Compared to most people, when I say I went to Canada, they’re kind of confused. Why would I choose to subject myself to frigid weather to live one time zone away from home? Big whoop.

Please realize that I am generally very hard on myself. It’s weird for me to think otherwise. It doesn’t help that I come into the experience, as if this were my first year of college again, with tons of expectations for myself. Assuming I would immediately make lots of great friends. That I would always be off exploring somewhere new. That I would step foot somewhere new and just thrive in all aspects.

Okay, being hard on yourself AND optimistic and ambitious isn’t a great combination. It just sets you up for failure, or at least disappointment. Why do social situations make me anxious? Why does figuring out public transportation make me anxious? Why can’t I just transform into this outgoing, spontaneous person who is constantly energetic and socializing and doing everything that everybody else seems to be doing?

Because that’s not me. I think people, including me, paint studying abroad as a mind-blowing, life-changing experience. That’s sure what some people’s social media posts look like as they’re off in Europe or Australia or Hawaii. For me, this semester has been about me, having a chance to just do what I want to do. Which, most of the time, isn’t very glamorous. It’s often turned out to be lots of reading and getting into podcasts and learning about new things.

I’ve also faced some fears and have come to realizations. The pressure I put on myself in academics really went into haywire as Canadian grading became real. They don’t mention much about the actual classes when studying abroad, do they? For someone who has only really seen top marks for all of my hard work, not seeing that has been…hard. To say the least.

I’ve also learned how much I value the people in my life. Although I mentioned it before, most of my semester has been me constantly questioning, Am I doing this right? Am I missing out? Am I not doing enough? And I wish I had an answer. But global learning coordinators also don’t tell you much about being mentally ill and studying abroad. So many different factors are involved with studying abroad that I didn’t necessarily consider.

But with all of the hard days, not including the days when it just wouldn’t stop snowing, those hard days made me appreciate the good things even more. The coming of sunshine and spring temperatures was an amazing transformation. My means of exploring, walking until I feel like turning back, had me stumble upon some beautiful finds. I cannot imagine a landscape now without dense clusters of trees everywhere. I also greatly appreciate the people I do have in my life and how valuable they are to me.

Do I feel like a changed person coming back? I don’t know. Obviously we’re always changing and evolving, but I hope, if anything, I have become more grateful. More in awe of the beauty of nature and loved ones. I hope I can just go on walks wherever I am and stumble upon little discoveries. I hope my love of travel will push me toward whatever chapter may be next after I graduate next spring. Heck, maybe I’ll start throwing in “eh?” at the end of sentences just for fun. I have an excuse now, right?

It doesn’t feel like I’m flying back south, that I’ll no longer feel like a makeshift Canadian citizen. Because yes, I will truly miss this place. I will miss the immense kindness of every single person I meet, the scenery of this campus and town and country, the Prime Minister that I was mere feet from in passing, the new little place that I can call a little piece of home. Especially if I end up becoming a recluse in the Canadian woods. I have to keep my options open.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Speaking My Language

After taking two years of French, three semesters in the States and one in Canada, I would have expected myself to be at least familiar with understanding the language.

Simply put, when people say that it’s harder for adults than kids to learn a new language, they weren’t “kidding.” (Kid? Kidding? I tried.)

Over two years of foreign language, I have experienced a variety of teaching styles and techniques to understand conjugations, grammar, and vocabulary. Some has stuck, but very often, it doesn’t. To utilize the benefits of learning another language, higher education should continue improving upon students’ learning styles and maturing minds.

The importance of learning a foreign language is quite apparent. As I mentioned in my first column of my semester abroad, research shows bilingualism not only helps individual face an increasingly globalized society, but it also improves memory and academic performance.

When abroad, I expected to come back to the States spouting off French. Being exposed to those who naturally dance on the line between speaking English or French has certainly been an interesting experience. However, my French class was not helpful. Even for reviewed information, I had difficulty being a passive student in a lecture hall watching the professor write sentences on the board. I couldn’t engage or pick up the words of audio recordings played. My one area of support, writing, was rarely needed or forced upon students in a timed test, inevitably leading to minuscule errors.

According to website FluentU, older students tend to view new languages through a filter of expectations and experiences. After speaking English for years, students inevitably search for those patterns they are used to seeing. For younger students, they learn from an unbiased perspective that allows them to pick up new languages easier.

