Thursday, February 19, 2009

  • Spending a February week down south
  • Work term in Vietnam 'challenging'
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

Spending a February week down south

There are strange things done ’neath the midnight sun — or at least things done differently from what’s the norm south of the border. US president Barack Obama will see a few of them, no doubt, during today's quick visit to Ottawa, the coldest (or second coldest, or seventh coldest, depending on your source) capital city in the world. Among Canada’s oddities is scheduling “spring break” in February, which isn’t spring by anybody’s definition. The reason, of course, is that the fall-and-winter academic year here generally ends in April, while American students are in class for weeks longer, and it makes sense for Canadians to head for the beaches earlier than the Americans do. Leaving aside any issues of being "wilder and crazier than ever before", as one tourism web site puts it, I'll just mention that it's going up to 22 Celsius in Daytona Beach today, and all the way to, uh, minus-9 in Waterloo.

Anyway, it's spring break (or "reading week" as UW and most Canadian universities officially call it), but not everybody is either reading or playing beach volleyball. Eric Kennedy, a first-year student in the knowledge integration program, wrote from Conrad Grebel University College as the break began: “I’m part of a group of 24 students driving down to Diamond, Louisiana, to assist in reconstruction activities. The hurricanes have left a swath of destruction, and cleanup is slow. We're working with Mennonite Disaster Services to help with the construction of houses for local families. Another half dozen Grebelites are flying out to Ecuador where they will be running a week-long soccer camp for children through a local church. They will also be working on some local building projects, likely coordinated through a small church that they have partnered with. We may not be doing a whole lot of reading this reading week, but the learning and experiences will be undoubtedly powerful.”

In other matters . . . Wednesday of last week was marked as "No Internal E-Mail Day" by the people who work at St. Jerome’s University. The event was initiated by staff member Jim Robson, who suggested that staff renew relationships and strengthen internal communication by speaking to colleagues on the phone or face to face instead of using e-mail. A "No Internal E-Mail Day Morning Coffee Break" was part of the day, as staff met for coffee and muffins in the community centre. Robson says he hopes the event will be repeated on the 11th of every month.

[Thomas]Also at St. Jerome’s, Kyle Thomas (left) has joined the staff as senior development officer, bringing ten years of experience in the banking industry and financial planning. • Edward Schmidt, a custodian in UW’s plant operations department since 1988, will retire officially as of March 1. • Ilie Voiculescu, who served as a custodian in plant operations from 1981 to his retirement in June 1998, died January 29.

[Book cover]The Social Behavior of Older Animals is the latest book by Anne Innis Dagg, an academic advisor in UW’s independent studies program and a zoologist who has written about such topics as giraffes and Darwinian psychology. Says the publisher, the Johns Hopkins University Press: “How do young and old social animals view each other? Are aged animals perceived by others as weaker? Or wiser? What is the relationship between age and power among social animals? Taking a cue from Frans de Waal’s seminal work examining the lives of chimpanzees, Anne Innis Dagg in this pioneering study probes the lives of older mammals and birds. Synthesizing the available scientific research and anecdotal evidence, she explores how aging affects the lives and behavior of animals ranging from elk to elephants and gulls to gorillas, examining such topics as longevity; how others in a group view senior members in regard to leadership, wisdom, and teaching; mating success; interactions with mates and offspring; how aging affects dominance; changes in aggressive behavior and adaptability; and death and dying. At once instructive and compelling, this theme-spanning book reveals the complex nature of maturity in scores of social species and shows that animal behavior often displays the same diversity we find in ourselves.”

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Work term in Vietnam 'challenging'

by Adrienne Raw, from the Inside Scoop newsletter for co-op students

Fourth-year environmental studies student Tim Hudson’s recent work term in Vietnam has given him a new appreciation for the phrase “outside the box.” He spent the summer 2008 term as an unpaid volunteer with a non-government organization in Vietnam. Like many international work term opportunities, Hudson’s job was one he arranged himself. “It was surprising how relaxed people are when you’re like, ‘Oh I have this great idea,’ and all the co-op people were really good at helping me facilitate that,” he says. “They were very accepting.”

Hudson found his international opportunity by going through Students Without Borders, an organization within the World University Service of Canada, a program that facilitates international volunteer opportunities to foster human development and understanding. Many UW co-op students have taken advantage of the opportunities this program offers.

[At park visitors' centre]He split his four months in Vietnam between the capital city of Hanoi, for the first two months, and Bai Tu Long National Park, for the last two months. (Left: Hudson outside a ranger station at the park.) He performed many jobs while in Vietnam, including proofreading a book on the park where he worked and providing tours for international research groups. His biggest job was teaching English. “When you’re out there, you set your own goals,” he says. “I decided that my main focus was just helping the English capacity of the local rangers, so when future students come they don’t have to do all that work and they can maybe start branching off into helping out more of the local people.”

