2012-2013 Canadian Fulbright Scholar Yichuan Wang, from the University of British Columbia, writes about her impressions of her Fulbright experience at the University of California, Berkeley. Yichuan also shares her stories from a recent week-long residential workshop in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
Fulbright exchange down south builds an iceberg of growth
What is exchange? Merriam-Webster defines it as “giving or taking one thing in return for another”. On one level, Fulbright enabled giving of Canadiana and taking of Americana during LL.M. studies in water law and economics at the University of California, Berkeley. That, however, just skims the tip of the iceberg. Fulbright enables the exchange of our old selves for new beings with broader minds, warmer hearts, and inspired spirits.
Indeed, at the tip of the iceberg, Fulbright and the Law Foundation of BC’s generosity enabled intriguing insights into how we may modernize our water laws in BC, thanks to reflections from California’s experiences. For example, when we aim to improve water use efficiency through certain legal instruments, we may benefit from contemplating their effectiveness as vehicles more deeply.
The iceberg of growth, however, extends far deeper. Studying at Berkeley enabled an inescapable broadening of the mind, thanks to professors and mentors who modeled marvellous mastery of their fields and rock-solid commitment to thinking critically about the tough issues they tackle.
Beware the Golden Bear’s knack for expanding your heart too. Nothing beats living among the International House community for growing empathy, generosity, good humour and much more, thanks to the opportunity to learn from 600 people from everywhere under the sun (studying everything under the sun and beyond), much like SJC at UBC. Watching how many people model various virtues cannot but help us come out of ourselves and commit to becoming better at being human. We get that “meaning” means going beyond “me”. Indeed, exchange helps us open, understand, accept, and appreciate each other. This underpins peace and greater possibilities to improve our lives together in the face of common challenges.
Finally, don’t count on coming home without catching some of the fearless American spirit. There’s something so inspiring about the attitude to try our best fearlessly, unafraid to look failure in the eye, embracing it as the pathway to growth in a commitment to bettering ourselves.
Going with the floe up north, way north
So where did this iceberg of growth from down south lead to next? Up north. Way north. How come? Well, not only did living in the U.S. open the mind to how our neighbours view the world, but also, it stirred a questioning inside of my own beliefs and understanding of our home in Canada. Whenever we question, we embark on a quest-ing into the marvellous unknown. This journey allows us to shift from grant-itude to gratitude, and entitlement to appreciation, of life back home. So it was time to head up north to deepen an understanding of our water challenges and opportunities.
Expedition into incredible Iqaluit with the Canadian Water Network
Departing from Ottawa on a balmy July morning, twenty of us students and young professionals passionate about water joined the leadership team of Canadian Water Network on a week-long residential workshop in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Led by this national mobilizer of multidisciplinary water research excellence, we collaborated to examine the unique challenges and opportunities of the North regarding water and wastewater.
Exploring incredible Iqaluit changed us, thanks to the opportunity to learn from experts, locals, and each other. Experts taught us the North’s uniqueness. This made me wonder: how often do we truly listen and seek to understand where others come from, rather than imposing our views and “solutions”? Local Elders gave us insights into outlooks that challenged our “southern” views. For example, thinking six generations ahead is a minimum. They also challenged how we relate with nature, for the land of the midnight sun naturally draws a deep respect for its vastness and majesty. The majesty did not stall us in romanticism, however. Residing in Iqaluit caused reflections into how often we had actually sought to appreciate the realities of life in one of our territorial capitals before our expedition, from its housing strains to rapid population growth to high food prices.
On the other hand, how many of us appreciate the pride and hopes springing from the hearts of youth in our North? Meaning “our land” in Inuktitut, Nunavut nurtures simplicity and savouring of life. People go by Iqaluit time, which is just a tad later, and it’s all good. Don’t think locals sleep in though. At 6:30 am on a Monday, you’ll find nine teens playing “anyball” (basketball, soccer, anything goes) on a school field. Their greatest pride in their hometown? The convenience of having the hospital, camping, and the river to swim in nearby. Their pride and joy shone on the faces of many more on Nunavut Day. As “southern” Canadians, we gained deep respect into life up north, as much as a five-year-old girl called Fran loves life. As the great-granddaughter of a respected Elder, Fran ran around the tundra as freely as a caribou, heaving rocks from the earth and chucking them into the water, glowing with joy at the splashes she made.
CWN Iqaluit’s biggest splash was experiencing the value of interdisciplinary collaboration to tackle our water challenges. No doubt it was tough, given the demand it placed on listening to understand, and communicating to inform, among very different disciplines. However, therein lay the reward for deepened consideration into the issues because we could test flaws in our thinking and round out each other’s blind spots, resulting in a more considered set of possibilities. May similar communities of partners, learning families, and roundtables of voices grant us more choicefulness in approaching water management moving forward.
Get out, get real, get going
In sum, in tackling towering challenges, exchange with others helps to advance more sensibly for the following reasons. First, exchange builds our capacity to take on challenges, by enabling us to grow from dependence in a familiar surrounding to independence in a new land to interdependence on completion. Second, exchange helps us get out of ourselves, and get real. When we truly listen to understand another perspective, we must test preconceptions to gain ice-crystal clarity into their validity. This reflection allows us to shed those that serve us no good, adopt new ways of thinking, and see things as they really are. By coming out of ourselves, and getting where others come from, we can gain insight into how to go forward. Third, exchange helps us illuminate hidden think-links that inform our understanding of possible solutions, while teaching us to respect others and not impose solutions. Finally, exchange expands the necessary carrying capacity we need to tackle complex problems. Our minds become able to carry the paradox that we are different and alike, just as the world holds the interconnected union of our uniqueness.
So get out, get real, and get going on your adventure. Follow your inner compass, be it down south or up north. Get set to open your mind, heart, and spirit to the wondrous possibilities to grow and give, full of brightness ahead – as bright as the sun illuminating Berkeley’s open blue sky, the same sun that lights up Iqaluit into midnight.
As Matty McNair, Arctic Explorer says: “If life bores you, risk it”!