Another setback, ironically, is older students more advanced cognitive function. An experiment conducted for LiveScience found that adult learners actually try too hard when learning language. Children use their procedural memory, the one humans use to pick up habits and skills, without the distraction of declarative memory system, the one for facts and vocabulary. Adult students have more complex systems that might distract them from picking up a second language as easily as their first. Much more research is needed to understand how adults learn language, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from pursuing knowledge.

No matter the age, memorization of grammar, vocabulary and conjugation has proven to be ineffective in long-term comprehension. The Washington Post reports a wide variety of research showing students not mastering languages by hard study and memorization. Rather, people acquire language when they understand what instructors tell them and what they read. This “comprehensible input” allows students to absorb and acquire the grammar and vocabulary of the second language.

My home campus’s modern foreign languages department, over my time fulfilling my graduation requirements, has been very forward-thinking when teaching students. Rather than a passive lecture with occasional individual work (requiring the professor to spend a solid half of the class time walking around the room to every student to make a single comment), USD professors have found progress in one-on-one discussions and work with other students. Also, classes are small enough that they often work together to write on the board and even relate back relevant topics using vocabulary words.

Some experts even go on to distinguish between language learning and true fluency. The British Council says the biggest mistake education makes with language is trying to teach languages in the same way we teach science, history and mathematics. Instead, students should acquire second languages in the same way children learn their first. To create an environment nurturing fluency, classroom should be comfortable places not forcing students to use a second language perfectly. Instructors should also respect the natural order of acquiring more subtle parts of language like nit-picky grammar rules. The content and intent of a student should be the priority.

As with any subject, everyone learns different. A cookie-cutter system isn’t effective for true understanding. According to The Guardian, linguists find greater success in teaching foreign languages through task-based learning. This technique focuses on providing realistic context to language beyond memorization that emphasizes language as a means of communication. While the grammar establishes the groundwork for fluency, interaction, between others and with communicative platforms, truly develops it.

With the evolution of English alone, teaching and learning any language should be an ever-evolving process reflecting the current setting. The complexities of a maturing mind might feel like an obstacle blocking the path, but it’s important to continue trying to take language away from strict textbooks and take it back to its roots: human communication. That communication looks more like blog posts and tweets, but nonetheless, it’s still language. And language is not passive. Language doesn’t come from sitting in a classroom staring at a list of conjugations and rules to follow. Instead, language comes from activity and living, breathing speakers.

I don’t necessarily plan on going to France and having in-depth conversations with locals, but no matter the language, I hope to pick up what I can and immerse myself in others’ cultures. Language is what sets humanity apart from other mammals. It’s truly a beautiful thing. And that fact wasn’t something illustrated on a whiteboard; it was made evident in how words move people forward, make them feel deep emotions, allow them to share their unique messages and make a lasting impact. Try conjugating that.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

More Travel, Less Hurdles

As statistics and alumni prove, studying abroad is a valuable experience for college students. With all of the personal and professional benefits, one might expect the number of students studying abroad to skyrocket. According to the Huffington Post, however, only about five percent of undergraduate students actually follow through.

Even for students very interested in pursuing the great opportunities study abroad provides, often after seeing student presentations or going to fairs and events hosted by campus global engagement, the actual process before, during and after studying abroad is daunting. Much more daunting than it should be.

Yes, choosing to study abroad is a big, expensive decision a student shouldn’t make overnight, but if studying abroad is so valuable to a student’s life and education, the process to get to that end goal needs to become simplified and transparent.

My experience is nothing out of the ordinary than others studying abroad. I scheduled multiple meetings to even choose a location and program. Those who choose a direct program, National Student Exchange or separate agency altogether all have different hoops to jump through. More meetings followed to receive all the paperwork involved, requiring me to schedule more meetings with financial aid and every department chair to finish each piece of the puzzle, which then must be communicated back to the global engagement office. At times this meant I didn’t have every little detail completed simply because others hadn’t communicated. Then for those who receive financial aid of any kind, funding has to go through another office with more people a student has to work with. Overall, the student becomes the middle man or woman running around campus to meet every requirement on top of the stress of preparing to live in a different state or country.

One article from Mark Shay, CEO of website StudyAbroad101, discusses that US institutions need to overhaul the stubborn obstacles of endless steps and complicated credit transfer. According to Go Overseas, international programs flourished after the end of the Cold War. Study abroad has gone from a free market where students are able to choose any program as long as it generates a transcript from a recognized university, to a complicated maze of pre-approved programs, endorsed providers, consortium exchanges and third-party operated overseas campus centers and group tours. In the US, approximately half of the university students will transfer to another university, and yet we see these same universities fight to restrict semester-long departures from campus.