Hudson was “involved in everything from conservation to helping out the socio-economics of the actual park.” The local rangers worked with the 24,000 local inhabitants of the park on conservation and diversifying their economy. One of those initiatives that he visited during his time in the park was a watermelon plantation. Of all the conservation work he did in Bai Tu Long, his favourite was assisting with a late night search for sea turtles.

Communication was both the fundamentals of the job — teaching English to park rangers — and the most challenging part of the work term. Before departing Canada, Hudson spoke no Vietnamese, though he did pick up a fair amount of the language during his work term. Until he did learn the language, however, he had to rely on other means of communication. “I had a little Vietnamese-to-English dictionary and it didn’t leave my side for the first two weeks I was out in the park, because I couldn’t communicate without it.”

Despite the help of his dictionary and numerous hand gestures, he still occasionally found himself facing the consequences of a communication mishap. He tells the story of one instance where he thought he was going to be introduced to the local authorities when he was actually going on a nature hike. “I didn’t know it was a six hour hike,” he says ruefully, “and I wore the completely wrong clothes for it and trashed a couple of my good pants.”

Gradually both Hudson’s Vietnamese and the park rangers’ English improved. “When you’re totally immersed in the language, you can’t not learn the language. It just happens, naturally happens,” he says.

And he would definitely recommend an international experience to other students. Not only was it a great learning experience for him, but it also opened up new doors and made him consider different futures. “It’s more challenging that just travelling,” Hudson says. “You’re going to learn a lot more about yourself, you’re going to get a lot more respect from people. You’re travelling with a purpose.”

Despite not knowing any Vietnamese and facing four months in a different culture half-way around the world, he says the only time he was nervous was the moment he actually got on the plane. “You just don’t know what you’re walking into. If you can get over that, you’re good. I think that’s what stops people.”


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Link of the day

Birthday of Copernicus

When and where

Chemical engineering seminar: Joost Vlassak, Harvard University, “Fracture in Coatings with Application to Low-k Dielectrics”, 3:30, Davis Centre room 1302.

myPENSIONinfo self-service pension information web site will be down for maintenance Thursday 4 p.m. through Monday morning.

Math alumni in Palo Alto reception tonight, cancelled.

Election of staff representatives to nominating committees for dean of applied health sciences and dean of mathematics, by staff in those faculties, online voting closes 8 p.m.

Last day for 50 per cent tuition fee refund, February 20.

Warrior sports this weekend: Track and field (men and women) at Toronto, Friday. • Men’s basketball vs. McMaster, Saturday 4:00, PAC. • Men’s hockey vs. Lakehead (playoffs), Saturday and Sunday 7:30, Icefield. • Women’s hockey at York, Sunday.

UWdir partially out of operation Friday-Sunday; new identity management system, WatIAM, available as of February 23. Details.

Centre for Family Business, based at Conrad Grebel University College, breakfast seminar, “Multi-Generational Workers”, Friday 7 a.m., Waterloo Inn.

Information systems and technology professional development seminar: Chris Gray, UW library, “The Library’s Move to Server Virtualization with VMware INfrastructure” Friday 9 a.m., IST seminar room.

Leave the Pack Behind information booth for Smoker’s Helpline, and hot chocolate handout, Monday 9:30 to 11:30, outside South Campus Hall. Details.

Joint Health and Safety Committee Monday 1:30, Commissary building room 112D.

UW Senate meets Monday 4:30 p.m., Needles Hall room 3001.

Canadian Computing Competition organized by UW for high school students, Tuesday. Details.

Tax information session for international students Tuesday 10:00 to 12:00 or 2:00 to 4:00, Davis Centre room 1302.

Employee Assistance Program presents “Seven Strategies for Highly Healthy Eating” Tuesday 12:00, Davis Centre room 1304.

Senate finance committee Tuesday, February 24, 2:30 p.m., and March 12, 11 a.m. Details.

UAE campus event for potential students and others in the United Arab Emirates, Tuesday 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., InterContinental Hotel, Dubai. Details.

Peter Russell, earth sciences, 65th birthday cocktail reception during the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention, March 2, 6:00 to 8:00, Fairmont Royal York Hotel, Toronto, RSVP sharonmc@

Innovation and Sustainable Community Change workshop sponsored by Social Innovation Generation Waterloo, March 3, 8:30 to 5:30, book launch 4 p.m., St. George’s Hall, 655 King Street North. Details.

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