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Lessons learned abroad shared through blog

A group of 14 graduates from the Queen's Faculty of Education are living and teaching abroad and, in order to share their experiences amongst themselves as well as with others, the group has created a blog, aptly name 14 Beds (for Bachelor of Education or BEd). The organizer of the project is Laura Skellett (Ed’14) who is currently teaching in Karlstad, Sweden. The Gazette spoke to her about the blog as well as her experiences teaching and living in another country.

[Laura Skellet]
Laura Skellett (Ed’14), who is teaching in Karlstad, Sweden, is seen here during a recent visit to Budapest, Hungary. (Supplied Photo)

Gazette: Why did you and the other members of 14 Beds decide to teach abroad?

Laura Skellett: One motivating factor for teaching abroad is that there is simply limited job availability for teachers in Ontario. If hired by the Catholic or public board, new teachers often have to supply teach for a year or more before securing a long-term placement. After being in university for five or more years, many of us were thirsty for our own classrooms and our own students. We were eager to teach. Moreover, many of us want to continue our learning by seeing schools outside of Ontario or outside of Canada. We wanted new experiences, and we wanted to challenge our own ideas of education by being exposed to new cultures and ideas.  

G: What do you bring to the classroom as a teacher from Canada and specifically from Queen's?

LS: This is a tricky question, and one I believe my students could answer about me much better than I could. Being a first-year teacher in an international environment allows you to learn from and with your students. In a new and foreign environment, I find that I often learn much from my students, both about my own culture and beliefs, but also about their own. For example, on the last day of school before the holidays, students in the classroom had brought in candy to eat during our class get together. Based on my own experience in school, students often share food when having a class party. However, when I suggested this I received many strange looks – students in Sweden typically just eat what they bring in themselves. This experience allowed me to understand a little bit more about Swedish culture. I also find it very humbling to be learning to speak Swedish while I am here – it allows me to understand the challenges that my students' face every day in my classroom. More specifically, I believe that Queen’s has taught me to be a critical, reflective and innovative teacher in the classroom and to continuously challenge myself.

G: What are some of the life and professional lessons that have been learned by the members?

LS: In both the personal and professional sphere, I think the biggest lesson that our contributors have learned is to be adaptable. Whether it’s learning a new technological platform at your school or figuring out how to use the laundry machine in your apartment, things don’t always go as expected. You quickly learn to problem-solve, to ask for assistance, and to be open to new ideas. Accepting that things will not always go as planned is important. Creative problem-solving becomes a skill that you quickly develop. 

G: You are teaching in Sweden. What has been the biggest transition for you?

LS: Having studied abroad at Herstmonceux Castle (Bader Insternational Study Centre, BISC), and having traveled throughout Europe, I found it relatively easy to adapt to the social nuances of Sweden. I think the bigger challenges have come in the professional sphere in adapting to the Swedish curriculum and classroom. At Queen's, I was in the intermediate-senior stream (grades 7-12) and I did the majority of my placements in high school. However, in Sweden I teach art to 200-plus students in grades 4-9. The fact that many students are just learning English is another challenge. Moreover, the curriculum and in particular the assessment is very different in Sweden. For example, grades in Ontario are based on your average performance throughout the semester, with some exams or projects weighted more heavily than others. However in Sweden, students are assessed based on different skills in a subject. Once you reach an A level in a skill, you do not have to prove yourself again in that skill. Instead students are asked to focus on other skills for that subject. Adapting my teaching to this system (and its accompanying computer tracking system) has been a work in process. Since I only see my students for one term, I am excited to switch up my assessment strategies for the new term based on what I have learned in the past five months. 

G: Does this blog help the 14 Beds members with their experiences and keep in touch?

LS: In the past five months, the blog has allowed our contributors to stay connected throughout our new professional and personal experiences. I believe that the blog has provided an outlet for our contributors to discuss and compare. When posting photos online, contributors have commented on photos saying – “that’s similar to something I’ve done, that would be a great topic for a post!” It has allowed us to connect and understand each other’s experiences of teaching abroad. While many of us decided to teach abroad to learn about other cultures, the blog has provided us with another tool for understanding other schools and cultures. Contributors have shared that they enjoy seeing what others are up to and to learn about other international experiences. We hope to showcase the diversity of our international experiences in our spotlight posts, which focus on one topic such as assessment or what our classrooms look like.

G: What are your plans over the short and long term?