So how can colleges simplify the study abroad process? Before starting an application, global engagement should clearly describe everything studying abroad entails. While describing the wonderful locations and programs available to entice students, alumni and officials need to be realistic because chances are, if a student hasn’t studied abroad or doesn’t know much about it beyond their own intentions, they won’t ask those questions. I took a global learning class as a freshman, and even then, I was unaware of Course Approval Forms and potential financial aid complications. As with anything, especially if the study abroad process doesn’t change, education is crucial.

To further ease the stress of studying abroad prerequistes, the global learning office should be the key location for the entire application process. A student shouldn’t have to juggle a regular course load along with meeting at least three different people in three different locations before they say, “Bon voyage.” If the only mediator a student consults with is the global learning office to do everything they need, from the program, to communication for coordinating credit transfer and financial aid, that’s a huge weight off a student’s shoulders.

Some students themselves have ventured to conjure up some solutions to the hoop-jumping. One Nebraska student from China designed an Easy Transfer system that provides a single channel international students can use to pay their tuition, partnering with near and faraway banks to avoid using a complex system of financial transfer. A decade’s old decision from Harvard faculty created a “two-track system” for petitioning to study abroad. Students either continue to develop their own plans of study or simply choose from a list of approved programs, cutting out most of the document signing and original language requirements that held many students back. In an increasingly globalized society, a faculty- and campus-wide effort to improving every aspect of the study abroad experience is as valuable as studying abroad itself.

The last thing a study abroad student should have to worry about, especially while they’re already off campus, is figuring out how to make every single end meet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond grateful for all of the help I’ve received to make this journey a reality. However, for me to fully endorse other students to study abroad, the process needs improvement. Global learning and all administrators involved should have open communication that supports students ambitious enough to travel and study in a foreign location rather than hindering them. Any and all travel is influential in building tolerant, open-minded, worldly students. Let’s not let studying abroad feel like a world and many steps and documents away.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Photogratree: Spring Edition

When I first arrived in Quebec, I was immediately taken aback by the landscape surrounding me. As someone so familiar with driving along the highway and only seeing miles upon miles of flat land and the occasional farm or tree. Certainly fits the proper name, The Great Plains. How “Great” they are, however, is questionable.

So whenever I take in the nature surrounding me here in Canada, I cannot help but be in awe. After living a life only seeing endless fields, I am reminded of how strong my craving is for texture. Trees, mountains, wildlife, the whole shebang.

Living among the Canadian woods has probably been my favorite aspect of studying abroad. The problem is, when the university considers my stay “Winter Semester,” they weren’t kidding. Even in April, days that are both sunny and above fifty degrees are rare blessings.

To take advantage of these days, I go on walks. Without a car or free form of transportation, my legs will do. So with a nicer day, or at least one with sunshine and a breeze gentler than the intimidating gusts from previous days, I ventured around my campus until I stumbled a bike path that, when I first arrived, was hidden beneath a thick layer of snow.

The path is quite short, maybe a fifteen-minute walk, but with as many pictures I was capturing, constantly pulling out my phone, the original walk felt much longer. But no photo could truly commemorate the peace that comes with walking alone, no clear destination in mind, among sprawling trees and sounds of animals waking up from a long hibernation. I was honestly disappointed to eventually wander back and hear students talking loudly outside. If it was acceptable for me to become a recluse and build myself a cabin in the Canadian woods, I would without hesitation.

I don’t have much time left here, and I really do hope I am afforded enough warm days to continue exploring. So much of my semester abroad has been plagued with weeks upon weeks of hiding beneath blankets inside my dorm, looking out the window to see ceaseless snowfall. Having a day where I’m not chilled to my core when walking outside leaves me in bewilderment. I certainly now appreciate the simplicity of a day that doesn’t require a parka even more.

As with my other photography-oriented post, I have a similar disclaimer. I’m not a photographer. I thank the iPhone 7’s camera for such high quality photos. I’m often not inspired to take pictures because I’d much rather just be in the moment without a phone in my face, but nature inspires me.

While I’d rather not leave my new oasis in the woods, I’m glad I’ll have my words and images to look back on and hopefully motivate me to return to some form of this landscape, Canadian, American, or otherwise.

