Convocation ‘20: Vidal Tavares

Discovering New Passions

Brooke MacCallum - 09 June 2020

Many students discover their true calling later on during their university education. In the fourth and final year of his Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, with a minor in Psychology, Vidal Tavares began studying the Japanese language and culture. After taking these courses of interest and studying abroad in Japan, Vidal became fascinated with the way language functions and discovered a passion for sociolinguistics. 

Living outside of Edmonton and facing daily time-consuming commutes, Vidal focused entirely on schoolwork, neglecting the sort of on and off campus activities that, as he discovered later, made his university experience not only more enjoyable, but helped to ignite new interests. 

Excited to move on with the next chapter of his life, Vidal hopes to someday live and work in Japan. While his plans to travel there and visit friends after graduation have been put on hold, he will make the trip as soon as possible.

What drew you to this area of study?

I’m interested in Sociology and Psychology because I am fascinated by the many different ways people carry themselves through life. I’m interested in learning why people do the things they do. I think that by understanding how and why people think, act, and feel, I can better understand human nature. I think in a way, I want to better understand other people so that I can better understand myself. I have always had difficulty with comprehending my own identity and struggling with cognitive dissonance. Sociology is great for studying how humans relate to each other in varying contexts, and I feel that learning about this will help me recognize why we feel and act the way that we do, both publicly and privately.

In an era of advanced globalization and increased dependency on one another, I think it’s important to understand the differences that exist between people. We develop empathy when we know where other people are coming from, so we become more cooperative. I like sociology because it examines the nature of human beings and how they form and exist within societies, and I find the writings of these observations, from Weber to Bourdieu, very interesting and insightful. I am also interested in demography and population studies, and the social and economic implications that arise from the composition and structures of societies. We attach so much meaning to demographic information like age, sex, and occupation, and understanding what this means is important in better comprehending our human nature and how we construct relations with each other. I have become a lot more empathetic towards people because I am much more conscious of how their situation and background influences the way they behave, act, and feel.

What is the most remarkable thing you learned while you were a student?

There are some very interesting and insightful things I learned throughout my academic career. Two things in particular that I learned that stand out were learning about the stages throughout the life course and the second, demographic transition. I find these two things are great models of explaining how the structure of society and the composition of people within it are being transformed in an era of postmodernism that usurps centuries of traditional norm and practices (such as the socioeconomic liberation of women in the last one hundred years).

You are one of the first students to graduate from the Certificate in Applied Social Science Research. What did you learn from this experience?

I think having a certificate to complement a degree is greatly beneficial; it’s not as difficult as it may initially seem. It also looks good on a resume. The Certificate in Applied Social Science Research is a great complement to a Sociology major. Social research and analyzing social data is something I am interested in. I especially like working with social research and census data, and working in a lab to do analysis and write ups based on data findings. This particular certificate deals with topics that are a major interest of mine, so completing it was not only simple, but a pretty enjoyable experience.

Did you face any significant challenges during your program?

I think the single biggest challenge for me was staying mentally healthy. I don’t actually live in Edmonton, so I have to commute into the city every day for school. I woke up and went to sleep very early every day, and the only thing I ever did on campus was kill time in the library in the morning or attend class. This was my routine for my first three years. It was a lifestyle that I was managing okay, but I made myself socially isolated as a result. At that time I didn’t have the freedom of any other choice. I was never active on campus, not even in my own classes. I struggle a lot with putting myself out there; I find myself to be pretty reserved. I think having a balance between focusing on academia and being social is important. I had a cynically pragmatic approach to my academia when I first started, and I wished I had forced myself to be more willing to approach people. University can be more than a place of scholarship. I took an opportunity to go study in Japan with no real intentions, but from the experiences I had and the connections I made with others there, I returned to campus with a different outlook on what my student life could look like. The friends I made in class and campus activities in my final year really changed my university life for the better.

Also, I struggled a fair bit with maintaining good study habits. It took me far too long to realize that I needed to be on campus to be able to focus. It is very difficult for me to focus on academia in a home environment since I mentally associate home with relaxation. I found that going to the library after class and not returning home until I had a sufficient amount of work done helped me stay focused and improved my work ethic.

How did you manage the challenges of navigating student life under COVID-19 restrictions and remote learning?

I did not realize how much I valued learning material in a classroom, with a knowledgeable professor and similar-minded individuals. For example, I took 300-level language courses in my last year, and I find class time working with others and practicing in class with the help of native speakers extremely valuable to me. I don’t think doing this remotely is feasible nor effective in language acquisition. Going to class, studying at a library, late nights with friends on campus, even occasionally buying food; campus life in general helped me establish a daily routine and a lifestyle with some consistent rhythm. I liked being on campus because it was a place where I could focus on schoolwork away from home. I find studying at home difficult; it’s hard for me to focus on academia in that sort of environment.

I don’t think that remote learning is better or worse, but I am the kind of person that needs a classroom environment and a hands-on approach to be able to learn effectively. My ability to learn remotely heavily depends on the nature of the course. From my experience, it is a lot more difficult to succeed remotely in a high level language course than a junior course that only utilizes a textbook and lecture slides. Certain classes demand a certain kind of environment to thrive and be effective in.

What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you when you started?

I wish I had established a solid daily routine and good workflow early. I remember when I was in first-year, when I was still figuring out university life and I kept telling myself, “next year I will pull myself into shape, buckle down, and get serious about my schoolwork.” But, I ended up repeating this doctrine to myself every year. It wasn’t until my fourth and final year where I finally had a routine and lifestyle I was satisfied with and where I felt I was being efficiently productive with my time. Having a routine is hard to establish since life is unpredictable, but I think being able to adapt to changes in life while having a schedule that you feel works for you is very important to being productive. Do not wait for an opportunity to change. Take the initiative and make it happen now; your future self will thank you for it.

Also, take courses that you are interested in, and don’t be afraid to change your areas of interest during your degree. It wasn’t until I started studying Japanese that I discovered the fascinating ways in which language functions, and this led me to become greatly interested in sociolinguistics. By the time I was serious about studying this field it was much too late to declare a change. If I had an earlier opportunity, I would have changed my minor, since I feel that I could have excelled more in linguistics than psychology. It is good to take courses in topics of interest, but for academic reasons take the ones you feel you will perform well in too. 

The Future is Arts! This story is part of a series celebrating our graduates. Please join us for a virtual convocation, Friday, June 12, at 10 a.m. MST. at Registration is not required.