LS: In the short term, we plan to expand our types of articles that we produce. The winter term is a busy recruitment period for international schools. To complement this, we plan to produce articles about why we chose to teach abroad, how we found our jobs, advice for interviews and applications and more. We hope that this will help our readers who are considering teaching abroad. In the long term, I am unsure how the blog will continue to develop. Some of our contributors are on one-year contracts, while others have two-year contracts. This is something we will continue to think about in the future.

See the blog at 14beds.com.

Talking with Scotland's Speaker

The Rt. Hon. Tricia Marwick, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, came to Queen’s over the weekend. She took part in a series of events that included a conversation on Friday about the importance of women’s involvement in politics. As part of the Principal's Forum, she delivered the Principal's Distinguished Visitor Lecture on Saturday on Scotland's constitutional journey. Ms. Marwick spoke with Communications Officer Andrew Stokes about her time in politics and what lies ahead for Scotland. 

Andrew Stokes: What are your responsibilities as Presiding Officer?

The Rt. Hon. Tricia Marwick, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, visited Queen's as the Principal's Distinguished Visitor. 

Tricia Marwick: The role of the PO is much like the Speaker of the House in the Canadian Parliament. It’s a multi-faceted job that has three major components: the first is the work I do in the chamber, addressing the body and keeping order, dealing with the political parties and handling problems when they arise. The second is acting as chair of the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body, which is responsible for the building’s facilities, oversees budgets and makes sure we have researchers, reporting staff and clerking staff. The third is that I chair the Scottish Parliament Bureau, a political bureau where all the business managers of the Parliament come together and set the business for the week.

AS: Have you instituted any changes during your time in the position?

TM: I was elected to Parliament in 1999, the year it started, and became PO in 2011. Since I had the chance to sit on many of the committees and bodies which the PO oversees, I had a clear idea that many processes and procedures needed to be reformed. I’m a bit like a poacher-turned-gamekeeper because my experiences helped me know just what needed changing. Parliament now meets three times a week instead of two, I introduced a topical question period, and we’ve given the backbenchers greater priority in question period. There are many changes to committee processes now too.

AS: How do we improve the number of women in politics?

TM: That’s something we all struggle with, the Scottish Parliament included. Our first parliament was 37.2 per cent women but has now fallen to around 34 per cent. We’ve made progress though, as the PO, first minister, the leader of the Conservatives and the deputy leader of the Labour Party are female. At the moment we have a huge opportunity to use our platform to inspire more young women to get into politics. I’m planning a conference for March that will have all those prominent women I mentioned as well as women who started their own businesses that aims to inspire young women. It’s not just about inspiring them to join politics, but to inspire them, period. 

The full interview with Presiding Officer Marwick will run in the Jan. 27 edition of the Gazette.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


Scotland's Presiding Officer visits Queen's, delivers lecture

  • [Rt. Hon. Tricia Marwick]
    Tricia Marwick, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, speaks to faculty, staff and students about the importance of women being involved in politics.
  • [Rt. Hon. Tricia Marwick]
    Tricia Marwick, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, speaks to faculty, staff and students about the importance of women being involved in politics.
  • [Rt. Hon. Tricia Marwick]
    Tricia Marwick, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, delivers the Principal's Distinguished Visitor Lecture on Saturday at Grant Hall.
  • [Rt. Hon. Tricia Marwick]
    Former Speaker of the House and current Queen's Fellow Peter Milliken looks on as Tricia Marwick, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, answers a question.
  • [Rt. Hon. Tricia Marwick]
    Among the attendees at Saturday's Principal's Distiguished Visitor Lecture were Mayor of Kingston Bryan Patterson and former prime minister John Turner.
  • [Rt. Hon. Tricia Marwick]
    Principal Daniel Woolf, right, speaks with Tricia Marwick, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, and Fergus Cochrane of the Scottish Parliament's UK and International Relations Office.

The Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament visited Queen’s University over the weekend as the Principal’s Distinguished Visitor.

The Rt. Hon. Tricia Marwick took part in a series of events throughout the weekend including a special conversation Friday at Wallace Hall regarding the importance of women being involved in politics, and, as part of the Principal’s Forum, delivered the Principal’s Distinguished Visitor Lecture on Saturday on “Scotland’s Constitutional Journey.”

Ms. Marwick, the first female Presiding Officer, similar to Canada’s Speaker of the House, attended several events held throughout the weekend in celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, who was born in Scotland.

