I’m home! (for now)

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I’ve spent the past few¬†days flexing my multitasking muscles wrapping up my jobs, finishing up my exams, and packing to move out of residence. To be honest, it’s all been a lot to do at once! It’s also been quite emotional as I’m finding myself saying goodbye more than anything else these days: goodbye to friends, colleagues, and jobs that I’ve loved. Of course, these are all ‘goodbyes for now’ instead of ‘goodbyes forever’ but it’s still tough. I thought I’d be constantly happy and excited before placement but I’m learning that leaving is much more of a roller-coaster than that. That’s what makes it a journey, after all!

Right now, my pre-placement journey has me sitting in my aunt and uncle’s living room in Ottawa. I’m staying here over the next few days during¬†my pre-departure training with my placement organization in preparation for my eight months in Ghana. During the four-day training,¬†I’ll be learning as much as I possibly can from people who have been in my position before. Basically, I’m going to channel my inner sponge and take lots of notes!

So I’m not exactly at home right now but I’m the closest I’ve been since February for any length of time. I spent a handful of hours at home today between leaving residence in Toronto this morning and¬†arriving in Ottawa this evening. That short time was spent catching up with my family, unpacking all of my things from the car (filling up my bedroom with many, many boxes), and¬†drinking¬†a quick cup of tea. Then, just as fast, my mum and I were back on the road into the city where I’ll stay during training.

I am finally resting, now, for the first time in quite a few days. Like usual, I have a large to-do list but tonight I’m going to ignore it and just spend time relaxing and dreaming about the near future. All the questions my family have been asking me today about my co-op placement have me so energized, reminding me why I’m working so hard right now. It will all be worth it when I step on that plane just thirteen days from today!

Introducing… Book Snippets!

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I’ll admit it: I’m a chicken. Why? Well, I’ve wanted a blog for a few years but I¬†avoided it¬†for a number of reasons that mostly¬†relate to self-doubt.¬†The only reason I finally plucked up the courage to finally start this blog is because I want to document my co-op placement in Ghana. But I called this blog ‘Snippets of Katherine’ and not ‘Katherine’s co-op placement in Ghana’ for a reason: I want to share many different parts of me, not just my adventures in Ghana. After all, a ‘snippet’ is a small piece of something and I want this blog to be a collection of small pieces of me and my life.

A really significant part of my life has always been reading. For my New Year’s Resolution, as previously discussed, I’ve embarked on a 2014 Reading Challenge of completing fifty-two books before the end of the year. As part of this challenge, I’ve been posting mini book reviews on my personal Facebook page. I’ve really enjoyed doing this¬†not only because it keeps me accountable to my goal but it has also stimulated¬†connections and conversations both online and offline. People will check in on me, for instance asking how my reading challenge is going or giving me book recommendations.

Yesterday, I asked a couple of friends if I should stop posting the reviews on my personal Facebook because I was worried I was bombarding people’s news feeds with clutter. I was really encouraged when they both told me to continue posting the reviews because they thought they were fun to read. My Reading Challenge posts¬†had even impacted their reading habits by inspiring them to read more and by giving them suggestions of what to read next. Spurred by this positive feedback, I’ve decided to make my book reviews more public by adding them to a new section of¬†this blog I’m calling¬†‘Book Snippets’.

To help catch up with what I’ve read so far in 2014, please see below¬†the¬†eleven mini book reviews I’ve posted on my Facebook so far. And stay tuned for more book reviews as I continue my 2014 Reading Challenge and add to the Book Snippets section! Continue reading

Visa Panic (it’s not what you think)

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Story time: Yesterday I was sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen (I’m visiting for Easter) completely freaking out about assembling all the forms and photocopies and government-issued identification necessary to apply for my visa to Ghana. I had everything I needed; it was all together on the kitchen table. But I was still freaking out. A lot. Like, almost-crying, raised-voice, and swearing-because-I-couldn’t-find-one-piece-of-information-fast-enough a lot.¬†My family¬†was a mix of concerned that I was upset and annoyed that I was panicking for no particular reason.

If I had everything I needed and the visa information was going to be sent to the consulate no problem in about a half hour with plenty of time for the visa to be issued and then sent back to me before I left, why on Earth was I panicking?! On the ride over to the post office, my hands twisting together while also clinging to my passport, I told my mum that this was the very last administrative task I had to do to prepare for my trip. I realized then (of course, with some counsel from my mother) that I was panicking earlier not because I had somehow messed up the visa application but rather because this was a really important step in the journey to my co-op placement in Ghana because no visa, no placement, no Ghana.