 A little repetitive maybe, but hey, nature is beautiful, and I cannot wait for the days I can soak in more of the sun’s warmth and admire all the little but intricate details found only in God’s creation. We as humans are on equal ground, made with the same substance as these trees and all other plants and animals. We are part of the ecosystem. I wish we would treat it as such. But on a lovely day, my part is take pictures and look on with wonder.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


Freedom for All

When thinking about life, liberty, and the the pursuit of happiness, the first country that comes to mind is America. Americans certainly use their freedoms to the fullest extent possible. However, that doesn’t mean everyone feels welcome to practice their Constitutional rights.

College campuses have been places of both proactive change and prejudiced intolerance. When living in a country, America or Canada, privileged enough to promote the freedoms of speech and religion, it is the people’s responsibility to uphold those. Words and actions have significant power in how we perceive each other and the world as a whole. When it comes specifically to anti-Muslim views, to encourage progress in both understanding and accepting Islam, more people must reach out to the Islamic community in solidarity and speak out against hate. While that is a task everybody should consider acting on, educational institutions provide an appropriate platform to inform people and spread a message of tolerance for all faiths.

Campuses up north are already paving the way for emphasizing acceptance. A talk last week at Bishop’s University titled, “The Progressive Voices of the Arab-Muslim World,” presented the common elements that unite the Muslim community and the Quebec host community. The talk also consciously addresses the myths and prejudices with regards to the Muslim community that are omnipresent in the media by challenging them with an overview of the presence of progressive voices that exist both in the Western world as well as in the Arab-Muslim world.

A stark contrast back in the States, the Argus Leader has reported a Worldview Weekend event taking place not too far from my home campus featuring Tennessee radio host and author Brannon Howse and Spokane, Wash.-based Pastor Shahram Hadian, an Iranian-born former Muslim who’s converted to Christianity. Hadian plans to address the importance of “extreme vetting of Muslim immigrants,” due to the “clear and present threat ISIS poses to America as they have boasted of placing their terrorists among the refugees flooding into America.” This message promotes further intolerance and portrays Islam as a religion of hate and violence. The Muslim population thusly responds with fear of more judgment, injustice and violence.

Mass media has received scrutiny for its portrayal of Muslims, especially with its influence on people’s simplistic views of Islam to a few radical extremists. For the majority of media consumers, coverage of Muslims and Islam is likely to shape the opinions of those who have limited or no contact with this religion and its people. Research by sociologist Christopher Bail finds that U.S. media coverage of the 9/11 events was dominated by messages of fear and anger originating in the press releases from anti-Muslim fringe organizations rather than more moderate messages emanating from mainstream civil society groups. He goes so far as to charge that such messages changed the mainstream discourse itself.

This discourse extends into virtually all public domains. A politics of fear has been used to justify discrimination against Muslims. This has resulted in unwarranted surveillance, unlawful profiling, and the Trump administration’s exclusionary immigration policies targeting people based on their faith, nationality, or national origin. According to the ACLU, the federal government’s Countering Violent Extremism initiative focuses overwhelmingly on American Muslim communities, stigmatizing them  and casting unwarranted suspicion on innocuous activity. Islamophobia is not a new phenomenon, nor is it discrimination going away anytime soon.

On the systemic level, Canadians are trying to prevent Islamophobia, but an all-encompassing effort isn’t receiving great support. Canada’s National Post says almost nine out of 10 of Canadians have little faith in a new motion condemning anti-Muslim sentiment and to strike a committee to study systemic racism, will accomplish anything, although they are split as to whether it’s worth passing even symbolically. Although the proposed policy means well and would not likely infringe upon any freedoms, its vagueness and majority unease regarding its approval leads people to wonder how to best combat Islamophobia.

Media and education are key tools in alleviating this problem. Muslims should also get more involved in communities, media and politics, encouraging people to recognize the similarities between Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination. The Huffington Post discusses integration and dialogue among all ethnicities and faiths as a means for helping individuals overlook certain assumptions and stereotypes pertaining to radical extremist groups. These groups are small offshoots of Islam and should not define the entire Muslim population nor their beliefs.

Educational curricula should take a stand on Islamophobia as well. If a general education includes mentions of Judaism and Christianity, it only seems appropriate to also include Islam. One TIME magazine article says the virtues of learning about religion, especially as the world becomes increasingly interconnected, are priceless. Education is a platform to foster understanding and empathy for others across religious and ethnic lines. Students cannot be fully educated human beings if they do not learn about the great religious traditions, and teaching about Islam—the most misunderstood religious system of our time—is a solemn obligation.