She also took time to have tea with a group of exchange students from the United Kingdom who are currently studying at Queen’s.

The Principal’s Forum is a lecture series in which the Principal’s Distinguished Visitor lectures on current topics of interest. Past speakers have included world-renowned scholar Dipesh Chakrabarty and His Excellency the Governor General, the Rt. Hon. David Johnston.

India project a valuable experience for SURP students

[SURP Project in Pune India]
School of Urban and Regional Planning students attend a workshop at Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University (BVDU) after arriving in Pune, India. (Supplied photo)

There’s no better learning tool than hands-on experience. Add in international experience and you have the core of the Queen’s School of Urban and Regional Planning’s annual project course in India.

In its third year, and led by Professor Ajay Agarwal, a group of nine students made their way to Pune, a burgeoning city of more than 3 million located 150 km southeast of Mumbai.

The previous two projects took place in Auroville, but during that time Dr. Agarwal met with representatives of Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University (BVDU) and signed an MOU for scholarly collaboration.  They then found a good match for the Pune project in Janwani, an NGO funded by the local Chamber of Commerce that does work in different parts of city planning.

 “An arm of this NGO does heritage promotion. So they wanted us to help them do a heritage promotion for a particular part of Pune called ‘The Camp’ where not much has been done at all,” Dr. Agarwal explains. “The Camp is very rich in terms of both cultural heritage and architecture with different ethnic groups –Zoroastrians, Parsis, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. It’s an eclectic mix. For our project we delineated a part of The Camp called “Sadar Bazaar.”

A key to the annual project is that the group of students work as a mock-up consultant team, with members filling various roles, and take on real-life projects.

The first part of the fieldwork, which took place Dec. 5-17, was conducting an audit of the designated streets and designing a heritage walk using the principals of urban planning.

“So the walk should be interesting, walkable, comfortable, connecting interesting sites to look at, architecturally-rich buildings,” Dr. Agarwal says. “It should also give an experience of everyday-lived heritage – more than 100-year-old cafes where local residents hang out, there are a couple of blocks that are all tailors, there are a couple of blocks that are all jewelry stores. Those are the sorts of things that you don’t see in a modern-day city environment. Then there are these ethnic enclaves within The Camp. A heritage walker should experience the different flavours of these ethnicities.”

The second part was creating a heritage promotion plan, that included steps to brand the area as a heritage neighbourhood, how to preserve and highlight the heritage characters and distinguishing The Camp from the rest of Pune.

The work started months before they arrived in India with students conducting exhaustive background research on Pune including the history and architecture and looked into the best practices for designing heritage walks and branding heritage.

It also proved to be an invaluable learning experience outside the classroom, under challenging work conditions. Dr. Agarwal says the team had to deal with sporadic power supply and internet service and set up their office in a guesthouse.

“But that’s the learning experience,” he says.

This year, SURP students teamed up with six BVDU architecture students for fieldwork, which turned out to be an extremely enriching learning experience in itself.

Dr. Agarwal says that he feels fortunate that Queen’s, along with funding from Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, has given him the opportunity to continue the project. It is also a big commitment for students as they have to pay their own travel and living expenses.

Three years in Dr. Agarwal says the program has not only been beneficial for the participants but for SURP and Queen’s as well.

“It’s become a part of SURP culture now. Because we all stay together when we are in India I get to interact a lot with students and several of them mentioned that they joined SURP and not another planning program because of this international project opportunity,” he says. “Nowhere else in Canada does something like this take place. There are other international projects but they are more like studies. You go in, study a neighbourhood and you come back. You don’t actually go and do a project as a consultant and deliver it to a client.”

The project's final presentation will be held Jan. 21 from noon to 1 pm in Room 554 of Robert Sutherland Hall.

Warm welcome for international exchange students

International Orientation
Newly-arrived international exchange students at Queen's University show off their tri-colour mittens and scarves, courtesy the Campus Bookstore, during an orientation session held Sunday. (University Communications)

While the weather was icy the reception was anything but as Queen’s University welcomed incoming international exchange students on Sunday, the day before classes start for the winter term.

Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC), along with representatives of the academic faculties, offered a special orientation day for the newly-arrived exchange students to help them settle in at the university as well as Canada.

There were presentations on life at the university and where to find the resources that an international student may need as well as some basics on living in the community and health insurance.