It was in that moment that the idea¬†of not going to Ghana became scarier than idea of going to Ghana. I think my¬†excitement has finally usurped my fear! Placement has always scared me because I’ll be the father away from home (and the most alone) I’ve ever been. I’m still scared, of course, but knowing that going on placement is the only option in my head – because not going to Ghana would really hurt me – has made me feel strangely calm. It’s true that I feel like I¬†know nothing (√† la Jon Snow) because it’s impossible to read and research everything. And, yes, I’ll never truly be one hundred percent mentally or emotionally prepared for eight months in a new place. The fact is, though, that I’m going despite all this¬†fear of the unknown. I happen to think that’s kind of badass.

On Graduation & Being ‘The Best’

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Over the past year, I’ve begun to notice a pattern: people are graduating. Now, this is to be completely expected, as this is how university is generally supposed to go. Nonetheless, I have noticed I have a funny internal reaction to the phenomenon: I often¬†feel threatened by the fact that I will be graduating in five instead of four years like most of my peers. My program is longer because of co-op and there is no way around it because we write a thesis in our last year. Simply, you cannot graduate early.

This is not something I should be bothered by but I know that I am on some small level because I¬†find myself thinking in response to all of these graduating people, “well I¬†could graduate after this¬†summer with the number of credits I¬†have but I’m not because of co-op”. This is such a silly disclaimer.¬†I would even go so far as to say that it is petty, as if I somehow think so highly of myself that I need to remind myself that I am, in fact, an exception to this five year rule, as if my choosing to take five years for my degree makes it more acceptable than if I was forced to.

It’s an embarrassing confession, Internet, so please don’t judge for it.¬†I think¬†my brain just needs to get over itself and accept that it is actually very normal. It does not need to graduate early to somehow prove that it is unique and fantastic. It needs to be a little more humble than that. I think if I go deeper into the issue, though, I will find that my little brain glitch about wanting to graduate early is actually all about¬†the desire to be¬†The Best.

One of my teachers in high school would tell me “your best is good enough”. While I loved this teacher, I’ve come to believe that this is a completely inappropriate affirmation for a perfectionist because if I’m doing my best for everything that I’m doing, I’ll burn out quickly. So my best (and consequently The Best) becomes this far off impossible goal. It’s this goal that leads me to think that I need to do unnecessary things like graduate early.

Working to be The Best¬†is just far too much pressure for a twenty-year-old to put herself under. I’m not saying I should throw in the towel and become a Netflix-binge-watching doing-nothing kind of person. What I’m saying is that I’m intrinsically motivated so I don’t need an unachievable external goal to get me moving. Perhaps I should just try on normal for a size. Perhaps there’s a little freedom in normal. Perhaps there’s a little wiggle room. I think this something I could really use.

Relaxing, preparing, & de-cluttering update

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This past few days I have spent approximately¬†zero time studying. Instead, I’ve been catching up on my sleep, which has included spending deliciously lazy mornings listening to 8tracks playlists, reading, or watching my new favourite YouTube channels. I’ve also been reconnecting with a lot of my friends that I don’t see very often. The study break before exams was the first time we’ve really had any substantial amount of time to go on an adventure, or to discover awesome restaurants in Toronto, or to¬†just hang out. I’m glad I took advantage of this time by spending it with people I love. I’ve spent a lot of time alone, too. It’s spring here and the weather is invigorating so I’ve gone for many runs and walks outside, just enjoying the sunshine and the warm wind that were much needed after a particularly long, cold Canadian winter.

I know I really needed this time to recover and relax before exams start. The last two weeks of the school term were very stressful because I was finishing off major final projects. When I’m juggling so many assignments, my self-care is kind of thrown out the window. For example, I spent my nights rotating between two hours of sleep and four hours of work. At one point, my friends and I realized that we didn’t even know what day of the week it was or even what time of day it was. This is definitely¬†‘student syndrome’ and I’m really glad it’s over.¬†Now that all that stands between me and my co-op placement in Ghana is a few weeks and two exams instead of 538947893 assignments, I can really let myself be excited about the adventure I’m about to begin. It’s really incredible, if you think about it.

Much¬†of this relaxing time has been used to prepare for Ghana, of course, as there is a lot to do before I head out in twenty-something days. (!!!) I’ve been doing a lot of paperwork, which is not as fun, but I’ve also had the pleasure of connecting with some other development studies students from other universities who have spent time where I’m going. The tips and tricks they are sharing with me are invaluable. I’m very grateful to them for offering up¬†their experiences and for answering all of my (many, many) questions. I feel like I’ve got a better grasp on what I will encounter when I get there. That said, I’m well aware that most of my learning will happen in-country and on-the-ground (but that’s kind of the best part, right?).