Discrimination is a cruel part of human nature. An “us versus them” mentality divides humanity into vague categories, pitting them against each other. Those under scrutiny, whether for differences in race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, have faced a history of oppression. Some research even concludes that racism increases blood pressure and mortality rates, along with higher rates of drug abuse, mental illness and suicide. Hate possesses the power to wreak havoc beyond visible crimes and ignorant words.

Overcoming prejudice is no easy feat. A simplistic solution is compassion, but to truly reach a point of tolerance for all, every single person must do their part to embrace the unique qualities of others and respect them. The Golden Rule applies to everybody.

The media, especially when exploiting radical violence, cannot serve as the only channel of awareness. Regardless of country of origin or citizenship, young people especially have the potential to answer discrimination with tolerance, prejudice with wisdom. To do so, however, awareness is a necessity. When democratized countries fall back on their roots of freedom for all, followers of Islam are not discluded.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Class-ic Canada

Yes, it’s still mid-early April. Yes, today is my last day of class before finals. I’m as confused as you are, trust me.

Although I plan to discuss my entire experience while abroad, I wanted to also talk separately about my classes this semester. The educational part, the essential reason why I’m here.

Studying abroad is much different than just being a tourist in another place. In that case, you have immense freedom to spend your days exploring and sightseeing. When you have classes to worry about, your attention ends up dwelling on academics. It’s almost easy to forget that you’re even in another country. You’re just in college, taking classes, doing your thing. The college campus atmosphere doesn’t differentiate much depending on where you go.

Compared to past semesters, taking 15 credits is a lighter course load, as crazy as that may seem. I’ve mentioned previously that I’m not great at handling my free time. Despite not being a morning person, I am definitely the most productive earlier in the day. Most days, my brain just stops functioning after 3-4 PM. Now I know that, especially after scheduling my French class at 4:30.

That is the class that has tested me. My other classes are going toward either International Studies electives or a Religious Studies minor, so they aren’t anything too extreme. But I now realize that my previous three semesters of French in the States were fairly tame. They focused on ideas and vocabulary over the strict grammar rules and involved people all on the same page learning a second language from scratch.

This setup is different. Not only does it include over thirty people, which ends up leaves half the class time sitting around as one instructor tries to make a single comment to each student about whatever in-class work we’re doing. Compared to previous experience, not only is the French I learned previously a tad different and, well, textbook compared to native speakers. There is a larger emphasis on listening versus writing. And the tests are pretty open for a free-for-all. And they’re timed.

I’ve been doing the best I can, but learning a language in a large lecture setting isn’t exactly ideal. We take for granted our native tongue on a regular basis, but when you have to remember many grammar rules and verb conjugations and vocabulary while under a time crunch, being under pressure can really screw with you as you try to just finish and also check your work for every single detail, all of which are marked wrong.

Self-teaching is nothing new to me. But self-teaching math is very different from a foreign language. Luckily I have a couple of classmates to ask questions when need be, but I’ve reached a point where my goal is passing and putting less pressure on myself for perfection.

I think out of everything I’ve learned this semester, I’ve learned to be comfortable with doing my best, however that looks. I have already proven myself by graduating a year early with two majors and a minor, with honors. I will have multiple internships under my belt. This is my last few semesters even as a student. I just want to be satisfied with completing my degree through hard work with less concern about every little detail on my transcript, as you’ve probably read plenty about earlier on my blog.

When you’re just in a classroom, you don’t necessarily see the differences of being in a different location. Education in America and Canada looks fairly similar wherever you go. But I’ve enjoyed the new perspectives my professors bring to their classes, a refreshing change when most of my classes at my home campus are in one building and department.

International Relations is field I’ve learned I really didn’t know much about prior to this semester. I expected it to just be an extension upon the few political science or international classes I’ve had before, but IR involves its own terminology and thinking. I even had a class with a International Relations online simulation where we made decisions in a virtual world of sovereign states.

I had considered picking up a minor earlier but was having a difficult time deciding on one, until I had a religion class this semester about apocalyptic literature in Christianity and beyond. Not only is this class so fascinating to me, providing a brand new outlook upon religion itself and the evolution today’s most popular beliefs had from ancient religions and events. Plus, the professor often includes video clips from The Simpsons, Stephen Colbert, and hilariously awful apocalypse movies. I even got a chocolate bar one day for knowing the artist of a song he played. (The answer: Paul Simon).

