Categories
News

Echoes of silence: teachings from the pandemic

Students who began their university years online due to COVID-19 revisit the early days of virtual learning.

The rhythmic tapping of keyboards and murmurs of conversation usually fill Concordia’s CJ building newsroom, a place where stories are chased and the news never sleeps. But on a Friday afternoon, just one week before the semester’s start, the room was an island of solitude on an equally empty campus. The only exception was Elisabeth Ndeffo, a fourth-year journalism student, who sat alone, immersed in the quiet that was once a rarity here.

This stillness was a stark contrast to the typical atmosphere, but it was a familiar one for Ndeffo. It mirrored the quiet that had descended upon the space during the pandemic semesters when the vibrant exchange of ideas was replaced by the silence of remote learning. The newsroom became a reflection of the isolation that students like Ndeffo experienced during the height of COVID-19.

Concordia beckoned, but the virus’ shadow loomed. “I knew that it was going to follow me in university,” she recounted, her voice carrying the weight of a premonition come true. The shift to university life in fall 2020 was supposed to be a fresh chapter. Instead, it posed the question: how long is this going to last? 

“It honestly sucked,” Ndeffo admitted. The rites of passage for first-year students—frosh, activities, the social rites of university life—were absent when she started university. “We couldn’t do frosh, activities, or anything that you’d normally do.”

“I didn’t want to do something reduced,” she said. Yet the circumstances demanded compromise and innovation. “We had to craft it out,” she explained. “You had to interview your family. I remember I did an assignment on how to hard-boil an egg. It was a Martha Stewart recipe.”

AJ Cordeiro, media instructor at Concordia, reflected on what came with the shift to online classes. “It got way lonelier,” he said, explaining his expanded role during the pandemic. Troubleshooting shifted to platforms like Zoom.

The delay in accessing professional equipment was also a frustration for Ndeffo, who was keen on gaining practical skills. “I only got to use a lot of the video equipment in third year, a bit in second year,” she said. “I knew about cameras, but there was a lot of hands-on training that we missed out on.”

When in-person classes cautiously resumed, a different kind of connection emerged. “It was exciting. I had met some of my peers, even though we were online. We would see each other on video,” Ndeffo recalled, finding solace in the digital faces of her classmates. Even with the return to campus, the mask mandates created a new barrier, contrasting the openness of virtual interactions with the masked, in-person ones.

Amidst the pandemic’s challenges, Cordeiro observed a significant shift at Concordia’s journalism school, leading to unexpected benefits. “It was an opportunity to reevaluate and explore new solutions,” he said, highlighting the adoption of cross-platform solutions and the use of more accessible technology such as smartphones. This transition, according to Cordeiro, fostered a more adaptable and flexible approach to education.

Despite a rocky start and the uneven playing field that the pandemic exacerbated, Ndeffo is forging ahead with a prestigious internship at CBC News. Her journey, like many others, reflects the resilience and adaptability fostered in the face of unprecedented times.

Categories
News

Building bridges to reach the job market

Quebec job integration companies are helping socially isolated individuals to find employment

At the Cap-Saint-Jacques park’s waterfront in the borough of Pierrefonds stands D-Trois-Pierres – a farmland where bridges are built between socially isolated individuals and the job market.

This non-profit organization hosts cohorts of a maximum of 12 participants who learn social and professional skills, allowing them to incorporate what they’ve learned to the job market. “We help participants advance at the pace of their abilities,” said Benoit DeGuire, the general director of D-Trois-Pierres.

Manual labour professionals, like farmers, heavy machine operators, and janitors, also teach hands-on skills to the participants. These competencies are transferable to other professions, giving participants the social and professional tools to find a stable job after completing the program. Participants can thus work in the agricultural area after passing through the D-Trois-Pierres job integration program.

Group courses on citizenship education, employee initiative and proper workplace behaviour are some of the many competencies taught by the psychoeducators at D-Trois-Pierres.

“Our mission is to permit individuals to thrive. We change lives,” said DeGuire, who oversees the operations of the integration company. 

Quebec hosts a total of 44 job integration companies, regulated by Services Quebec under the job integration company experience program. These non-profit organizations are associated with the Collectif des entreprises d’insertion du Québec (CEIQ) — a Quebec-based job integration companies conglomerate.

Acceptance into the company program is restricted to Canadian citizens with no income or permanent residents aged 16 and older. Participants must have modest education and professional experience in addition to a lack of employment insurance or social assistance.

However, D-Trois-Pierres’ integration coordinator Nicolas Dugal said that reaching out to individuals who could benefit from this program is not always easy.

Facing recruiting shortages, D-Trois-Pierres is extending the admittance limit from Vaudreuil-Dorion to Dorval, and is now accepting participants living outside of Montreal.

Both DeGuire and Dugal said that their participants’ average profile has shifted after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is a big difference, people are more far-off from jobs,” said DeGuire. He explained that there has been an increase in the number of individuals who speak neither of Canada’s official languages.

This trend has also been observed in other job integration companies. Although age acceptance has widened, the CEIQ has recorded that six out of ten individuals who partake in employment incorporation programs are 35 years old or younger. 

According to Dugal, another large portion of participants have trouble keeping a stable job, often working during short periods of time because of problems of punctuality and disinterest.

In response, the job integration’s intervention team has adapted its program to accommodate the participants’ respective needs. Each participant’s course is personalized through the job incorporation procedure, which is prepared by social workers who host one-on-one sessions with participants.

Some participants work in the organization’s shop, les Jardins du Cap, where they sell the organic produce harvested on site. DeGuire said the interaction with local customers is essential for D-Trois-Pierres to share their mission and principles with the general public.

Moreover, Dugal said that the non-profit’s social workers are not in it for the money, they want participants to thrive and have a prosperous life. He explained that D-Trois-Pierres’ program’s final aim is to build a strong community between participants and social workers. He added,  “We are in the field of the social economy, it is the social pretext above all.”

