Friday, 9 January 2015

Student Voices: The four-year summit . . . okay, maybe five

Provided By the Work of Arts blog, Student Voices

Written by Ashton Mucha
(Originally published on January 16, 2014)

Beautiful Banff
Image courtesy of Student Voices

It’s recently hit me that hey, I’m graduating soon. And instead of counting down the days until I can celebrate the official end of my undergrad by “makin’ it rain” class notes, drowning myself in grad school applications, or even breathing rapidly into a paper bag out of sheer panic for what the future holds, I’m mulling over my past four years at the U of A and quite seriously contemplating “forgetting” to apply for graduation. Lots of people jump aboard the five-year train, right? Choo choo! Perhaps I should be looking ahead at the (hopefully) exciting next years of my life, but I can’t help thinking about all the experiences and amazing people I’ll leave behind. I have Dr. Stephen Slemon’s English 426 class to thank for that.

I was fortunate enough to go on a field trip (yes, you read that right . . . a field trip in university) with other adventure-seeking literature enthusiasts to Banff for the Mountain Film and Book Festival in early November. Thirteen of us left Edmonton for a weekend of some academia — and more bonding than I initially anticipated. I was keen on completing a paper and reading a novel on the drive down, but that went out the window as soon as our car turned into the official karaoke headquarters of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album. Reluctantly, I embraced it. All you haters can hate hate hate hate hate all you want.

Haters gonna hate Talyor Swift
Image courtesy of Tumblr

For someone who enrolled in a Literature of Mountaineering course with negative five per cent knowledge of mountaineering, Dr. Slemon’s passion and enthusiasm rubbed off on me. Our class discussions and readings intrigued me enough to want to go to the festival to learn more about mountaineering and its representations in film and literature. But what I didn’t take into account is how much I’d learn from my fellow classmates.

Sense of community

Students bonding during a class summit
Image courtesy of Student Voices

Here’s where I take a moment to be philosophical and reflect on my personal experiences at the University of Alberta. And yes, it’s sentimental. It wasn’t until the end of my 3rd year and the start of my 4th that I realized what a fantastic sense of community the U of A has — particularly within the Arts, and more specifically amongst my English peers. 

I had assumed that other English students were interested in the same things as me, but I never took the time to ask. I became too accustomed to engaging in other topics of discussion with my Business and Science friends, knowing all too well that pleading with them about how books are always better than the films wouldn’t change their desire to watch cinematic renditions. *Sigh* They’ll never understand.

But in Banff I was surrounded by other pro-book people. They even reprimanded me for being the only English major who has not read (nor watched) the Lord of the Rings trilogy (I’m working on it guys).

I learned about everyone’s passions, favourite genres, creative writing abilities, future plans and anxieties, mutual hate for certain authors and a shared love for others, and it reassured me that I’m confidently heading in the right (although uncertain) direction. As English students, we’re all in the same boat (or train if we continue my previous analogy), slowly approaching the end of our degrees and facing the realities of what comes next. What does come next?

Bonding over karaoke

If you’re wondering what our trip entailed: well, we visited the hot springs, roamed around downtown, collectively sang TLC’s “No Scrubs” wherever we went — yes, there’s no better friendship anthem than “No Scrubs” — and for no apparent reason, organized 3:00 am heart-to-hearts and stalked Bambi on our walk to the festival. 

But it wasn’t just the 13 of us who became close, and TLC wasn’t our only vocal inspiration either. Dr. Slemon graciously invited all of us over to his home in Canmore for dinner and games. We considered playing Cards Against Humanity, but Dr. Slemon kindly informed us that he would not be participating in “that Humans of New York game.” Instead, we all burst into an inept and slightly pitchy rendition of “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough” (apparently karaoke is our go-to). That was the moment when I realized two things: one, I have absolutely no future as a singer; and two, these people who were strangers a few months prior had become like family to me.

Oh dear... that's awesome to see!
Image courtesy of Student Voices

I’m genuinely pleased that these incredibly cool people put up with me all weekend. I went into the trip thinking it would be a highly educational experience, and it was, but for other reasons. Instead of only leaving with notes, photos and memories, I left with new friends. They’re a huge part of the reason a 5th year looks so appealing. It saddens me to leave such a wonderful community of people behind — people like my brilliantly amusing English peers and professors like Dr. Slemon. Unfortunately, I can’t be an undergrad student forever. But even as I start thinking about graduation and more about what comes next, I can hold onto the fond memories at the U of A and the 2014 Banff trip.

At the beginning of every class, Dr. Slemon always played some sort of “mountain music” — everything from Arcade Fire to the Sound of Music — and right afterwards and again at the end of class, he would thank us for being there. To mirror Dr. Slemon’s sentiments: thank you all for coming to Banff, taking the time to share stories and allowing me to get to know you. And thank you, Dr. Slemon, for organizing such a fantastic trip and encouraging us to become like family from day one of the course. In the meantime, Listen, baby. Ain’t no mountain high, ain’t no valley low, ain’t no river wide enough. If you need me call me no matter where you are, no matter how far — because hey, it’d be nice to keep in touch. 

About the Author

Ashton Mucha

I'm Ashton Mucha, and I'm in my fourth and final year of my undergraduate degree with major in English and a minor in Philosophy. I am fortunate enough to have been attending the University of Alberta for the entirety of my university career, and I'm looking forward to potentially continuing my education at the U of A in the English graduate program. 

I love being involved with and taking advantage of the various opportunities and events that UAlberta has to offer. I recently volunteered as an orientation leader for transfer and mature students entering the University of Alberta for Fall 2014. I can confidently say that I am proud to be a UAlberta student, so I was very pleased to show the new students around our beautiful campus and give them any information or advice for their first year. 

Thanks to the Education Abroad program, I will be finishing the remainder of my final year and the winter semester (yes, I get to skip the snow) at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. I'm interested in learning about Australian literature and comparing it to the types of Canadian, American and British literature that I have learned about over the past few years!

Student Voices

Student Voices is a WOA blog feature that presents the experiences and point of views of current arts students around campus. Get to know our creative and passionate students through their “voices” and get a snapshot of life as an arts undergrad. The views and opinions expressed within these student voices posts are solely those of the author.

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