And, of course, there is the weather. Many students arrive from much warmer climes and January in Canada can be a shock, despite preparations.

To give them a warm start, the Campus Bookstore once again donated tri-colour mittens and scarves for participating students. 

Woraphong Kingkawkantong, arrived from Bangkok, Thailand on Dec. 24 and is enrolled in the Commerce program. He said he’s excited about the chance to face a Canadian winter.

“I like snow a lot. I think it’s awesome,” he says. “I live in a country where the weather is opposite during the winter time. So it is 30 C there and -30 C here. It’s very different. It’s my first time seeing snow.”

The diversity of cultures Canada and Queen’s offer is also an exciting prospect for Mr. Kingkawkantong.

“I saw this country many times in films and I hoped that I would have a chance to visit and now I have that chance,” he says. “I’m really excited to learn a lot of new things here.”

For Marketa Netukova, the weather isn’t a concern. She has traveled from Prague, Czech Republic and says the temperature at this time of year is similar.

One of the main reasons she decided to take on an exchange was to get out of her routine and get to see more of the world while she has the chance.

 “I especially like meeting new people and really love listening how the other nations live,” says the Commerce student.

She was also looking forward to attending her classes where the groups will be smaller and she will have a better chance to meet people.

QUIC offered extended hours on Saturday and Sunday to provide support to newly-arriving students and their families and is offering a series of activities throughout the first week of classes to assist with the process of settling in. 

Justin Kerr, an International Student Advisor with QUIC who led Sunday’s presentation, said that more than 275 new international students are beginning their studies at Queen’s in January, including undergraduate and Masters of International Business exchange students, MBA and other graduate students, as well as students of the Queen’s School of English. 

“The orientation for exchange students is an opportunity to connect them with the many people at Queen’s who are here to make their time enjoyable and successful,” he says. “That means the many staff from various Student Affairs and academic offices as well as other students who will be an important part of their network and experience at Queen’s.

“The day left students with newly-developing friendships and a better understanding of the depth of support available to them at Queen’s. What better way to start their time here?”

Queen's receives Canada-China business excellence award

Queen's in the World

Queen’s School of Business was honoured as a recipient of a Canada-China Business Excellence Award, in the Educational Excellence category, at a Toronto luncheon in November. The awards, bestowed by the Canada-China Business Council, recognize organizations that play a leading and innovative role in growing and expanding business relationships between Canada and China. Fifteen awards were presented in five categories to private and public sector organizations from seven provinces and territories.

Professor Wei Wang (centre), Director of the Queen's-Renmin Master of Finance program, accepted the CCBC Award for Educational Excellence on the school's behalf.

Flags lowered for Professor Emeritus Rutenberg

[David Rutenberg]
David Rutenberg

Flags on campus are lowered in memory of David Rutenberg, an emeritus professor in Queen’s School of Business (QSB).

Dr. Rutenberg came to Queen’s in 1977 after spending 16 years at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Due in large part to Dr. Rutenberg’s efforts, Queen’s School of Business became increasingly international from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. When he first joined Queen’s, Dr. Rutenberg created courses in international business. As an educator who believed in the value of students learning and studying abroad, Dr. Rutenberg worked to increase the number of exchange agreements with business schools in other countries. He retired from Queen’s in 2001.

The family will receive friends at Robert J. Reid & Sons (309 Johnson St.) on Sunday, Dec. 21 from 7-9 pm. Visitation will continue at Chalmers United Church (212 Barrie St.) from noon until the time of the service at 1 pm on Monday, Dec. 22. As expressions of sympathy, memorial donations to the Community Foundation for Kingston and Area would be appreciated.

Canada's universities pursue global ambitions

[Queen's in the World logo]
Queen's in the World

Canada’s universities have global ambitions, according to a new internationalization survey conducted by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC). Overall, 89 per cent of institutions say that the pace of their internationalization efforts has accelerated during the past three years, and 82 per cent list internationalization among their top five strategic priorities.

Queen’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf, who was a member of AUCC’s internationalization survey advisory committee, says that universities are well aware of the benefits of increasing international engagement within their institutions.

“Internationalization is clearly a priority for the majority of Canada’s universities, including Queen’s,” says Principal Woolf. “Integrating an international dimension into a university’s academic mission has the potential to enhance the student learning experience and help prepare graduates with globally relevant skills and knowledge. For Queen’s, internationalization is also vital to building our research prominence and raising our profile abroad.”