Categories
Student Life

Your summer 2022 budget travel guide

 Here are a few tips, tricks, and resources to make your summer a memorable and adventurous one!

Not sure what you’re going to do with your summer? We’ve compiled some cheap options and resources that you can use this summer that are student discount friendly.

Travelling may be difficult with COVID-19 restrictions, so all of the destinations listed are open to vaccinated travellers leaving from Canada as of April 14.

But first, here are the tools you will need to find the best prices for accommodation, flights, and transportation.

 

Flights

To find the cheapest flight on any airline to any destination, sites like FlightHub and KAYAK are the places to go. Some trips may also have special call-in prices that could be lower than what other sites may estimate. Just remember that these are third-party agencies, so getting reimbursed for a cancelled trip may prove more difficult.

 

Accommodation

Finding a place to stay depends on the budget of the traveller. For those feeling adventurous or on an extreme budget, the website Couchsurfing allows travellers to stay on a local’s couch completely free.

If that idea is a little intimidating, hostels are also a great option to meet other travellers. Hostelworld is the one-stop site with millions of reviews, and finding a hostel in any city with it is a breeze.

If you prefer privacy, Airbnb or Trivago are also great options for private accommodation like hotels or apartments, at a premium. Although, depending on the size of your group, Airbnb may end up costing much less than a hostel stay.

 

Transportation

Depending on where you decide to go, public transit and walking is always the cheapest option, but if you have to hop on a train or want to rent a car, here are some great resources: HappyRail (Europe), Eurail (Europe), and KAYAK (global).

It’s also important to remember that Uber is not global, and if you’re somewhere where taking a cab is a consideration, it’s important to research average prices beforehand — don’t let yourself be the tourist that pays triple what they should. Also, remember city taxis are not always safe at each destination. A quick Reddit search should help you learn from other tourists and even some locals.

With gas prices being at an all-time high, the classic summer road trip may not be the cheapest option. Instead, check out train prices for super cheap round-trip prices this summer:

(prices vary by date of departure) 

 

Montreal to Ottawa: $74+

Montreal to Quebec City: $76+

Montreal to Toronto: $98+

 

For those wanting to catch some rays this summer, here are plenty of cheap flights to beaches to choose from:

All prices listed were found using Flighthub for the months of May, June and July.

 

Miami, USA: $350+

With plenty of beaches to choose from, Miami is a great city to explore this summer with its vibrant nightlife. You can grab a room in a hostel for as low as $25+/night.

 

Cancún, Mexico: $500+

Remember to pack your sunscreen when you go, because the summer heat in Cancun stays around 30 degrees. Even though the heat will get to you, you won’t have to sweat the cost with hostels being as low as $9+ a night.

 

Montego Bay, Jamaica: $500+

The white sand beaches and crisp blue waters of Montego Bay are a great place to spend your summer lounging around or exploring. Hostels start at $25+/night.

 

Guatemala City, Guatemala: $500+

Guatemala City has a mix of great food, jungle temples, secret coves, and colourful neighbourhoods for you to explore this summer for cheap with an average cost of $39+/day including hostels priced at $10+/night.

 

San Jose and Liberia, Costa Rica: $600+

Costa Rica offers plenty to do, whether you want to sit and lounge the whole trip or hike up an active volcano. Both San Jose and Liberia have hostels priced at $13+/night.

 

Bogotá, Colombia: $650+

If you want to have a mix of city and jungle, Bogotá is the place for you. With plenty of historic sites and culture to experience, there will never be a dull moment on your trip. Hostels are cheap starting at $5+/night.

 

Belize City, Belize: $750+

If you’re looking to catch some waves and surf this summer, Belize may be the destination for you. The city has an array of activities to choose from, from exploring caves to whitewater rafting — it’s perfect for the active traveller. With hostels starting at $35+/ night, this destination is the most expensive option.

 

Leaving the tropics, here are some cheap flights to Europe where you could either choose to stay or grab a cheap train or flight with Ryanair or easyJet to anywhere from North Africa to the Middle East and Asia.

 

Dublin, Ireland: $550+

This summer you can experience the vibrant Irish nightlife or explore medieval castles and the beautiful landscapes featured in shows like Game of Thrones. Hostels start at $28+/night and one way flights out of the country for as low as $22+.

 

Lisbon, Portugal: $700+

A beautiful city to explore on foot, Lisbon offers travellers a perfect European experience for cheap. Hostels start at $18+/night and flights to other cities start at $41+.

 

Paris, France: $700+

The daily cost of living in Paris makes this one of the most expensive destinations on the list, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great place to travel to on a budget. Parisian nightlife and art make the city a great destination for those who want to gain some European culture this summer. Hostels start at $26+/ night, and this is a great city to travel from with flights out of the country as low as $12+.

 

The world is back open for you to explore after the last two years of COVID-19, so take advantage of some cheap destinations this summer and go somewhere new!

It’s important to remember that you do not need to have a lot of money to explore the world. Just because you are on a budget does not mean you have to settle for a staycation this summer!

To All The Books I’ve Never Read Before

How Bookstagram made me feel ashamed of my reading habits

Did you get into a new hobby during quarantine? Maybe you started something you’ve always wanted to try but never found the time to? Or maybe you dedicated more time to an already existing passion?

Whether you got into a new hobby or not, you’ve definitely seen your friends flock to social media to boast about their new hobbies. And let’s be real, it probably made you feel like shit if you were just trying to survive.

Now I won’t lie, I got really into reading during the first quarantine. With all my newfound time, it was just so easy to pick up a book and finish it in just a couple of days, something I was never able to do before. My new passion also made me discover the reading community community, Bookstagram, BookTube and BookTok. These are all places where people like me could share their love of reading, get recommendations and share our thoughts on our latest read.