Overall, I am beyond grateful for this almost four-month experience. No matter where you go, even if it’s just transferring to another American institution, I find great value in taking classes at more than one college. Certainly not a requirement, but it has allowed me to engage with people I never would have, in a setting that offers different opportunities. It forces your adapt from your comfort zone of a home campus and work within the confines of different subjects and teaching styles. And from there, you’re learning so much more than course material.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Reaching New Highs

I only have a month left in Canada, but I have grown to build a deep connection to this northern country. So when I see a major news story, one that may result in some shaky ground between Canada and America, I’m very invested in its implications.

According to the CBC, Canada’s Liberal government will announce legislation this month that will nationally legalize marijuana by July 1, 2018. Within this policy, the federal government will be in charge of making sure the country’s marijuana supply is safe and secure and Ottawa will license producers. Provinces will have the right to decide how the marijuana is distributed and sold. Provincial governments will also have the right to set price.While Ottawa will set a minimum age of 18 to buy marijuana, the provinces will have the option of setting a higher age limit if they wish.

College students are a key voter group interested in legalizing marijuana. The University of Michigan reports over 38 percent of college students using marijuana in 2015. Alcohol, tobacco and narcotic use have both declined. If students are becoming more comfortable with marijuana, their voices could add leverage to the argument for more state governments to consider the implications.

As several U.S. states legalize marijuana, making the plant legal nationwide has been an ongoing issue leaving many wondering the potential consequences of marijuana for individuals, states and the country. With the pros ultimately outweighing the cons, the United States should consider following Canada’s lead on national marijuana legality.

Canada’s intended policy refers mainly to recreational cannabis because medical usage is already legal. According to the Washington Post, America’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies marijuana as a drug with “no currently accepted medical use” and precludes doctors from prescribing it. However, 25 states have already legalized medical marijuana, and The National Institute on Drug Abuse says scientific study of the chemicals in marijuana has led to two FDA-approved medications that contain these chemicals in pill form. Before America can really consider permitting recreational use, the country must recognize its medicinal qualities.

Beyond treating conditions such as mental illnesses, addictions, epilepsy, and chronic pain, marijuana also has many other benefits. According to US News, Research in some of the 25 states where medical marijuana is legal has found a possible protective effect against opioid overdose deaths, a major step in the current opioid epidemic within healthcare.

On a larger scale, governmental taxation of marijuana could provide new funds for the economy. Colorado’s Marijuana Policy Group has shown an increase of 18,005 full-time jobs and about $2.4 billion in revenue in 2015 alone. Every dollar spent in the marijuana industry generates between $2.13 and $2.40 in economic activity. Only federal government spending has a higher multiplier. One NPR interviews says the state funds are primarily going toward education – teaching youth about the potential risks and what we know, also teaching adults about how to treat this newly legal substance. A focus on education helps bring awareness to the negative side effects marijuana may have on the developing brain and while driving.

With different Colorado municipalities able to disseminate the money however they choose, the state is also seeing cities give back to homelessness or creating college scholarships. On a national scale, the potential revenue marijuana taxes might generate could go back to areas of concern for American voters, including healthcare, education and the environment, the latter of which has severe consequences, especially after the Trump administration’s executive order to focus on job creation and production over rising sea levels and temperatures, as CNN reports.

One Science Nordic article even suggests a sharp decrease in organized crime from legalizing marijuana. Drug gangs lose their incentive to smuggle cannabis across state and national borders as the demand for illegal means of obtaining it lessen. Less drug trafficking is associated with less violence and crimes, fostering a safer community for everyone.

Legalizing marijuana is associated with supporting the fight against America’s mass prison incarceration. According to the ACLU, marijuana arrests now account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States. Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana. Nationwide, the arrest data revealed one consistent trend: significant racial bias. Despite roughly equal usage rates, African Americans are 3.73 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana. Trying to uphold marijuana regulation costs states over $3 billion dollars, money that could be better spent for public interests.

As the United States hold firm on its anti-cannabis stance, it also holds firm to outdated notions similar to that of 20th century alcohol prohibition. National prohibition was undertaken to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses, and improve health and hygiene in America. The results of that experiment, as the Cato Institute supports, clearly indicate that it failed on all counts.

