A Retrospective with CIL graduate, Emily Quinn

U of A International Certificate in International Learning (CIL) Program Coordinator Lisa Lozanski has a conversation with Emily Quinn, a student who graduates with the CIL in November 2021. Here are some of Emily's experiences with the program.

Lisa Lozanski, U of A International - 19 November 2021

Twice a year, I have the opportunity to review capstone projects written by students enrolled in the Certificate in International Learning. In these reflective papers, I follow along as they relive their exchange abroad or recount memories made during intercultural communication training. I ride their rollercoaster of learning a second language, or witness the “aha” moments that come during the completion of their CIL courses. I get to see what they learned from the program. Inevitably, every year, I read capstones that make me whoop and cheer. Some even make me emotional with pride. I think “this program changes people for the better in ways that are difficult to communicate”. And so, this year, I will not even try to articulate the power of the program. I will let Emily Quinn, a CIL student who graduates with the CIL in November 2021, share her experiences with you. Below is my conversation with her. 

-- Lisa Lozanski, Global Education Coordinator

Hi Emily, thanks for doing this! To start, tell me a bit about your undergrad experience. What did you study? 

I studied Nutrition and Food Science with a Dietetic specialisation for my undergraduate degree. I chose dietetics because I believe that food is an essential cornerstone of psychological, social, and physical wellbeing. I was also drawn to dietetics because I enjoy interacting with others and improving their quality of life. A degree in dietetics granted me the opportunity to work alongside other healthcare professionals to provide quality care and service to the public, which is an endeavour I value and appreciate.

How did you find out about CIL? 

I found out about the CIL through a colleague of mine who is also in dietetics. They were enrolled in the CIL and found it valuable and impactful in their personal and professional experiences.

I decided to enrol in the CIL because I am curious about things outside of my sphere of familiarity. I am curious about realities that are not my own, about viewpoints and beliefs different from mine. Fundamentally, I want to learn more about the world around me. I loved the idea of being around and learning from others who were equally interested in cultivating a more global mindset, especially now that our world is becoming increasingly globalised and interdependent. 

When you look back now, what sticks in your mind about the program? 

My experiences as the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants made me wonder what it means to be "Canadian" and how I could better understand my place in Canadian society as someone who lives between Canadian and Chinese cultures. It sparked my interest in culture and learning how to encourage and embrace diversity and inclusion as individuals and as a society. I liked having a program where it emphasised the importance of coming to mutual understandings and respecting each other's differences and learning from them in a way that can help us help each other.

The more I learned about and from other cultures, the more I realised that every culture tells themselves "stories" about their own culture. For example, a prominent story that Canadians tell ourselves is that we are polite and welcoming, and that Canadian society is innately non-hierarchical and egalitarian. Our belief of our own story is so strong that it has become others' stories about us – we are often welcomed abroad based on the perception that all Canadians possess the previously mentioned qualities. I realised that not every culture is afforded the same opportunity to tell their story to others, and often, the majority ends up distorting and telling the story of the minority or forgetting about it altogether. What sticks in my mind about the program is its focus on building listening skills, allowing other people to tell their stories and making space for underrepresented groups to share their knowledge and experiences. I enjoyed its emphasis on being humble when learning more about and from others and recognising that it is okay not to know everything about somebody else. I also loved the capstone project that had me reflect on my learning experiences; it helped solidify what I learned from the program.

What do you think the value of the CIL is, both personally and professionally?

I think the value of pursuing the Certificate in International Learning is that you grow your mindset to become more understanding, accepting, and curious. It equips you with the fundamental knowledge and skills you need to form better interpersonal relationships with others. It truly helps cultivate a mindset that enriches the interactions and learning experiences you share with others in your personal life.

Professionally, I am in a field that requires me to interact with people different from myself every day. As a healthcare provider, I think it's important to understand the importance of forming relationships and listening to other people, especially your patients and their families. Coming from a place that honours mutual understanding leads to better health outcomes and quality of care. I am also pursuing a law degree, and I think that mindset extends into the legal field. A lot of what people do in law is public-facing. It's essential to understand and listen to people when you are a lawyer, on a smaller scale when talking to clients, and on a broader scale when making and applying policy. I think it's imperative to listen to others, consider and reflect on the ideas and values of people who might be different from ourselves, and that we aim to reflect that in our policy decisions and application. That's how we make policy the most effective, and that's how we advance our society.

What was the impact of CIL on your undergrad experience? What did you learn that you drew on during your degree? 

The CIL helped me understand some of the other content in my undergraduate degree. It undeniably supplemented my learning when it came to my clinical courses, where I had to interact with many patients and other health care providers. I continuously drew on the intercultural communications aspect of the program when I was going through my practical training. I applied what I learned in my intercultural communication training and continued to practise my interactions, considering other people's communication preferences and cultural backgrounds. The skills I learned helped me communicate my ideas more effectively and helped me better understand what my patients and their families wanted and needed from each interaction.

What did you learn that you continue to draw on today?

Today, I think what I keep going back to again and again is intercultural humility and creating culturally safe spaces. Overall, participating in the CIL program taught me the importance of cultural humility, keeping an open mind, and learning from other cultures. I learned that there are often multiple viewpoints about the same subject, and that different is not the same as bad or wrong. Listening to and learning from the stories and opinions of my peers, colleagues, and professors throughout the CIL program reminded me to come from a place of understanding and curiosity and embrace beliefs, values, and opinions different from my own. I remind myself to keep my mind and heart open to new possibilities and continue learning from others to make the world a better place for everyone. Pursuing the CIL has instilled in me a habit of considering, respecting, and reflecting on other people's values, beliefs, and knowledge. 

In my coursework, I learned how social determinants of health, like socioeconomic status, literacy, and other factors, affect immigrant and refugee health after relocation to Canada. Participating in the CIL program allowed me to interact with multiple individuals with different cultural backgrounds than my own. Throughout my experience, I heard dozens of stories and was exposed to various viewpoints, belief systems, and values. I hope to keep these learnings in mind as I pursue my career as a health professional.

What are your future goals and plans and how might you draw on your CIL-related learning in the future? 

I am currently studying law at Thompson Rivers University, and I hope to pursue a career in health law, medical malpractice, or human rights law. Being in the CIL opened my mind to wanting to know more about everything and everyone. I think that curiosity translated into my decision to apply to law school. Law is one of the few disciplines where you learn about everything because the law is so ingrained in every sector of society. In the future, I hope to draw on my CIL acquired knowledge and skills to help me be a more effective and equitable practitioner in the legal field.

What advice do you have for students who are currently enrolled in the CIL or who are thinking of enrolling?

My advice to those currently enrolled in the CIL is to be open about whatever information comes your way; absorb it, think about it, process it, and then try to understand it, even when you disagree. Come to every situation with an open heart and open mind, then take time after each learning experience to digest and critically examine what you've learned. Reflecting on your experiences will help develop your understanding and knowledge of when to apply certain concepts, and eventually, it will grow into a habit and become second nature. If you're thinking about enrolling in the CIL, I'd say do it without any hesitation. It helps build your understanding of the world and the people around you, and it will enrich your learning experiences immensely, not only now but throughout your life. The CIL program is an unparalleled, immersive academic experience that will feed your curiosity and expand your mindset.

Thank you so much for sharing, Emily! Congratulations on your graduation and best of luck to you in law school and beyond.