Sophia Jewell

 Sophia Jewell

Name: Sophia Jewell


MLCS Honors in Slavic Languages (Polish and Ukrainian)

What spurred you on to be an Honors student in the department?

When I was invited to join the Honors program, I noticed that the requirements for the Honors degree aligned with what I was interested in most – studying languages. I had initially worried that joining the Honors Program would involve taking more required courses and would not allow me to take courses I was interested in or would significantly increase the number of requirements I had to fulfill before graduating. However, because the Honors program involved focusing on languages it intersected with my previous interests and allowed me to continue pursing my interests in greater depth.

What is the best thing about being an Honors student in the department of MLCS?

I would say that one of the biggest things I gained by becoming an Honors student was being able to talk to the Honors Coordinator (Dr. Odile Cisneros) and have one-on-one meetings to ask questions and discuss requirements relating to my degree and the various certificates I was pursuing. It was really valuable and helped me navigate the degree so that I could fulfill all the requirements (even when I had slightly unusual ideas for how to do this).

Having the opportunity to write a thesis paper and really explore in depth any topic of my choice was an exciting but also a challenging experiencing. In many ways, the paper was the culmination of my university experience and allowed me to explore a wide range of thoughts and experiences I had encountered throughout the time of my degree. I really enjoyed being able to engage with existing literature on the topic of my thesis (patriotism) and also to draw from primary sources I had encountered during my studies. In addition, it allowed me to develop my own thoughts about the topic and evaluate my own personal experience from an academic perspective. I think it is exciting that the thesis papers are published on the University’s database when they are completed.

Also, I really enjoyed having the opportunity to be the undergraduate student representative on the MLCS Curriculum Committee in the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 semesters. In particular, I was really excited to be able to support the decision to change the MLCS grading rubric back to the old model.

Cause(s) you care about

I care a lot about the issue of preservation of human rights, especially freedom of belief and freedom of expression, and in my view, this is the most important issue the world faces. Acknowledging the innate and equal human dignity found in every individual is essential and is the foundation of any ethical and just society. While the issue of human rights may seem very obvious, I think it can’t be stressed enough, because so much of the world’s future depends on our ability to address these issues. It is on these issues that we will be held accountable both to ourselves and to future generations.

In addition to this overarching issue, I think the issues of immigration and multiculturalism are critical in today’s world. While misunderstandings due to cultural differences are likely to continue to exist, being able to respect those who are culturally different and being able to appreciate the incalculable contribution of immigrants is essential, not only out of consideration for universal justice and world peace, but also because it allows us to enrich ourselves and our societies so much. The more we are able to understand and relate with others, the more we will be able to understand ourselves and humanity as a whole.

Tell us about a topic you are excited to do research about (e.g., your current Honors thesis)

I am really interested in discussing the issue of patriotism, both in terms of its philosophical significance (what does it really mean to love one’s country? How can one love one’s country in an ethical way? Is patriotism compatible with universal values?) and in terms of its cultural significance (Is patriotism different in different countries? How is Canadian patriotism different than Polish patriotism?). Although patriotism is often thought of as a dangerous and even violent force which may cause racism or extreme nationalism, this is not necessarily the case. Like any personal attachment, patriotism can be both a way to unite and to divide individuals. It can be harnessed for negative purposes but can also be used to promote important causes. I think that in its purest form, love of country can actually be a very beautiful emotion and can create a sense of community and shared identity. If patriotism is combined with a respect and appreciation for other cultures, I believe it can become a powerful tool which not only allows us to appreciate our own cultural heritage but also to connect with the cultures of others in a more intimate way.

Any (survival) tip(s) you would like to share with fresh MLCS Honors students?

Focus on what you’re really interested in
I think it’s really important to be honest with yourself and figure out what you’re really interested in and not worry about how your interests may be viewed by others. Take courses just for fun. The random option course you take that interests you but doesn’t seem to fit with your degree could provide you with a new perspective to your main area of study or become surprisingly relevant when choosing your thesis topic. Similarly, it might not be worth it to take a course just because you think you should be interested in it. The more you are faithful to your own interests (as strange as that sounds), the more likely you are to enjoy each course, and developing your interests is really helpful when choosing a thesis topic.

Be creative and take chances
I think being creative and being ready to take certain risks is one of the best ways to really take your knowledge and interests to the next level. Even if it means going beyond the regular requirements of an assignment or taking a chance, it can be a way to make each project unique and interesting. Especially when learning a new language or culture or even approaching an unfamiliar topic, I have found that being prepared to dive right into the subject matter and taking chances is actually a really valuable skill and is almost always the best way to learn. Searching for creative ways to engage with course material makes the concepts come alive and become more relatable, which makes them become part of your own intellectual repertoire. Also, it makes university more interesting and fun :)

Connect with your professors and have honest conversations with them
I have lost count of how many times I have approached professors either to ask questions about their grading rubric or to discuss something I was uncertain about or uncomfortable with, or even to disagree with their opinion. While it was often an unnerving situation at the time, in 95% of the cases it actually led to really fruitful discussions and both I and the professor came away with a better understanding of the situation and each other. Being able to have honest and open discussions with a professor is valuable when working with your supervisor, but also helps develop invaluable relationships which can help with choosing a supervisor as well.

Always put in a full effort
I think one of the most dangerous things you can do is try to get your degree ‘over with.’ The more you put into an assignment, the more you will get out of it. Putting in a full effort is rewarding and therefore is motivating in the long run. If you invest in learning how to write the best paper you possibly can in first year, writing the Honors thesis will be much less intimidating.

The first thing you plan do after graduating.

First of all, I would like to spend time with my family and take a break to do all the activities with them that I didn’t have time to do when I was studying. I would like to talk, go for long walks, sketch and paint, try sculpting, practice photography, play chess, and spend time with my sisters. I would also like to continue practicing my Polish and Ukrainian and also review Korean, Spanish, and Latin. If I have time, I would like to learn Greek, Hebrew, and Irish. I would also like to continue writing poetry and short stories, do some weaving, and learn new folk dances. I applied to the M.A program at both the University of Alberta and the University of Toronto and was accepted by both, so I plan to continue my studies by pursuing an M.A degree next fall.