I fell for the cute montages and pictures of perfectly-scattered books on beds made up with white sheets, thinking how books were not just about reading, but also about the aesthetics. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the dedication these accounts have for keeping up with their aesthetic because I know my cheap and unstable IKEA bookcase in the corner of my room will never be that pretty.

After following a few accounts on different platforms, I also loved getting recommendations and seeing my TBR (term used in the community to refer to someone’s “To Be Read”) list growing. However, when normal life started again, going back to work and school meant I did not have the same amount of time to dedicate to reading.,Determined to hold onto this new personality trait, as a reader, I made it my mission to not lose the hobby completely.

This is when my love for Bookstagram, BookTube and BookTok accounts turned on its heels. The algorithm started showing me more and more book content that made me feel ashamed that I couldn’t keep up with the creators I was seeing. Posts like, “All the books I read this month” or, “How I managed to read over 100 books last year” made me feel major imposter syndrome. Was I not reading enough to be a part of this community?

Reading for me can be a daunting task. I have trouble focusing, and sometimes need to read one sentence, paragraph or even page, over and over again in order to make sure I understood what I just read.

Being proud of myself for reading a book in one week became an underachievement when I’d open social media and see someone I admire had read three in the same amount of time. I realized the community puts a bigger emphasis on quantity than I originally thought, which made me feel like it didn’t matter what I read, just how much I read. The amount of time I would spend curating my library and TBR to fit my interests and topics I wanted to educate myself on felt like a waste. My 20 books in a year record now looked substandard and like it definitely didn’t necessitate a celebratory Instagram post.

Although I know that this is not the message these Bookstagrammers and BookTubers are pushing, comparison is inevitable. Not meeting the same book count as your favorite content creator makes you feel like you’re not doing it right.

Instead, I’m going to try focusing on what I get out of reading, instead of how many books I read — that is still a challenge. After all, I read a lot of non-fiction books about social issues with challenging and hard to digest content. Why read a lot of books if I cannot take the time to appreciate my growth and learning?

I might not read over 100 books a year, and my bookcase might not be filled with aesthetically pleasing covers, but I would never trade that for what I currently get out of reading.

 

Graphic by Lily Cowper

Categories
News

Is now the appropriate time to ease COVID-19 measures?

The government’s decision to ease sanitary measures may be a relief for certain businesses, however some experts believe that it can only be effectively done if properly safeguarded

Quebec’s Interim Public Health Director Dr. Luc Boileau announced in a press conference last week the easing of certain COVID-19 measures. As of March 12, Quebecers will no longer need to present their vaccination passport in public venues such as restaurants and bars, and businesses will be able to operate at 100 per cent capacity. By mid-April, the province intends to lift mask mandates, excluding on public transport, where mandates will remain in place until May.  

Though Boileau and the Quebec government regard mask measures as an effective one, they cannot continue to oblige it. As the government continues to return to normalcy, Boileau said in his March 3 press conference that masks will become a personal choice. In last week’s press conference, Boileau lifted more health measures. For example, if asymptomatic, people will no longer need to self-isolate for five days if in contact with someone that has tested positive for COVID-19.

Though the government is adamant about continuing to lift sanitary COVID-19 measures, many are still questioning whether now is the best time to ease all restrictions. The virus’ prevalence has prompted experts to envision potential risks that could emerge from these actions later down the line.

Most businesses optimistic in return

For many businesses heavily impacted by COVID-19 regulations, this is a breath of relief. The hardest hit businesses, like restaurants and bars, are grateful that they can now return to serving customers free of added restrictions and measures imposed upon their business.

Martin Vézina, vice president of governmental and public affairs for Association Restauration Quebec (ARQ) claimed that many restaurants feel reassured with the easing of sanitary measures. “This is good news for us because it comes down to a certain sense of normalcy that we haven’t seen since March 2020. We’re looking forward to opening at full capacity.”

 Restaurants that opened amid the pandemic like Bistro La Franquette are cautiously optimistic about easing measures. Co-owner Renée Deschenes has experienced many changes in health measures over the course of her restaurant’s existence, and feels like the added confusion from constant modifications has planted seeds of uncertainty and confusion among patrons entering her establishment.

 “It’s nice and all that we are able to open up at 100 per cent capacity, but the after-effects of people being in lockdown, people having a curfew, and the general public not really knowing what the rules are and aren’t, those effects are definitely felt in the restaurant,” said Deschenes.

 Experts are not fully convinced that now is the time to lift measures

Assistant professor at the McGill University Department of Medicine and infectious disease specialist Dr. Matthew Oughton is more cautious, and believes that though COVID-19 cases are low for now, the future of living with the virus can’t be accurately predicted. According to Oughton, continuing vaccine education, heavier viral monitoring, improving indoor air quality, and individual optimal vaccine protection are the four items that should be of primary concern while measures are eased. 

Given how the virus has surprised many over the past two years, especially amid the emergence of variants with increased transmissibility like Omicron and BA.2, lifting sanitary measures may eventually lead to re-imposed measures on public spaces and venues. “All of a sudden within about a month or so it (Omicron) exploded in so many different parts of the world. So, could we see that same process again, given all of the surprises that COVID-19 has dealt us over the past two years, we should expect to be surprised.”

 Despite the difficulty of accurately predicting if or when the next wave will hit, Oughton believes that if it does, it will be difficult for both the government and public health authorities to convince the public to respect re-implemented COVID-19 measures. “After two years, I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people are very tired of dealing with this. […] Unfortunately, just because we are tired of the virus, that doesn’t mean the inverse, that the virus is tired of us.”

 Despite the decline in cases, Oughton stated that most of Quebec’s population is not optimally protected from COVID-19. “If you look at the numbers, we’re about 91 per cent of people with at least one dose, we are at something like 87 per cent of the population with two doses, but we’re just only barely above 50 per cent of the population having three doses.”

