As a way to implement theory gained in the classroom to a real world setting, an applied study gives students an experience that makes their learning come alive. Erin Davis, a third-year University of Lethbridge student working on a Bachelor of Arts and Science in psychology and religion, has found the learning from an applied study so valuable she’s done it twice.
“It is an excellent opportunity to take what you’ve learned and apply it in real life. It’s definitely not the way to get out of the work of a class because it ends up being a lot of work,” says Davis. “I believe that what you gain is more enriched than just sitting in a classroom and I would definitely recommend it for students in their second year and beyond.”
“Many students say they learned more in their applied study course than in any other course they took at the University,” says Dr. Jennifer Mather, a psychology professor and Davis’s faculty supervisor.
An applied study gives students the chance to integrate what they’ve learned in the classroom in practical situations through paid or voluntary employment. Students have both a faculty and a workplace supervisor and work a minimum of 130 hours over 13 weeks. Applied studies courses are offered in all U of L faculties and departments. Students gain interpersonal and technical skills and develop more self-awareness.
“I am really interested in the psychology of religion and I decided to do the applied study with Dr. Jennifer Mather because it combined a cultural aspect with psychology. I looked at what it was like for people immigrating to Canada to experience a whole new culture and what kind of barriers they encountered,” says Davis.
Through Lethbridge Family Services - Immigration Services, Davis volunteered to work with a group of seniors who had been Bhutanese refugees. Some of the seniors Davis worked with have lived in Canada for about seven years while others had arrived more recently and were working on obtaining their Canadian citizenship. Davis estimates some of the seniors had been living in refugee camps in Nepal for up to 25 years before coming to Canada.
“My job was to do the co-ordination of a gardening project for the seniors. This allows them the opportunity to do something that’s very similar to what they did at home,” she says. “A lot of them were farmers on a large scale and if they weren’t farmers on a grand scale, they were definitely farming to live. Everybody gardens, that’s their source of food.”
With some money for seeds and tools provided by Mather, the group maintained two garden spots, one at the U of L’s Campus Roots Community Garden and the other at Lethbridge College. Davis worked closely with a steering committee, consisting of six of the seniors, to plan the gardens, ensure the necessary tools were available and organize a work schedule.
“My final project was co-ordinating a garden festival on Sept. 28. We harvested everything in the garden and both food banks were present so the seniors got to hand over the goods to the University and College food banks,” says Davis.
In addition to organizing the work of the garden, Davis was required to write two papers to fulfill the academic portion of the applied study, one looking at how seniors adapted to immigration and the other examining multiculturalism. By working alongside the seniors in the garden, Davis was able to glean some information about their experiences adjusting to a new culture.
“I’ll admit I learned a lot about gardening,” says Davis. “The seniors helped me to see firsthand what they were experiencing. Even though they had really limited English, I was able to hear a lot of stories about their emigration and the challenges that they face here.”
The seniors relayed their feelings of sadness, especially when they first arrived in Canada. They also said they experienced a sense of isolation. Coming from a culture where community is key, where everyone works together and people live in close proximity, their adjustment to a city like Lethbridge was challenging. Living farther apart from each other, needing to learn to use public transit and even knowing where they could meet all presented obstacles.
“Lethbridge Family Services (LFS) wanted to create programs for the seniors that allowed them opportunities to get out into the community and give back to the community,” she says. “One of the things the seniors stressed was that they wanted it to be an opportunity for them to give back to the community that had accepted them.”
Despite the difficulty of adjusting, Davis says the seniors who worked on the garden project seemed to build a sense of community and were happy to be involved. She found seniors have a more difficult time adjusting to a new culture in general, so the LFS project, along with English language classes and learning cafés, helped the seniors adapt.
The applied study gave Davis plenty of food for thought about multiculturalism, too. While multiculturalism, where diverse cultures co-exist peaceably, may be ideal in theory the reality is different.
“The biggest question I have coming out of this whole project is where do we draw the line where people who immigrate to Canada stay connected with their cultural heritage and where do they integrate because they need to be able to live and adapt in the new culture?” she says. “I found myself, at times, really questioning what was appropriate for us to be telling them to change in order to make things better for them here and the kinds of things that needed to be kept intact.”