When Anna Ward signed up for summer field school at the Learning Exchange she had no idea it would turn out to be a highlight of her time at UBC.
“It was one of the best decisions I‘ve made here,” says the 22 year-old Sociology Honours student. Last summer, as a third-year student, Anna enrolled in the Urban Ethnographic Field School (formerly IVEFS) organized by the UBC departments of Anthropology and Sociology. In six-week field school placements, students learn from and contribute to a variety of community organizations.
The field school includes volunteering and Anna started working with Felipe, who had immigrated to Canada from Central America. He needed to improve his English skills so he could keep his job in the restaurant industry. As a priority learner – a Learning Exchange patron who needs specific skills to get a job – Felipe spent one-on-one time with Anna.
“We found there were a lot of similarities in our cultures,” says Anna, who is from Jamaica. “We connected right away.”
Anna had no teaching experience but focused on what Felipe needed to learn. She used Learning Exchange language resources to support him to develop language skills and vocabulary relating to the hospitality and culinary industries. She expanded her resources to include YouTube, National Geographic magazine and UBC textbooks. The pair soon progressed to discussing societal issues they were both passionate about.
“The great part about these placements is bringing students to an environment where they can discover new strengths and abilities,” says Anna. Besides becoming good friends, Felipe taught her a lot about communication, community and the DTES, she adds.
Initially quiet and unsure, Felipe gradually built up his skills and his confidence. He met a professor who was visiting the Learning Exchange and then sat in on one of her lectures on Point Grey campus. He even felt ready to facilitate an ESL conversation group himself and took the Learning Exchange’s facilitator training course.
“It was so rewarding to see that,” says Anna, who continued volunteering with Felipe after her IVEFS commitment ended. And the partnership paid off – Felipe now has the language skills he needs..
As for Anna, the experience at the Learning Exchange has helped her find a focus for her Honour’s thesis. She was impressed by the strong connection among DTES residents and by hearing first-hand their stories of hardships and challenges. She also paid attention to how patrons interacted within the Learning Exchange’s two floors. Her thesis will examine how physical space and layout affects the success of Learning Exchange programs.
Her future path in Sociology has also been influenced by her field school experience – she is now looking at working with non-profit community organizations.
Anna says experiences like the one she had at the Learning Exchange really expand the limits of learning.
“As students, there is so much more we can do,” she says. “We’ve been given an opportunity to participate in a neighbourhood and an environment where we are welcomed as volunteers, where our ideas are valued and where we can contribute.
“I’ll always look back on this time as the one of the major highlights of my university years.”
The Urban Ethnographic Field School trains students to conduct in-depth, community-based research about the social, political, cultural and economic lives of immigrants. Students are placed in a local Neighbourhood House or community organization that works directly with immigrant communities. With community partners, students develop final projects based on their experiences in the field and the needs of the organization. For more information, visit http://ivefs.arts.ubc.ca/