 Peter Darlington, associate professor in the Department of Health, Kinesiology, and Applied Physiology at Concordia University explained that a virus’s lifespan ultimately depends upon the number of people it can infect. “How contagious it is would have an impact, because the virus essentially wants to be in as many people as possible. If you look at Ebola for example, the Ebola virus is not as transmissible because it has to travel through fluid, it’s not like an aerosol.” Darlington added that, the more variants like BA.2 are transmitted, there’s a greater possibility of other mutations occurring.  

 “Transmissibility is what derives its effects across a large population,” Oughton said. “Contagious diseases require close contact often for transmission so the more opportunities there are, the more you’re going to see some of these infections start to come back.”

 The data on the presence of the BA.2 variant in areas like Montreal is still limited, but the lack of sufficient testing has prompted the Quebec government to re-monitor the virus through wastewater testing, a measure that experts like Oughton have been waiting for. 

“I think it’s a brilliant measure and I’ve been arguing for this for a long time. By re-instituting our wastewater screening, we will have an early indicator that on a population level gives you a reasonable measure of the amount of disease activity.”

 Safeguards like providing third doses to the near 50 per cent of Quebecers who have not yet received it, educating the public regarding the continued presence of the virus, and ensuring proper air quality in higher transmission zones are all effective measures to lessen the chances of transmission and re-imposed sanitary restrictions.

Categories
Student Life

Student’s weigh in on Concordia’s vaccine mandate

We can thank the vaccine passport for Quebec’s high vaccination rates, but now all incentive to get vaccinated is gone. As of March 12, the Quebec vaccine passport is no more in bars, restaurants, movie theatres and more. This means people who chose not to get vaccinated, once incentivized to get the shot by limitations placed by the Quebec government – limitations as recent as January – have no more reason to get their covid immunization.

To be transparent, here’s how I feel about the whole thing.

Even as a pro-vaxxer who feels safer with the shot and boosters, no public incentive will make me drag my feet. So imagine someone who just doesn’t want to be vaccinated – despite the public and personal safety it can bring us, many will never get the shot(s) for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons should be respected, but the general population should make up the difference, in a way.

This is my opinion — one of many different ones felt on the Concordia campus, as the university dismantled their vaccine mandate. While it was only in place for certain gatherings, sports clubs, the gym and Reggies, our campus bar, students had a lot of thoughts to share.

We went around Concordia’s downtown campus on Friday to ask students how they felt vis-a-vis the return to normality.

Guillaume Sercia, studying Human Environment 

I think its a good thing [the vaccine mandate is going away]. At some point we have to come back to reality, to normality. […] It wasn’t a big issue for me, but I was frustrated for the people who couldn’t take part in regular activities. I would feel safe even without a vaccine, so it doesn’t bother me.”

 

 

 

 

 

Carles Ngoupeyu, studying accounting 

I don’t agree with the vaccine mandate. They didn’t think about the non-vaccintaed. […] You just feel alone, separated from others. Those who are vaccinated will say the opposite because they have access to everything. But when you are not vaccinated, it’s just different. And to feel like you can’t enter a store because you didn’t get a vaccine; feeling like you’re limited in your actions because of a vaccine, it’s just really terrible.”

 

 

 

 

Nadeem Alhajzein, studying studio arts and art history

I don’t totally agree with the idea of a vaccine mandate being removed. I feel like [the] Quebec government is kind of like, going up and down different rules.”

“But I do understand how it’s supposed to be trying and getting people to go back to normal, I guess. But I still feel like it’s something that should still be at places because it does help us.”

 

 

 

 

Yannis Affoum, studying for a certificate of Science Foundations

I’m actually kind of happy. It’s very annoying to always have to worry about these things, and always having to show your phone, show your QR code, and all these things… It’s kind of annoying. And for people who dont have a QR code, it’s kind of discriminatory.”

 

 

 

 

 

Ahmed Riad, studying electrical engineering

It’s great, people [now] have the choice of taking the vaccine or not, I personally took the vaccine. […] People should have the freedom to take the vaccine or not.”

 

 

 

 

 

Marwa Khalid, studying software engineering

I wouldn’t really feel comfortable. Obviously, it’s a really crowded place, there’s a lot of people, and if they are not wearing their mask, you don’t know if they have [COVID], or dont have it, or even if they are facing symptoms. The removal of masks doesnt mean they don’t have COVID. [But] I don’t think it was the university’s place [to implement a vaccine mandate], I think it’s the government that makes that decision, then the university should follow.”

Photos by Catherine Reynolds

Categories
Opinions Student Life

In-person learning? Not for everybody

My success with online learning (and problems with the traditional classroom).

We’ve known for a long time that everybody learns differently, so why aren’t we giving students options?

I’m not ashamed to admit it, I struggled through my undergrad. Lots of discontinued classes and less-than-stellar grades. Until recently, that is.

When classes were moved to Zoom, my grades consisted of almost straight As. My performance during this time convinced me that I was capable enough to give grad school a shot — a longtime dream of mine.

My GPA was scarcely above the cut off for a Masters in Public Policy and Public Administration, and strong letters of recommendation from teachers as well as solid volunteer experience were just enough to allow me to get through by the skin of my teeth.

My first semester of online grad school went swimmingly. I was able to boost my GPA (again) and even had time to get involved in student government as the VP Internal of the Political Science Graduate Student Association.

Then came the announcement: we would return to in-person studies in February. Like many students, I had my reservations. Mine, however, were different. Some were anxious to return to campus for health reasons, as was I. While I had many elderly relatives and was in several risk groups for COVID-19, there was another dimension to this. I knew there was a stark difference in my performance during the period of online learning and before, when most student life took place in person.