The AUCC survey showed a remarkable growth in the number of universities offering international degree programs, with 81 per cent offering collaborative academic programs with international partners. That is up from 48 per cent in 2006, the last time the internationalization survey was conducted.

The survey estimates that there are 89,000 full-time international undergraduates studying in Canada and a further 44,000 in full-time graduate programs. It also asked about programs that send students abroad and found that nearly 97 per cent of universities offer study abroad opportunities for its students, however only about 10 to 12 per cent of students actually take advantage of these opportunities.

“We’d like to express our thanks to AUCC for this excellent initiative. The results of this survey will inform Queen’s efforts in the development of key aspects of the university’s international strategy”, states Kathy O’Brien, Associate Vice-Principal (International).

Expanding Queen’s international reach is a priority for the university and a key driver in its strategic framework. Principal Woolf and the university are committed to increasing the number of high quality international undergraduate students, while enhancing Queen’s research prominence and its student learning experience through increased international engagement.

Read the full survey report on the AUCC website.

Checkmate for chess club

While most Queen’s students are sitting by roaring fires, roasting chestnuts and drinking eggnog over their holiday break, Drew Metcalfe (Artsci’15) is going to be locked in a battle of wits with some of the world’s top chess talent. Mr. Metcalfe and three other members of the Queen’s Chess Club have been invited to the University of Groningen in the Netherlands to take part in the school’s 52nd annual Chess Festival.

Four members of the Queen's Chess Club are attending a Chess Festival in Groningen, The Netherlands.

For the 400th anniversary of Groningen’s founding, they’ve sent invitations to their partner institutions around the world to come take part in the competition. Queen’s is an exchange partner of Groningen, and so students were invited to participate. The university will be covering the accommodation costs and fees for the visiting participants, leaving transportation costs to the students.

Since its inception in 1952, the Groningen Chess Festival has slowly grown in renown. It has served to launch the careers of a number of prominent chess players and is an event where players are able to acquire the titles of chess master or grandmaster, chess’ highest title next to world champion. This year’s competition will be filled with heavyweights in the world of chess — when participants aren’t pawndering moves in games of their own, they’ll be able to watch staged matches between players with global calibre talent.

To help cover the costs of travel, Mr. Metcalfe and his clubmates have applied for a number of Queen’s grants, receiving $1,400 from the Residence Society’s First Year Experience Fund. They were also the lucky recipients of funding from the Chess’n Math Association (CMA), a Canadian non-profit organization that works to bring chess into schools across the country.

“It’s been really great to see the support we’ve been getting,” says Mr. Metcalfe, who’s been chess club president since 2013. Each summer the chess club helps the CMA host a tournament at Queen’s for local schoolchildren, and three of the four club members going to Groningen took part in CMA when they were younger. “We’re thrilled that CMA was able to help out.”

Mr. Metcalfe is hoping the trip to the Netherlands helps get more students interested in chess and have more come out to the club. When many of the chess club’s members graduated a few years ago, they were caught between a rook and a hard place, and have slowly regained members since then. “We’re working to build back up our participation levels and the trip to Groningen has really spurred people’s interest,” he says. “It’s amazing to see the opportunities that arise out of connections I didn’t even know about.” 

Principal Woolf signs international research statement

  • [group]
    Several groups representing universities from around the world gathered in the Netherlands to sign an agreement promoting social sciences and humanities research.
  • [signing]
    The document, which recognizes the fundamental role social sciences and humanities research play in the global community, is officially signed.
  • [group photo]
    Representatives of the various networks of research-intensive universities gather for a photo following the official signing.

[Queen's in the World]
Queen's in the World

Daniel Woolf, Queen's Principal and Vice-Chancellor, recently signed a statement on behalf of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities that promotes research in social sciences and humanities.

“Promoting research in the social sciences and humanities is a crucial step in developing solutions to problems facing not only Canada, but the world at large,” says Principal Woolf, who also serves as the vice-chair of U15, a group of 15 Canadian universities that aims to bolster research in Canada. “The social sciences and humanities contribute to better cross-cultural understanding, whether this be through history, law, economics, literature, sociology or any other related discipline.

The U15 along with the League of European Research Universities, the Association of American Universities, the Association of East Asian Research Universities, the Group of Eight (Australia), the RU11 Japan, the Russell Group (UK) have all committed themselves to championing the fundamental role that social sciences and humanities research plays in the global community.


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