Pandemic brings together students in Canada and Philippines

Pandemic brings together students in Canada and Philippines Cultures of Violence, Cultures of Peace, taught by Wendy Kroeker (Assistant Professor, Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies), combines a class of 16 students at CMU and 11 students in the Philippines.

When students enrolled in Wendy Kroeker's upper-level Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies (PACTS) course, they didn't expect to have classmates 12,000 kilometres away.

Kroeker, Assistant Professor of PACTS at CMU, is teaching Cultures of Violence, Cultures of Peace to 16 students at CMU and 11 students in the Philippines.

She has worked for 25 years in the Philippines, teaching at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) for many of those years. CMU entered into a memorandum of understanding with the institute last year, pledging to collaborate and share resources.

When MPI had to cancel their program this May due to COVID-19, they turned to CMU to put this support into action. Kroeker offered their participants spots in her course and they were filled within a day. To adapt to the new class size and demographic, she is co-teaching with Michael Alar, a peacebuilding consultant in the Philippines and Kroeker's long-time colleague.

Many of the Filipino students in the class do peacebuilding work for non-governmental organizations and want to learn skills to deal with challenges they face in their daily lives. "The conversation has been so rich, that our students are with people who are now trying to take the theories they're studying and seeing how they work in a workplace. It's this really cool interchange," says Kroeker.

The Winnipeg students gather in-person in the evening and are joined real-time, over Zoom, by the students in the Philippines, where it is early morning. Halfway through the class, the students at CMU scatter throughout the campus and join the students on Zoom in small groups to foster face-to-face relationships. Kroeker says students return to class energized and eagerly sharing what they discussed in their groups.

Students from Wendy Kroeker's Cultures of Violence, Cultures of Peace course will be participating in a panel at CMU's upcoming Face2Face event, From Violence to Peace: Stories can change the world. Join in this community conversation and experience the significance of storytelling as an essential tool of peacebuilding. It will be livestreamed online on Wednesday, November 18 at 8:00-9:30 PM (CST) (or 10:00 AM on Thursday, November 19, 2020 in Manila, Philippines).

Visit cmu.ca/face2face to view the conversation.

Indigenous students in both Canada and the Philippines have been able to compare experiences, while two students working with women in Kenya and the Philippines have traded stories about work in the field.

Claudia Dueck, a fourth-year CMU student, says connecting with her fellow students across the ocean has been "the most exciting part of the class but also the most challenging part of the class." Dueck, who is studying Social Sciences with a concentration in Intercultural Studies, says she and her Filipino classmates approach the subject matter from such vastly different contexts, that it is sometimes hard to understand each other.

"When we talk about violence, for probably half the class, Filipinos and then some of our international students, these are daily realities," Kroeker says. "And some of our students who grew up in small prairie towns, it's harder for them to even think about examples of violence in their life...there's been that understanding that one's context and social location really shapes the way in which you think of these very profound topics for the world today."

Dueck adds that violence does take place in Canada, but it's hard to explain that when on the surface it may look like Canadians live an ideally peaceful life. "There is systemic violence in Canada and it is not insignificant," she says. "But when they're sharing about how every election in the Philippines there's violent aftermath, there's such a contextual difference there."

Kroeker is well-versed in cultural contexts. She teaches differently in the Philippines than she does in Canada because of their distinct settings, and the mental agility required to now teach in both contexts at once is exhausting. "To put my two worlds together has been challenging," she says.

Every week she spends countless extra hours reviewing her notes, reframing topics and resources to fit this global yet local class environment. She has to hold her lesson plan loosely and adapt to what might show up.

Kroeker's assistant, Novee, who runs the technology for the course from the Philippines, also leads an "icebreaker game" at the beginning of each class. Dueck says one week, the icebreaker was doing the chicken dance! "This was just so refreshing to me, to get up and dance in the middle of a Zoom call." While it might have seemed strange to the Canadian students, she learned that icebreakers are an important part of education in the Philippines—you can't start a class without one.

Dueck says learning about life in the Philippines and getting to know her classmates there has been her favourite part of the course. "I've been really thankful for that opportunity," she says.

Despite the challenges the pandemic presents, Kroeker says these new opportunities are valuable. "We have to make good things happen during this time and I think this course is one of them."

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