Reviewing my own transcripts, I could also see that an earlier, pre-pandemic experiment with online learning on eConcordia had yielded similar results: more straight As. Sadly, there are no eConcordia courses available for my current program.I’m sorry to say that the return to in-person class has not been good for me. Without going into too much detail, it seems that many of my old problems returned. Distractions, travel time, issues with the facilities, are all features of campus life.

I took the features of online learning for granted, but I can’t help but wonder: why can’t we have options and flexibility? I can understand many people were looking forward to the return of in-person classes, but by the same token, many of my colleagues had a positive experience of working from home and may not want to go back.

So far it looks as though the government is giving office workers the opportunity to continue doing this, but not us. Moreover, why are they so adamant about having us on campus? Like many policy decisions during the pandemic, it appears to be very top-down and arbitrary, imposing a “one size fits all” approach to complex and nuanced problems.

One can’t help but feel as though the decision also reflects an anachronistic vision of students. In the past, it might well have been the case that many students (who were young, affluent, single men) wouldn’t have to work on the side to finance their academic path, never mind looking after dependents. Most of us juggle the many different facets of our lives.

Online learning and working from home were brought about by necessity, and in turn, this had led me to question the necessity of in-person learning. It may boost student engagement in some cases, but there are always exceptions to every rule and for everyone to realize their full potential, there should be options available, especially for those who have health concerns as well as professional and family commitments.

The internet is a part of our everyday lives and we should be embracing its demonstrated potential to make things easier instead of simply following traditional course delivery for no other reason besides that it’s what we have always done in the past.

 

Photo by Cathrine Reynolds

Categories
Music

Musicians in the wake of COVID

 Three artists from different walks of life speak on the the effects of COVID

William Cote-Monroe treads carefully around his studio apartment filled with amplifiers and music gear. His multi-holding guitar stand shares a space with his refrigerator in the kitchen. Where you would normally find the television, you see a home studio where he spends his free time recording and practicing music. His KRK speakers stand in place of house plants. 

This is the after-effect of COVID’s wake that Cote-Monroe and so many other musicians are left in. The pandemic left many stranded without a job, livelihood, passion, and in extreme cases, a place to call home.   

When Montreal went into lock down in March 2020, starting on March 20, 2020 to be exact, Cote-Monroe was in Ontario playing as a guitar player for a group called Chinsee and the Eclipse. They had just played in London, Ontario the night before and their Toronto gig was then cancelled with their Montreal show following suit. To add the cherry on top, schools were also cancelled for two weeks.   

 “I had a feeling that it was gonna be much longer than two weeks. It just didn’t seem feasible. The two weeks was probably just to comfort us,” said Cote-Monroe. 

Faced with having quite a bit of work suddenly disappear as an artist, and the severe reduction of income, and loss of momentum that came with it, Cote-Monroe had to shift certain priorities in his life. “All these festival gigs that I was going to have during the summer which were supposed to launch my career just dried up,” he said.

Cote-Monroe plays very few shows, and the majority of them happen to be solo shows, which entail just a guitar and vocals. That’s easy. However, playing with others now chalks up to more of a task as vaccine passport limitations fell into place.  

“You have to acquire your QR code to play and it became quite frustrating to play with other people because others didn’t have their QR codes and neither did members of the audience,” Cote-Monroe said.

These audience members then get kicked out and if there were three to four bands playing at the event they all end up going home with nothing.

“It’s more worth it to bring your friends over to watch you jam,” he said.       

Cote-Monroe hopes to add a full-time drummer and bassist into his ensemble, as well as get a driving license and a van for the band in order to be on the road every other week around Quebec and Ontario. The struggle will soon reveal itself as Cote-Monroe will have to start on a clean slate when it comes to networking with other artists and finding new jobs to help him sustain his goals as a full-time musician. 

Fortunately, the pandemic led to him centralizing himself and his creative outlook. He picked up drawing for his album artwork. “I’m not some trained sketcher and I’m just drawing art that I vibe with,” Cote-Monroe said. He is currently also learning the ropes in mixing and mastering so that he can ideally release a song per week because he can write like that now. “I’m just trying to bring it back to that level of which I can release music that I like and people care about.”  

What affects artists, naturally stems from what affects venues. There has been a collective called Growve MTL which organises music shows in the form of live sessions at several locations but mainly on the Saint Laurent and Saint Denis streets, including Turbo Haüs and Blue Dog. The event’s cofounder is none other than Shayne Assouline, a jazz studies student at Concordia, alongside professional beatmaker Shem G and Marcus Dillon, a silvertongue lyricist. According to Dillon, a member of the Dust Gang community, they are both members of a band named The Many which congregated in 2018 at a pub called Urban Science, which offers jam sessions under their “Le Cypher” event. Growve MTL’s main act is The Many, who are linked with the Dust Gang community. 

Dust Gang’s goal with Growve MTL is to have musicians who are at ease with their musical skills come together, so that they always contribute something new each time. Even if they play the same song at many events, they make each show fresh in this way. For example, because of their diverse influences and past experiences, a new musician with a violin will perform differently than the other stringed musician, like a bassist. They are set to return to the local scene on March 2 according to Assouline.      

Joseph Mascis (J) is the frontrunner of the Americana suburban alternative rock band known as Dinosaur Junior. As a band, they have been active since the late ‘80s, spanning almost four decades. Before COVID, the band only stopped playing live shows once in the 90s due to conflict between members. However, the pandemic has put a new stress on the group, causing them to stop twice in total. 

“People always come up to me and say ‘COVID must’ve been great for you,’” Mascis said. “Um, well actually no, I haven’t liked it at all, I mean.” 

Emmett Jefferson Murphy, Dinosaur Jr. drummer, stated at one point that he didn’t even have a family to go back home to. He would be holed up in the house alone with nobody to converse and interact with during COVID. “It’s not easy, far from it in fact,” said Mascis.

Mascis’ famous wall of Marshall 4×12 amps crowded his living room, while the Jazzmaster and Telecaster lay pell-mell over the couch. His living space was in disarray and one can tell he is not used to it. “It was horrible, I mean, I just haven’t been home that much ever since I was a kid or something, it’s just not how I usually live my life, I’m always going places and touring, so it was tough.” 

Cote-Monroe says that “everything is temporary,” and maybe it is, as Assouline and Mascis share his sentiment on the whole COVID ordeal. As the artists wait to go back out on tour again to exercise their passion, they’ll have to overcome the main COVID hurdle just like they hurdle over the smorgasbord of equipment in their houses.  

 

Graphic by James Fay

Categories
Features

‘You’re creating your own life based on what you want:’ Meet the owner of Cocktail Bomb Shop

Kiana Gomes, a second year journalism student at Concordia, started a bakeshop in the middle of the pandemic from the comfort of her own home. A few months later, she expanded her business to selling cocktail bombs

During the first COVID Christmas holidays, most other students were taking a break from Zoom classes. Meanwhile, 21-year-old Kiana Gomes was converting her home into a Willy Wonka chocolate factory and perfecting her first “chocolate bomb.” 

Hot chocolate bombs are chocolate spheres filled with chocolate milk powder and marshmallows. When put into a mug with hot milk, they explode to make hot chocolate. Gomes thought they were a great way to treat yourself during the winter in lockdown.  

Gomes started her bakeshop to ease her boredom during quarantine and pursue her baking passion. During the first wave of the pandemic, she started baking cakes for friends and family. 

“I started making cakes because I didn’t really have a job because of the pandemic.” 

It was late October 2020; Montreal had just entered into a red zone, restricting people from non-essential activities and services. The weather was getting colder and the days shorter. Like many people, Gomes was stuck at home in need of distraction.  

When her mom suggested she sell her cakes on Facebook Marketplace, she began baking five cakes almost every week.  

Gomes baked custom birthday cakes using coloured frosting and edible decorations. Her personal favourite was an Among Us birthday cake. 

Inspired by a video she saw on Facebook, Gomes had the idea of making chocolate bombs for the holidays and decided to sell them on Facebook Marketplace.  The chocolate bombs were the perfect product to sell during the cold winter, stuck in another lockdown. In just a few weeks, she launched Kiki’s Bakeshop from her house around the Montreal area. 

Soon after she began her venture, her family members were welcomed  by the mouth-watering smell of chocolate and peppermint. In contrast, the room itself was cold and dry — they had to turn off the heaters to keep the chocolate bombs from melting. As her family entered the kitchen, they were welcomed by the sight of chocolate bombs scattered along counters, leading up to her dining table.  

Around fall 2020, while most students keep their cameras off during Zoom lectures, so no one sees their bedhead, Gomes closed hers so no one would see that her shirt was white with flour. With the help of her mom and two family friends, she made hundreds of chocolate bombs a day. 

Her family’s garage quickly turned into Gomes’ own mini warehouse. Sales exploded. Gomes was selling chocolate bombs on Etsy, shipping them to the United States, while also selling them locally in Montreal. Local orders were picked at her house, while the U.S. orders were shipped through Canada Post.  

 It was hectic; her days were long but felt short. During her Christmas break that year, Gomes started her days at 5 a.m, working over 12 hours. Time flew by as she packed what felt like endless boxes of bombs all day, drinking lots of hot chocolate in the process.  

 However, as the holiday season came to a close, her chocolate bomb business started to die down. She knew that they would not be very popular after the winter months. Gomes needed a new idea to keep her business flowing.  

Inspiration struck when she came across a video on social media of a bartender in New York City making cocktail bombs for a special event. She then searched the recipe online and experimented to find the perfect ratio for the ingredients.  

For Gomes, putting the puzzle pieces together was a matter of trial and error. 

“The first bombs that we made are not even the same bombs that we make now,” said Gomes. “Before, it took longer to dissolve, now it dissolves in two minutes, and the flavours are stronger. There’s a lot of things that I figured out along the way.”

The cocktail bombs are similar in concept to bath bombs. You add them to a glass of sparkling water and pour in a shot of liquor of your choice. They can also be prepared as mocktails, making it a great option for children and non-drinkers who wish to join in on the fizzy fun.  

 Gomes’ cocktail bombs are unique. The ingredients have a high quality and natural focus, with the final products packaged in biodegradable plastic. 

These bombs make a great addition to any drink by adding fun colour and taste. A popular flavour is the Peach Bellini bomb. As Gomes describes, it tastes like a peach with a splash of tequila. Other choices include margarita, blue raspberry, raspberry orange, mojito, mimosa, and piña colada.  

Gomes’ involvement on TikTok was also a major factor in the success of her business, as she began making short videos to promote her products.

“When I first posted the TikTok about the bomb, I knew it would be something big,” said Gomes.

Gomes was happy with the amount of good reviews and comments from her TikTok videos. 

“Because the business came so fast, we had a lot of time to adapt on what people were saying: what we should change, what’s good, what’s not good, to finally come up with this perfect product, but I wouldn’t even call it perfect, because it’s constantly evolving. Like tomorrow we might change something or add new flavours,” Gomes said. 

“I feel like the product is so new. It doesn’t really exist, [it] is is growing with the business,” she added. 

Her cocktail bombs are now being sold in different Linen Chest stores around Montreal, as well as Pusateri’s Fine Foods, and smaller gift stores. They are also shipped to the US and internationally through the Cocktail Bomb Shop’s website.  

 Since March 2021,Gomes has seen her business grow exponentially. Instead of working from her workshop at home, she now owns an office in downtown Montreal, with 10 full-time employees. From working in her messy kitchen and garage, Gomes now has a small office and an open space with designated areas for her employees. The sections are divided into three departments: manufacturing, packaging, and shipment.  