To¬†relax and to prepare for Ghana, too, I’ve been going through my things – especially my clothes – to de-clutter, a goal I described in a previous post. I’m pleased to say that I’ve successfully tackled¬†my clothes and shoes, which means I currently have a mountain of things¬†waiting to be donated to a local thrift store all piled up at the end of my bed. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty proud of myself. I had initially thought it would be hard for me to part with some of my clothes because I’m a nostalgic person but I think I did well. I was really honest about getting rid of the things that don’t fit properly or that I don’t wear. I think I’ll go through my clothes again once more in a couple of weeks to make sure that there aren’t still things hiding in my cupboards that I decided to keep¬†but that I don’t ever wear.

Donating some of my things and de-cluttering was the first step of moving out of¬†my building on residence at my school and when I realized this, it was a bittersweet moment: it’s exciting because it means that my co-op placement in Ghana is getting closer and closer but it’s also hard because it reminds me that I’m leaving, which means I’m leaving behind a lot of people I love and a routine that I’m used to. It reminds me that co-op is going to really push me, a fact that is both exciting and terrifying. You’re supposed to do things that scare you, though. That’s what living is, after all.

Re-learning the art of slow reading

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This year I embarked on a fantastic challenge as my New Years Resolution: I planned on reading at least fifty-two books over the course of the twelve months of 2014. So far, due to a demanding school and work schedule, I’ve only read six. While I’ve started the seventh, I’ve really struggled to make time for reading for pleasure in the life. I’m a social sciences student, which means I read so much heavy text for school that my brain is often a little too tired by the end of the day to even pick up the cute young adult novel I’m reading (right now:¬†Fangirl¬†by Rainbow Rowell). To be honest, I haven’t finished a book since Reading Week… which was in February!

Some would argue there are other things going on here. For instance, as a child of the digital age, I’m adept at going through mountains of information yet because of this, research says, my brain isn’t equipped for the task of actually just sitting down and quietly reading a book.¬†This is because¬†I’m¬†used to working quickly through online articles or news, skimming the page for important keywords, assembling this information into themes, and then moving onto the next thing. This is a very useful skill in our modern techno-centric world and also¬†as an undergrad student, but unfortunately there is evidence that this method of information collecting is bleeding into other aspects of our lives, making it harder for us to focus on just reading a novel.

I think making time for reading in my life is key to my happiness as it is a form of self-care. This is why I decided to make a reading challenge my New Years Resolution, after all. But even when I actually get time to read, I sometimes find myself losing my train of thought here and there, when usually my concentration on the task at hand is on point. I think this is because reading a novel is not the same interactive experience as reading online or doing research.

Reading forces you to be fully immersed in this one thing instead of bouncing from this to that. But it is this characteristic that makes me¬†love reading so much: giving myself an opportunity to shut down all the thoughts and plans whirring about my mind to give myself away to imagination. So, now that my final papers are finished, I’m reminding myself to slow down, intentionally, to read for fun again.

The value of research

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A few days ago, my¬†co-op class had a potluck at our professor’s house (I know, my program rocks). Before we ate, we sat around and chatted about what we’d learned this term and also about some of our anxieties about our approaching co-op placements. As it turns out, many of us are anxious about the research portion of placement.

During our time abroad, we are expected to spend eighty percent with our placement organization (our job) and the other twenty percent on our personal research projects, which can be on any topic we choose and will be written into a thesis in our fifth year. If it sounds scary… that’s because it is! While many of us have taken a few research courses on methods, design, or¬†ethics, none of us have spent any real time ‘in the field’ so placement will be our very first experience. Because of all this newness, thinking about research on co-op comes with a wonderful mix of fear and excitement.

Over the past term, we’ve really been focusing on why we do research and what its benefits and disadvantages are. I’ve realized more and more that I want to do research while on placement that will not only add a valuable academic voice but that will also add value to the community with which I am working. I want to make sure that I am using my research to give back because, as one of my classmates pointed out, all research does some harm as it is inevitably disruptive in some way. So, for me, an ethical research project is something that I am fully committed to in order to produce the best possible results and something that I have the ability to share and disseminate, hopefully within the academic community and beyond.

It’s funny that I’m twenty and I’m almost done my third year of university and yet still haven’t figured out what to do with my life – but I’m actually completely okay with that. I haven’t decided how I want to use my undergraduate degree: will I fall in love with the doing of development work while on placement or will I fall in love with the research process? What if I love both? I know I’m going to graduate school but I’m not sure when and I’m sure even sure what I’ll study. I guess I’m using placement to explore what I want and where I see myself fitting in the world. My research, too, will help me explore my interests and – I’m sure – my limits. It’s all going to start when I step on a plane to Ghana in just under forty days!