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Student Life

Great expectations, at what expense?

Cramming to finish your degree isn’t worth the mental exhaustion

Take a step back and look at your life from a different angle. Are you happy? Are you okay?

There’s a significant amount of pressure on students to achieve something in their young adult life, so much so that sometimes people forget that expectations aren’t always great. More often than not, this pressure comes from within. The individual lens that we see life through is tinted with the wants and needs of external factors: parents, society, friends, and the need to ‘become.’ It’s not a simple feat to differentiate between what’s really best for you and what you think is best, because of all these factors.

In 2016, The Charlatan published an article highlighting different factors contributing to university dropout rates. According to the article, most students leave because they’re unsure if their program is right for them.

“In the first year, dropouts were already struggling in terms of meeting deadlines, academic performance and studying patterns,” according to The Youth in Transition Study sourced in The Charlatan. “Compared to graduates and graduate continuers, more dropouts felt they had not found the right program,” the study stated.

Here’s the truth: deciding on your future at 18 is practically impossible. You’re told to make the most important decision of your life at an age when your brain is still evolving. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, the human brain isn’t fully developed until the age of about 25.

When you wake up one morning and ask yourself if what you’re doing is worth the stress, money, and effort you’re putting into it, remember you’re allowed to change your mind, take a break and refocus your lens.

“Overall, being out of school let me take time to focus on myself,” said Rachel Doyon, a student in Montreal. “It also made me miss school—I think that was the biggest benefit. Being reminded that I was in university because it was something I was passionate about, not just an obligation. I still get little pangs of disappointment when my peers graduate ‘on time,’ but it was the best choice.”

‘On time’ is the key term here: this is exactly the kind of ‘want’ or ‘need’ that we associate with ourselves, but really it’s an outside factor. The concept of graduating on time is not at all an objective conventional setting: the only timeline that matters is your own personal clock. Granted, there are several factors that affect when you graduate: maybe your parents pay for your education and you don’t want to prolong it, or perhaps you have to prolong it because you pay for it yourself.

According to a study on persistence in post-secondary education in Canada done by York University, only 57 per cent of students aged 18 to 20 graduated, or are continuing in post-secondary education, 8 per cent of which were enrolled and dropped out. Students aged 20 to 22 had 14 per cent drop out rate of the 60 per cent enrolled in university.

“Even though my parents wouldn’t have minded, I just would’ve felt weird, like I fell off the train,” said Ali Sabra, a Lebanese student who was offered a year-long internship abroad, but refused because it didn’t feel right to take two semesters off. “Being in Lebanon, it’s virtually unfathomable to ‘take a year off.’ It’s the rush thing for sure.”

Culture played a big role in Sabra’s decision-making, but being in a rush to graduate is rather universal. In all fairness, it’s okay to want to graduate as soon as possible. You might not want to pass up an opportunity that would benefit you more in the future in the name of finishing sooner.

“I went into psychology because my parents got so excited, but I wasn’t sure I liked it,” said Noura Nassreddine, a previous American University of Beirut student. “The next year, I told my parents I didn’t like it and I needed to take a break, so I did.” During her gap semester, Nassreddine found what she really loved, and is now on her way to becoming a Paris-trained baker. Nassreddine’s experience is a reminder that your 18-year-old self doesn’t always know what you want your future to look like.

Choosing a career path is not a light task, and yes, sometimes you aren’t ready to decide where to go straight out of high school. It’s okay to go in blind and try things out, and then decide to change your mind. If you have the means, the patience, and the will, go find what’s best for you. When making decisions, consider which you’d regret more: doing it, or not doing it, whatever ‘it’ is.

All in all, taking time for yourself is as important as finishing your degree. Making sure the degree you’re getting is what you want to continue with and is important, too. Remember that your mental health is a key aspect of your success—take care of yourself so you can have the mental capacity to achieve your goals. Sometimes retreating is important to help put things into perspective. At the end of the day, life will bring you all sorts of problems in the future, so what’s an extra semester or two, anyway?

Feature GIF by @spooky_soda

Categories
News

Detained, harmed and forgotten: The Canadian prisoners of conscience

Many Canadians around the world remain detained, some denied human rights

Last week, Concordia welcomed back professor Homa Hoodfar after being detained for 112 days in Evin Prison. However, thousands of Canadians still remain incarcerated for unjust reasons and are denied basic human rights, as Hoodfar was.

In fact, as of Feb. 5, 2016, 1,457 Canadians were being detained abroad, according to Global Affairs Canada  991 in the United States, 237 in Asia and Oceania, 110 in South and Central America, 78 in Europe and 41 in Africa and the Middle East. These numbers include detainees in international jails, prisons and detention centres.

Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada’s secretary general, said the number of Canadians being detained and denied their human rights has risen in the last decade. “Over the last 10-plus years, there’s been a rapidly growing number of such cases,” said Neve, adding that this is due to a number of factors –– one being that people simply travel more frequently.

Neve said statistics of how many Canadians detained who are experiencing a violation of their human rights and have a risk of being tortured are hard to obtain. The Concordian reached out to Global Affairs for statistics, however they did not respond before the deadline of this article.

Neve said there has also been more unsettlement in the world since 9/11. “There’s a lot of people who are arrested on so-called national security grounds,” said Neve. “Sometimes Canadians have been swept up in thatso it’s starting to become a more regular occurrence.”

Neve said over the past few years there has been more attention brought to Canadians being imprisoned foreignly and more pressure put on the Canadian government regarding their efforts to free Canadians who are imprisoned in foreign countries and face a lack of human rights. He said this increased attention is due to the rising number of Canadians who find themselves in these situations.

“Twenty years ago it had been pretty unlikely that there would be a Canadian who’s actually a prisoner of conscience in another country, or a Canadian who is facing a serious risk of torture in another country,” said Neve.

Jacob Kuehn, Amnesty International Canada’s media and external communications officer, explained that a case only qualifies for Amnesty’s intervention when the individual is a prisoner of consciencein other words, someone imprisoned solely for exercising their human rights, when there’s no justification for their detention, he said. In such cases, Amnesty will advocate for their release.

In addition, Amnesty advocates for cases where the prisoner is at risk of human rights violations, such as torture or facing the death penalty, even if they are not a prisoner of conscience. “In that case, we’d advocate on their behalf, as well,” said Kuehn. “Not necessarily for their immediate and unconditional release, but certainly for due process.”

Kuehn said Amnesty International Canada advocated for Homa Hoodfar’s immediate and unconditional release from the beginning. “We launched a campaign in the early days calling the government of Canada to become quickly engaged, and then also we had a campaign that got about 50,000 signatures calling for Iranian authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally,” said Kuehn.

Hoodfar’s case was complicated by the lack of diplomatic ties between Iran and Canada. According to Jocelyn Sweet, a Global Affairs Canada spokesperson, this created significant challenges: the Canadian government relied on alliances with the Omani, Italian and Swiss diplomats. Sweet said that the Canadian government is “working on re-establishing diplomatic ties with Iran. We don’t have a specific timeline on it.”

“We have urged that the government should be reforming our laws and policies in what’s known as the area of consular assistance, to strengthen the kind of assistance the government offers in these kinds of cases,” said Neve. Consular assistance is aid and advice provided by diplomatic agents of a country to citizens of the same country that are abroad.

In January 2016, Amnesty International Canada and Canadian-Egyptian journalist, Mohamed Fahmy presented their Protection Charter to Foreign Affairs Minister, Stéphane Dion.

Mohammed Fahmy was incarcerated for more than 400 days in Cairo, Egypt for charges of terrorism. Fahmy’s case did not receive senior-level government intervention. “The [Harper Government], for instance, wasn’t intervening in ways that everyone else felt would be helpful,” said Neve. The Protection Charter would ensure equal and compulsory consular assistance, according to Amnesty International Canada’s website.

Graphic by Florence Yee.

“One thing that we have highlighted is that there’s a real need for more consistent and dependable senior-level political involvement in very serious cases like this,” he said. Neve said the release of Kevin Garratt––a Canadian held in China for two years for charges of spying and stealing state secrets––and Hoodfar proves senior level engagement can make a difference. “The prime minister was involved and Minister Dion was involved and probably others, but that’s pretty key, to have your prime minister and your foreign minister both personally intervening,” he said.

Neve proposed two ways the public can assist in the liberation of Canadian prisoners of consciencecall for the improvement of the government’s consular practices and take action on individual cases of concern and to contact their member of parliament and request for them to support The Amnesty International Fahmy Foundation Protection Charter.

Neve said there are other cases Canadians can take action on. “For instance, in Iran, there’s a Canadian permanent resident who’s still in prison,” said Neve. “He’s been in prison for many years, his name is Saeed Malekpourwe’re taking action on his case. There are all sorts of other ways to take action on his case online.”

There’s also Huseyin Celil, who’s imprisoned in China and Bashir Makhtal, who’s imprisoned in Ethiopia, Neve said.

To aid in the release of Canadians incarcerated in foreign prisons who face a risk of violation to their human rights, visit and search the names of detained Canadians for specific details on how to help, visit www.amnesty.ca.