The public and government officials must be willing to open their minds to all the social and economic benefits legalized marijuana provides. Canada is taking a significant step forward in its plans while the United States continues shrinking back to old notions that lead to greater discrepancy. If young people are already very interested in the marijuana industry, the government should take advantage of that opportunity. Otherwise, the United States might just go up in smoke.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

How to Improve Your (Systemic) Grades

One wouldn’t think being in Canada is much different than the States. The college experience should be fairly similar, and the classes themselves shouldn’t be too much to adjust to.

While studying at Bishop’s University, I expected similar class formats and assignments like my past three semesters in South Dakota. Luckily, I am very familiar with writing papers and a typical lecture format. However, compared to most of my previous classes, the only grades on most of my syllabuses are a single term paper, a midterm, and a final.

With so few assignments weighing upon passing each course, the minimal workload leads to questions of the value of grades themselves. How important is a college GPA, especially after throwing a mortarboard in the air? Should students care more or less about the letters on their transcripts? Students should do their best in their work, but all colleges should emphasize the value of learning over traditional grading standards.

Grades are very arbitrary measurements of success. An A at one school in one location may look drastically different somewhere else. Over time, public universities have seen a grade inflation, giving higher grades for work that would’ve received lower grades in the past. This makes it more difficult to identify the best students since more people are given the highest possible grade. In fact, according to a recent study by the Teachers College Record, 43% of letter grades given are A’s. Less work and effort is now worthy of higher grades, demonstrating how slippery the grading slope can be. When colleges portray a GPA as a crucial measurement of success, students become stressed and deprioritize their mental health and moral values. Stanford News reported that cheating is closely linked to the social pressure put on students to prize high grades over education and other values, including creativity and their personal well-being. Education has become a competition fueled by stress and anxiety derived from a short-sighted fascination with graded achievement.

If the primary grading system higher education uses is so subjective, many people may question the value of even paying the hefty costs of tuition. College itself isn’t mandatory. People choose to invest their time and money toward a degree. Such expenses lead many to question the value of a college education altogether. According to Collegeboard, the most popular reasons for obtaining a college degree are to get a good education and to get a good job after graduation. Does that degree still have value and fulfill these purposes? TIME Magazine says that 65% of college alumni agreed their educations were worth the cost despite the growing popularity of technical institutions and online degree programs. The campus environment exposes students to new ideas and people that can help them expand their resumes. Different activities, volunteer and outreach programs, job fairs, and, appropriately, studying abroad all make attending a four-year institution worth it.

Choosing to attend college isn’t the problem here: the problem comes from placing higher importance on a flimsy means of judgment over hard work and learning. Grading serves as an evaluation of student work and a source of motivation to students for continued learning and improvement. Jeanetta Jones Miller’s research discusses  standard-based grading with a student-centered approach. This concept concentrates on students’ learning over individual assignments. When the goal is mastery of standards, it doesn’t matter that students might not complete exactly the same assignments or exactly the same number of assignments because the focus is on what the student is learning rather than how much the student is doing. Not everybody fits into a cookie-cutter system of evaluating progress. By giving students the freedom to make learning an experience that is individualized to them, they can gain greater benefits from discovering new knowledge and strengthening their work ethic necessary for all aspects of life.

Students’ concerns should be less focused on their grades beyond passing and doing well and look ahead to the future. According to USA Today, employers more often look at students’ job experience over their transcript. Networking is also very important. A 4.0 student with no connections within their desired field may struggle finding employment. Ultimately, employers want to see students who are involved on campus and in their community and have an internship or two under their belts. However, employers’ values vary across the field. Some may argue, as seen in US News, that a strong GPA indicates a potential employee who can handle pressure, learns quickly and is motivated to succeed. Additionally, earning a college degree is an exercise in delayed gratification, and students with higher GPAs have demonstrated that they can maintain a high level of focus and results over that time before they receive their payoff.

Students are defined by so much more than a letter or number. The plethora of factors that may determine one’s success in the job market far exceeds a digit on a transcript. Learning to adapt to limited assignments has been a challenge, but this difference between Canada and my home campus, along with a different grading scale altogether, suggests a new way of judging academic performance. All higher education must reemphasize the power of knowledge and the relationships made with peers and faculty that truly support students’ goals and encourage values that transcend the classroom.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Scaling True Health

As the weather warms up, so do local gyms as people rush in to achieve their summer “swim suit body.” It’s a time to reinvigorate those lost hopes of New Year’s resolutions to prepare for shorts, t-shirts, and not having to wear a parka everywhere.