 The employees are constantly producing bombs, while Gomes focuses more on the on the administrative side of the operation, such as clearing paperwork, answering emails, taking phone calls and attending meetings.

Though she misses making the cocktail bombs, she is very happy that her business has flourished. 

“Follow your passion, because I really liked baking so I decided to sell the cakes, and it brought me to this,” said Gomes. “Everything that I did was out of the fact that I enjoyed doing it. It wasn’t doing something that I was miserable in.” 

“If you want to be an entrepreneur, you just have to do what you love because the business can be generated from anything.”  

 Gomes still attends university part-time while running her business. She explained that she loves the program and is willing to finish her degree as a backup plan.   

“Every day, it just continues to grow. I guess sometimes it hits me that it’s not that small anymore. I think that every day is just an adventure. I don’t know how big it’s going to get or if it’s going to stop tomorrow. Who knows? But right now, I’m just going to ride and see what it becomes.”  

Gomes’ quarantine hobby ended up creating the perfect product for a socially distanced picnic in the park. 

 

Visuals courtesy of Kiana Gomes

 

Categories
Student Life

Omicron or I’m-in-class?

Exploring the impact the return to campus is having

I heard the ping of my email, and saw it was from Concordia — instantly, my heart started racing.

I read the email and my heart sank. We were returning to campus as of Feb. 3, 2022.

This was two weeks ago. Concordia has since re-opened its door to students, with most campus activities returning in person.

My initial reaction to the news of in-person classes was anger and disbelief: was Concordia seriously doing this? We are still at the height of a pandemic, and their response was to make us all go back? I instantly started to spiral — at the time, this was the worst news I could have gotten.

Truth is, going back to campus right now is scary. For one, I am the mom of a 15-month-old. He cannot get vaccinated, he cannot wear a mask. He is vulnerable to COVID. Now, twice a week, I have to go to campus and potentially expose myself to COVID even more so than before.

On top of the added risk, Concordia doesn’t seem to be implementing too many measures to ensure that the return to school is safe. I would feel so much better if there were more measures put in place. This semester is now bound to be a mess. Don’t get me wrong — I want things to feel normal again. I just don’t know if that’s going to happen.

I am frustrated and scared about being in person. I feel rushed in my return to campus. What was the real reason? Is it really just because of government directives? The reasons are varied.

Many people I know are over COVID, and think that we just need to move on. They say that at this point, we have to accept COVID is not going away, so we need to “just live life” and let things go back to normal.

I tend to fall more into the other category, where I think most of us just need a little more time. We need to remember that we have not officially entered the endemic phase here, and I think it would be better to value health and safety before other things.

With all the conflicting opinions, we will never really know the real reason Concordia decided to go back in person so quickly.

There are aspects of in person learning that I miss and am looking forward to. I miss jumping into conversations and not having to wait in the Zoom queue — it would definitely make my seminars a lot more enjoyable.

I’m even looking forward to something as simple as holding a physical book in the library again. Those things will be great, but not at the expense of me, my family, and my classmate’s health.

All that being said, I am at a place where I have accepted that this is our shared hell-hole that we call reality. I don’t have much of a choice, other than signing the petitions calling for a slower transition that have been circulating. I have to comply, and make sure that I do what I can to be safe with my return to campus.

I also realized that I don’t have to go through this alone. There are resources that I can access at Concordia that can help make this transition easier.

Concordia offers short-term psychotherapy, which can help with the transition with going back to in person learning. Of course, the experiences that each student will get may not be the same. So it’s important to note that there may be some challenges accessing these services. Regardless, it is still a resource that Concordia offers, so at least getting some information about it can be a starting point to having support during a difficult time.

While you are waiting for the professional services, there are things you can do on your own that could help. Something as simple as creating playlists with happy music might help put you in a better mood. Or cooking that dish you have been thinking about cooking for oh-so-long. Even going for a nice walk to get some fresh air, might make things a little less scary.

One of the most interesting things is that Concordia offers some self-help tools, including a wellness tracking tool, and various workbooks that students and staff can consult. Sometimes we just need some self-reflection, and that may help.

There are also text/phone support options that students can access. While most of these are external links, they are still being suggested through Concordia, like Wellness Together Canada, which has many resources and options for people to use and perhaps help them.

Sure, they’re not perfect, and people need to explore what works best for them, but this is at least a foundation that could help students.

While I am still incredibly nervous about the potential exposure, and wishing Concordia would do more, I have hope that with time and with access to resources, the semester will be the best it can be despite all the issues we are still facing.

 

Photo by Kaitlynn Rodney

Categories
Student Life

Certainty? Never heard of her

Reflections on preparing for exchange in lockdown

I’m about to become insufferable. In a few days, I’m going to leave Montreal for Amsterdam, where I’ll be doing a semester at Vrije Universiteit (I hope to learn many things while I’m away, one being how to pronounce the name of my school).

As I’ve been so cautiously warned, my experiences studying abroad will become the incubator for all upcoming conversation topics. So naturally, I’m incredibly excited for this adventure and grateful to have access to such an amazing opportunity.

With the fifth wave in full swing, McGill canceling and reinstating their exchange program, and the general anxiety that comes with living through a pandemic, I’ve been holding my breath pretty much since I applied, hoping that I get to embark on this journey.

While Concordia International has assured students that they will still send them abroad despite the lockdown, the university encouraged us to continuously check in with our host countries’ protocols and weigh the risk of COVID-19 to make our decisions about whether to go accordingly.

Although the Netherlands currently has many cases, I’ve decided to continue with my plans.

Life there might not be exactly how I imagined it, but this is my only chance to study abroad if I want to graduate when I had hoped to. The pandemic is here to stay, so I’m going to learn to live with it and make the most of my experiences.

Since I need a negative COVID-19 test to enter the Netherlands, I’ve been practically quarantining two weeks leading up to my flight, hoping that my family members and I manage to avoid getting sick when Omicron is ravaging the city. It’s stressful because as much as I can avoid leaving my house, I know that this part of the journey is out of my control.

I’ve been finding it hard to limit my contact with friends and family that I know I’m not going to see for a while, and minimizing my time in stores picking up last minute pre-trip necessities.

Every time I do something semi-COVID risky, my whole trip abroad flashes before my eyes (even when I know that realistically, I’ll still be able to go, I’ll just be missing classes and have to change my flight — a doable but logistical nightmare).

While waiting and packing, I’ve been constantly monitoring the Netherlands’ COVID-19 protocols to make sure that I’m still allowed to enter the country. Since they are abiding by the EU travel ban, as of now, as long as I’m fully vaccinated, I’m allowed to fly in. On Jan. 20, however, when I was doing my routine browsing of travel restrictions, I was frustrated to see that they had just implemented a 10-day quarantine for people arriving from Canada.

Up until that point, I was permitted to enter the country and live freely but carefully upon my arrival, allowing me to take care of all the logistical matters (banking, cell phone plans, bike rentals, etc.) before classes start.

Not to mention, it wouldn’t leave me cooped up in a brand-new city when all I want to do is explore.

But hey, if I get there, I’ll be thrilled. A few days in isolation are definitely worth it for four months studying in Amsterdam.

While I was in the process of writing this, yet another change was made to the requirements for entering the Netherlands — boosted individuals don’t have to quarantine.

Annoyingly enough, at the time, this information was only available in Dutch, but luckily, my school forwarded us a translation.

This is a perfect example of the flip-flopping of expectations that I’ve been experiencing, though this time, it’s going in my favour! I’m really happy, but am also just waiting for another thing to be thrown in my way before I board that plane.

Still, while this lockdown has made nearly everything uncertain, what’s unwavering is my determination to make the best out of whatever comes my way. I know it’s cheesy, but the Dutch are known for their cheese anyways!

Update: Talia did make it to the Netherlands, and is now enjoying her time with her British flatmates. 🙂

 

Graphic by James Fay

Categories
News

CSU calls on university for greater transparency in new open letter

The letter claims previous demands posed by the CSU were rejected

The Concordia Student Union’s (CSU) updated open letter condemns the university for dismissing demands previously put forward regarding the return to campus.

On Jan. 13, the CSU sent an open letter to the university demanding an organized plan for a return to in-person learning. As of Feb. 1, the letter has acquired over 3000 signatures, according to the CSU, who said they received mixed reactions in response to the university’s decision.

“As such, and given that our mission at the CSU is to represent the student body, we are in this response shifting focus on how to safely return to campus on a hybrid model basis, provide more and better accessibility and ensure proper mental health support systems,” wrote the CSU.

The letter explains that the Concordia Board of Governors — the highest decision-making body of the university — discussed the previously written open letter on Jan. 27. However, wrote the CSU, “this discussion took place in closed session as some governors expressed not wanting any discussion in open session to damage the university’s reputation.”

The CSU quoted Helen Antoniou, chair of the Board of Governors, in the open letter “Because there is an open letter, we will comment on that in the closed session because […] I don’t think it’s the habit of the university to speak.”

The CSU criticized the response of board members, arguing that “the fact that their focus remained on maintaining appearances is not only a dismissal of the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff but also shows disregard for any attempt at transparent communication.”

Concordia confirmed the return to in-person classes on Feb. 3 in an email to students at the end of January.

The university’s announcement noted health and safety measures put into place, highlighting the mandatory use of masks in shared indoor spaces and academic accommodations.

In their letter, the CSU argued that gaps remained in the university’s information regarding safety measures, drawing particular attention to challenges in accessing COVID-19 self-isolation forms for students who contract the virus.

“As a result of the university’s lack of care and transparency for its community, all of our demands made in the Open Letter sent on Jan. 13 were rejected,” wrote the CSU.

“As many students are currently in precarious situations; financially, mentally, physically; the lack of action taken by the university in supporting its students is deplorable”.

The CSU, in partnership with other faculty and student associations within Concordia, shared they have taken matters into their own hands “until the administration is willing to step up to the plate and take the wellness of its community as well as accessibility issues seriously.”

Among their initiatives, the CSU said they are creating a peer-support network, aimed at providing note taking services and potential recordings and live streams of classes. The union added that they plan to initiate ways for students to take part in contact tracing in classes.

Additionally, they aim to provide a limited number of K95/KN95 masks, reserved for higher risk community members.

In a previous email to The Concordian, Concordia University Spokesperson Vannina Maestracci shared that the university “already face[s] obstacles in providing N95s for the groups who do require them.”

The CSU’s updated letter contains a list of 20 demands, pleading for the university to acknowledge actions deemed necessary to ensure a safe return to campus.

Among the list is a request for “retroactive tuition reduction” or the waving of late fees, penalties and interest on tuition payments.

Additionally, the letter demands better communication with students and heightened transparency on behalf of the university regarding any future decisions made surrounding the return campus.

The CSU’s letter presses Concordia to introduce a fully hybrid winter semester, “not forcing anyone onto campus who cannot safely do so while simultaneously ensuring that students do not have to choose between dropping out of all their courses and risking their lives.”

The plea for hybrid learning is followed by a request to make all in-person course material available to students attending class online. The CSU also asks that exams and assignments are offered online for students unable to make it in person.

Escalating their concerns to protests and strikes if Concordia fails to respond to these demands is not off the table, warned the CSU in their letter.

“Should Concordia wish to reinstate any faith or respect from its community, the Concordia administration must simply do more.”

 

Exit mobile version