Graphic by Florence Yee

Categories
Opinions

Tales from Abroad: Osaka Love Letter

Exchange isn’t just about studying, but growing together

It’s been a while, but it’s great to be back home.

As I finish writing this piece, I’m safe and sound, but exhausted. This dose of the flu has increased my distaste for this sub-zero weather, and now I’m craving sugar-infused caffeine.

The habits I’ve become so accustomed to are coming back. Gone are the days where I can buy a pair of delicious rice balls (onigiri) and a canned coffee between class periods, or hear that eerily Westminster-themed eight-tone Japanese bell that heralds the start and end of a long school session.

But with all of this nostalgia slipping away from my memory, I digress.

It’s been weeks since I returned to Montreal and the chaotic rush of the winter term is underway. It’s surreal to be riding on these retro blue-hued subway cars and hearing unsolicited random conversations of mixed English and French on the side. While I’m happy to be here, I still yearn for the little details that I’ve gotten so used to in my daily commute living in Japan: those catchy melodic jingles played in-between stations, those futuristic touch-screen ticket machines, the variety of people I see—from the kinds of the suit-and-tie businessmen to the flawlessly fashionable youth—all scrambling to get to their destination (not to mention those friendly and super-accurate train announcements).

Talk about reverse culture shock.

Last fall, I lived as an exchange student in this small, cozy, town of Hirakata, a corridor town between Osaka and Kyoto in Western Japan. The school was Kansai Gaidai—a global university with a local Japanese flavor, housing a student population of 15,000 or so. It was a surprise for me to be chosen alongside fellow Concordia students to fly over and study there. Words cannot suffice how different everything was, from the architecture, to the lifestyle, and—perhaps what stood out for me the most—the hospitality and attitude of the student community.

Within the confines of the classroom, for someone who had minimal experience of learning Japanese, the language classes were intensive, challenging, and stimulating. The lecture courses helped us reflect on the social issues happening in Japan and in Asia within a global context. With extra-curricular activities, meetups, and other related social events on top of that, it is not surprising that student life can be hectic and sometimes stressful in Japan.

I’m thankful that everyone has been extremely supportive, in good times and bad times. The student community is what makes Japan unique—because despite how challenging things can be, it’s reassuring that everyone’s got each other’s back.

From the students—Japanese and foreign—to the teachers, and to the people I meet everyday:  there is a genuine desire from all to learn from each other in a strangely euphoric way that I’ve never seen before and is hard to put in words.

Everytime I walked onto campus and into the glass-walled student lounge of Building 7, I always witnessed the space evolve into a makeshift meeting spot for students from around the world to chat about virtually anything under the sun. For instance, a five-minute conversation about cats with a friend can turn into a two-hour discussion about how youth from other countries aspire to survive in difficult times. There’s tension, there’s seriousness, and there’s a willingness to listen and understand; but there’s also laughter, spontaneity and fun that I’ll admit I truly miss seeing, witnessing and participating in. They sort of resemble those 18th century coffeehouses in Europe—except that instead of newspapers, they have smartphones: exchanging contacts, swapping photos and arranging times to hang out outside school.

It’s these random conversations, no matter how mundane, no matter what language, that becomes the catalyst in forming and fostering deep friendships. We may be students by occupation, but we’re also the youth who are on the crossroads of carving our own paths, our own futures—and hopefully, something better than the status quo, together. It’s this forward looking point-of-view that really got me, and it’s something that I’m currently trying to integrate in what I do everyday back home. I can only do so much, but I can try.

Living in Japan is a wild, challenging, and fulfilling journey into the unknown and unpredictable. You never know what’s in store, but there’s never a dull moment. There’s an outburst of energy, life, and enthusiasm that’s injected into everything. It breaks away from the norm of what we’ve been so used to. It doesn’t matter if your Japanese is bad or your English is good or vice-versa: it’s that collective desire and strong interest for everyone to connect that’s important. It is this sense of community that makes this journey all worthwhile, and even now that most of us exchange students have already returned to our own home countries, I remain optimistic that this will not be the end of our journey and our friendship.

There’s a reassurance that wherever you are in the world, you’re not alone. There are people who have a great heart and desire to support each other for a better future. I guess it’s that sense of hope that we may so often forget, and it gives me much more faith in humanity than I ever had.

While I am still experiencing a distorted sense of homesickness, I still look forward to sitting down to take a bite of a sweet icy maple-flavored taffy in the spring. Except this time, I hope that I will not be alone, but together with the newfound friends I made in Japan and around the world. We all continue to grow and move forward beyond the four walls of the classroom, and into the ever unpredictable future in store for all of us.

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