However, when it comes to measuring progress, people persistently rely on outdated, inaccurate means of determining their true health. That’s why one Canadian university tried something different. Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario has recently replaced traditional body-weight scales in its gym with another kind: Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs and self-actualization. Signs in the building ask gym-goers to focus on health metrics that don’t pertain to their weight.

This decision didn’t come without some backlash. Some critics see the change as one not promoting body acceptance, but one that ignores objective facts. The underlying message to take away from this change is to see health beyond physical appearance, and body-weight scales and BMI charts aren’t accurate representations of true health and well-being.

Traditional means of measuring our health often fall back to our weight. Studies consistently show, like one from the Center of Disease Control, that maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall health and can help prevent and control many ailments like heart disease and high blood pressure. Long-term weight control comes from healthy eating and regular exercise.

If health professionals and patients strictly look at the number on a scale, they only see one side of the story. Using a scale and Body Mass Index chart to determine what weight is appropriate for one’s height disregards factors that could illustrate an entirely different idea of health for up to twenty percent of people. An article from Time magazine  says that scientists cannot use a BMI number to distinguish fat from muscle, nor can the number understand different types of fat that each have different metabolic effects on health.

Someone who is at a “healthy weight” can be less healthy than someone considered “overweight” and even “obese.” These designations thus lose any sense of reliability or purpose for everyday wellness. In fact, according to Live Science, some studies suggest being overweight can improve survival of chronic diseases. A single number, although easy to rely on, doesn’t take into account someone’s everyday habits, body composition, nor their mental health.

When it comes to true health, perhaps psychologist Abraham Maslow had a good idea when studying the concept “self-actualization.” This term refers to an individual’s growth toward fulfillment of the highest of needs. Website Simple Psychology breaks down the five-stage model as humanity’s needs for basic survival, psychological well-being, and self-fulfillment. The pyramid has the largest portions dedicated to physiological and safety needs for security, food, water, and shelter. From there, humans desire feeling love and esteem that come from relationships and accomplishments. With all of these needs in balance, one can achieve their full potential and purpose in life.

If people simply focus on one area of life, such as physical appearance and achieving their “goal body,” other innate needs get pushed aside and disregarded. People push themselves so much to be more productive and become better versions of themselves, but rarely do they step back to consider how the rest of their lives might be affected. Deprioritizing less visible signs of wellness leads to further stigmatization of mental health problems that equally determine our well-being.

Measuring health is not a one-size-fits-all system, but an individual analysis of genetic and environmental circumstances. Studies show significant evidence that each body has a biological control of body weight at a given set point. With Western culture’s fascination with fad diets and overexercising, bodies replace their set points with various “settling points” that disregard biological signals throw people off-balance in a limbo that cannot endure in the long run. Rather than focusing on others bodies and numbers on a scale, individuals must understand their own body’s needs and natural resting point where they will truly thrive.

Even if people still want to take physical measurements of their patients, there are still better options out there. For example, gaining strength and endurance, wherever the starting point may be, shows progress and comes from consistent physical activity. Also, measuring one’s resting heart rate will show if the cardiovascular system is working efficiently to maintain good heart health, along with measuring blood pressure. The Mayo Clinic promotes a heart rate around 60-100 beats per minute and a blood pressure in the 120/80 range are normal and healthy.

Rather than going to the gym and working out for the external desires that seem to sporadically trend, people should focus instead on the internal and overall benefits. Regular exercise can reduce stress, improve sleep, keep skin looking younger longer, increase everyday energy, and improves productivity. Seeing exercise as an activity that works from the inside out can, in turn, improve the relationship individuals have with it, seeing it less as a obligation and more as an enjoyable pastime.

Canada’s Carleton University has certainly made a significant step toward seeing health as more than a number, and other gyms and universities should follow suit. Judging one’s lifestyle and health based off of a single glance is both unrealistic and damaging, leading to even greater health concerns like eating disorders and exercise addictions. Something as simple as gravitational pull with the earth should not have such a strong hold on society as it currently does. The human body is an amazing thing capable of fantastic feats. The best way to appreciate that is to listen to and care of it, accepting however it looks and building a loving relationship with it that goes beyond skin-deep.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie