Lesson learned

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What we should do with our social media accounts in the face of professionalism

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. November 4, 2015

When bodybuilder and middle school teacher Mindi Jensen received an ultimatum from her academic employers to either delete her workout/bikini pictures from her Instagram account or lose her job, it seemed like the whole world collectively rolled their eyes. Here we go again.

There was a time when I thought my teachers lived in the school after the bell rung and plotted our next quiz and homework assignments. While they might have been preparing the following day’s lecture, teaching was far from the only thing on their mind. Turns out, they do have a life outside of school and they barely thought of me after work—just like all people who make money during the day and go home to pursue their personal hobbies and projects in the evening.

Parents of all people should know that. So the fact that some parents approached North Sanpete Middle School’s administrators, the people in charge of Jensen’s career, and complained about the pictures on her personal account is a little appalling. The parents go on to claim that the images of Jensen were “inappropriate” and “pornographic.” Do those parents even know what porn is? Because I scroll through Instagram once a day and I never find “porn,” no matter how hard I scroll.

While it’s true that a professional working closely with children should remain decent on all platforms, it’s unclear where the line is drawn. Here’s how I see it: let’s say the teacher was a man and he had pictures of himself working out and in swim trunks—no!—Speedos. Would he get in trouble? Would the school board threaten to fire him if he didn’t take down those pictures? If that does happen, it doesn’t make the news. What is happening is oppression. What the parents are actually saying is: “You can’t show those pictures, because you are too pretty and you are arousing our kids. I don’t know how to discuss sexuality with them or explain that teachers are people too, with personal lives and aspirations, so I’ll just blame it on you, fit lady.”

At the end of the day, the school came to their senses, realized the legless claim the parents were standing on, and apologized to Jensen. But the question remains: how can we know if something is appropriate for the Internet or not? With nude and embarrassing pictures soaring this way and that through the air, we can’t be certain who would take offence. Therefore, we must go back to the rule of thumb: would we be okay if our mothers saw that picture of us? If the answer is yes, then share it. If no, then maybe it’s best to keep it in our private archives.

When it’s all said and done, Jensen will have a great lesson to teach to her students, one that stems from confidence and defending personal convictions. I think that’s a good lesson to learn in the social media age.

This time next year

opinions school resolutionsNew school year resolutions and the BC Teacher’s strike

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Sept. 9, 2014

Pessimistically speaking, whatever the New Year’s resolution you made in January was, you’ve probably given up on it as we head into the latter-half of 2014. If you weren’t able to reach your full potential this time around, relax: the way I see it, September is the real beginning.

The mark of a new academic year is always refreshing, even though I—like many students in BC—will not be immediately attending class this autumn. My situation, although different from those who’ve been impacted by the labour strike between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the BC Liberals, still offers room for improvement. After all, classroom settings can only do so much in terms of learning. When it comes down to it, the students need to make that extra effort.

So I bring it back to the idea of setting resolutions. Where will you be in terms of your goals this time next year? Never mind what the world around you is doing—what can you do for yourself? And the better question is, how will you reward yourself next summer? Let’s be honest, this summer wasn’t shabby, but you know that if you can make some strides this fall, winter, and spring, summer will undoubtedly pay for itself.

As students, I feel we put a lot of pressure on how well we do in the classroom environment, yet it’s the workplace that we are really striving to excel in. One of my favourite quotes from Mark Twain is, “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” What he means is that the courses you take, the homework assigned to you, and the deadlines you need to meet, should not halt your progress towards your ultimate goal, whatever it may be.

Not only is it common to give up on resolutions, it’s also common to get academic amnesia, where a whole school year would pass by without any recollection. So really suck this school year smoothie dry. If you are in class, try to apply what you learn to something, anything. If you aren’t in school—like me—don’t passively await opportunities, but imagine yourself a year from now. Think of what you want to know that you didn’t know yesterday, and learn it on your own merits.

We often make New Year’s resolutions into ambitious, life-changing goals. We want to lose weight, earn more money, and perhaps achieve something we haven’t before. All that is admirable, but let’s make our school-year resolution a building block towards our New Year’s resolution. Let’s work on our self-discovery and our intellectual enhancement. That way, when January rolls around, we can catch our second wind and improve from there. And it doesn’t matter whether we are in school or not.

Learning is all about attitude. But hey, for those kids who are out of school because of the strike or for those unemployed graduates, relax and enjoy this little break while you can before life grinds the crap out of you. Stick with it, and this time next year, you’ll be better.

Culture Clash

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Vancouver: shattered mosaic or melting pot

Formerly published in The Other Press. Apr. 3 2013

By Elliot Chan, Staff Writer

Look carefully through the urban retail stores, coffee shops, and construction sites, and you will see the foundations of Vancouver: a First Nation’s totems pole, a Chinese noodle house, a Punjabi market place, and an Italian bocce game. Culture is defined in the Oxford Canadian Dictionary as “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” But together, there is little agreement.

Fusion. While some promote the idea of cultures merging together, others are disgusted by the thought of losing their heritage. Vancouver claims to be an accepting place to learn, work, and live, but in a city where we can choose to be whoever we want, we still choose to blend in with our own. If each community separates themselves, is the city still unified? Or are we all just functioning on different levels of tolerance? Canada has never been more diverse, and with population increasing, a utopia seems ever more elusive.

“If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community,” said French president Nicolas Sarkozy a few years back,  “If you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France.”

David Cameron, Prime Minister of Britain, echoed the same ideals: “We don’t tolerate racism in our society carried out by white people; we shouldn’t tolerate extremism carried out by other people.”

While Canada is still driven by the visions of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, other world leaders agree that the best way to rid violence and hate is for those immigrating to different countries to fully accept the established customs—but discarding baggage is easier said than done.

Taranjot “T.J.” Kaur, a Douglas College international student from India, understands how difficult it is to be accepted into a new environment. “People already have friends living here, so they don’t want to be friends with someone they don’t know,” she said. “You are not at that comfort level. At first you want to be with people that understand you and your needs. And later on, you can go out and be friends.”

“It’s very scary talking to domestic students,” said Natalia Zinoveva, an international student from Russia. “I was super shy and they weren’t really nice… they started guessing my accent. I would be sitting there and they would be talking like I’m not there. What the heck, people? Now I have Canadian friends, but they also seemed not nice in the beginning.”

The initial fear is common, causing travelers to retreat into their shell. But despite the anxiety, the students still remember why they chose Canada. Ruab Waraich recalls her reasons for leaving India, “Canada has a good ranking in the English-speaking world in terms of education. The job opportunities are good here,” she also added. “Canadians have a good reputation.”

But despite the first-class reputations, locals’ connections with internationals are often met with reproach. “Whenever you talk to them,” said Kaur, “they will first ask you, ‘By the way, where are you from? You don’t sound Canadian.’ That’s not your problem. It’d just be nice if they ignored it.”

Such exchanges rarely happen back home in Brazil for Rodrigo Meirelles, “You don’t usually ask people where they are from in Brazil, because everybody is Brazilian. But here there is the law of multiculturalism, which is awesome, but some of us need to study more. If we choose to come here, it is us who need to adapt—not them.”

Rigel Biscione from Venezuela doesn’t think everything should be one-sided, and that locals should meet internationals halfway. “They should be used to the fact that there are a lot of international people and interact with us.”

According to surveys from over the past decade, 85 per cent of Canadians support multiculturalism—a percentage not shared by most countries. So how are our diverse communities different from theirs? Some believe that the word “multiculturalism” itself has changed in Canada, particularly in Vancouver. We are now focused more on the “multi” part, and less on the “culturalism.”

We must keep in mind that Canada is still a young country at 146-years-old, and Vancouver is only 127. Comparing our youthful culture to that of Britain, France, and Germany seems unfair; after all we are still prepubescent, slowly learning who we are and what we want to be when we grow up.

Language retention rate and the amount of time ethnic communities have been in Canada can determine how each has adapted to Canadian customs. In the early 20th century, a large group of Italians immigrated to Canada, followed by another group after World War II. Only 39 per cent can now speak Italian fluently. Meanwhile, Indians who traveled to Vancouver to work in the booming lumber industry a century ago, still have an overwhelming 84 per cent fluency in Punjabi; a large enough demographic to develop a Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi broadcast. It’s easy to see how much each culture differs. Some are open to change, while others are more conservative, tentatively adapting. As time passes, will the next generation grow up with their ancestral customs and be segregated or will they acclimatize to Vancouver’s default culture?

“They have this idea that they have no culture,” said Meirelles. “If you ask [Canadians], most of them will say, ‘Oh I was born here, but my parents are from…’ Wherever. I feel like they don’t want to be Canadian.”

But deep down there are hints; distinctive traits that only Canadians have. “They say thank you and sorry to furniture,” Waraich noted with a chuckle.

“I would never wear pajamas to school,” said Zinoveva, describing the laid back style of Vancouver. “I’m so confused. Do they put on a different pajama or did they just wake up from bed? You know, school pajamas.”

“Latinos speak really loud,” said Meirelles with a shameful shake of his head. “When I came here I was taking the SeaBus and everybody was super quiet reading their books and I would always hear someone ‘Blah! Blah! Blah!’ and then I’ll pay attention and they are speaking Portuguese. Oh yeah, Brazilians.”

“Same goes for our culture too,” said Kaur, “It looks really rude, but it’s not rude.”

Canadians are the wallflowers of the globe, even in their own country. Looking back at the definition of culture, there is one thing most Vancouverites can agree on: we are polite, soft-spoken, and carefree. We may be health and safety freaks and can be a bit pompous, but with a quick glance around the globe, we can see that no culture is perfect. But it is reassuring to have a united trait.

On any given day, on any Vancouver promenade, there is a place for you. “That’s the thing I like here,” said Biscione. “I don’t ever get bored. I can do something new every day.” So perhaps that is Vancouver’s culture. The choice to be a piece in a mosaic in the morning and melt in a pot at night, it doesn’t matter, because in a city where everybody and everything is so different, there are no outsiders.