Minds We Meet! – Interviewing Students Like You!

Megan Camp is in her final semester of Bachelors of Arts in Psychology at AU, with a minor in Anthropology, which she juggles with being a single mom. Recently she took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to The Voice Magazine.

So, what’s your story? How’d you come to AU?
I did the brick and mortar university thing when I first attended post-secondary in 2005, but consistently had to put my education on the back-burner to work more and make ends meet. When my son was born in 2010, I decided that enough was enough and enrolled in Athabasca University during my maternity leave to finish my degree. I had to put Athabasca on hold as well a couple of times over the last six years to focus on other things in my life, but I always had the intention of coming back and finishing this degree.

As a single mom, the traditional university setting just wouldn’t have worked for me, so Athabasca really was an incredible opportunity for me to finish my goals while still being able to work and provide for my son. We currently live in Coquitlam, BC, but I was born and raised in small towns on Vancouver Island. I currently work for an audio engineering company nearby, and, even though my current occupation is not in the realm of my studies, I have always been a huge music lover, so working for this company has been pretty awesome.

What do you do like to do when you’re not studying?
When I’m not studying I like to hang out with my son, go for walks, read a book, listen to music. On a Saturday morning you can often find me sitting on the living room floor with my 6-year-old, coffee in hand, massive Lego structures abound, with whatever cartoon is the flavor of the week blaring in the background.

What famous person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why?
Howard Carter. As a child I was completely enamored by ancient Egypt. I would read every book I could find on the subject. This was the beginning of my fascination with the world of anthropology and other ancient and modern cultures. While other kids were playing street hockey and tag; I was digging holes in my backyard, convinced that I was going to unravel the next great world mystery underneath the garden shed. Howard Carter is the first archaeologist I can remember learning about and I think having lunch with him would satisfy my inner child; I bet he has some cool stories.

What would the meal be?
Oh! Seafood Crepes, most definitely! One of my first jobs was as a hostess in this small, French-inspired bistro in my hometown. On slower nights, when the tips weren’t that great, they would tip me out with a meal of Seafood Crepes. They were honestly the most amazing things I have ever eaten. In my 30 years on this planet, I have never again found a place that does seafood crepes as well as this place did. And I am always looking!

Who in your life had the greatest influence on your desire to learn?
That’s a toss-up. If we are talking pre-mom me’s desire to learn, then I would have to say my high school counsellor. I didn’t have the easiest time in school and being able to afford post-secondary was pretty much a pipe-dream. But she saw something in me and encouraged me to apply myself to my schooling. In the end, she helped me apply for and receive enough bursaries and scholarships to enroll in and attend my first year of University. I remember her crying when I graduated. She passed away a few years ago now, but she had a significant impact on my determination to finish my degree and even my field of study. Ideally, I would like to become a school counsellor as well as having my own clinical counselling practice.

Currently though, the biggest influence for my continued education is my son. He was the reason I went back to school in the first place. I wanted to be able to show him (and myself) that anything is possible if you set your mind to it and to not sell yourself short because life gets in the way. When I feel completely overwhelmed and like I am a total failure as a mom and/or a student, he’s the one who reminds me to not give up. He is definitely my source of strength through the rocky times.

Describe your experience with online learning. What do you like or dislike?
For me, online learning has been a life saver. It would have been really difficult for me to attend a brick and mortar university setting, so having the ability to complete my degree online really put the power back in my hands when it comes to my own education. It’s like the universe saying, “here’s the academic setting, you can either do something with it or not do something with it, but the choice is yours”. It took a way a lot of barriers for me and put the onus on myself for my own academic achievement. I hate being told I can’t do something. I’m like the little girl on the playground being told that she isn’t strong enough to do the monkey bars, “oh yeah? Watch me!” I can be pretty stubborn. Online learning has been amazing for me and I personally don’t have a lot of dislikes. But there are times for sure when I miss those heated classroom debates that you can find in traditional university settings. Those lectures stick in mind a lot and I often wonder if I am retaining the same amount of information doing online learning as I would be from a more traditional setting.

Have you had a time when you wavered about your education?
Oh, absolutely, many times! I have been working on my four-year Bachelor’s Degree for a decade now! There have been many times where I have made the choice to put my education on the back burner. There have been many times when I thought this wasn’t for me, that I couldn’t afford it, when I asked myself if it was really going to get me anywhere in life. But at the end of the day, this was something that I wanted for myself and I always found myself picking it back up again. It’s okay to take the time to ask yourself those questions. I think so many people attend post-secondary because they feel it is the thing to do, or because it is important to the family and they really haven’t taken the time to ask themselves is this really what I want? Do I know what I want to get out of this? Take the time to ask yourself those hard questions. Be firm in your choices and do what is best for you and your life and dreams. And if it takes you a decade to answer those questions? So be it! It’s better than spending four decades doing something that is not compatible with your actual life dreams.

What was your most memorable AU course?
Last semester I enrolled in Anthropology 402: Ethnographic Research Methods. As part of our final grade, we were tasked with completing a research project in which we employed ethnographic research methods. I chose to do my report on the impact that cooperative housing developments have on a sense of community within urban centers. Because I live in cooperative housing myself and because the lower mainland is facing such a housing crisis at the moment, I thought the topic would be very interesting. I was blown away but what I learned and the whole experience of really immersing myself in ethnographic research! I was able to host interviews with members of the housing cooperative and really get to the bottom of why a sense of community is so important and what city planners, builders and government can do to help facilitate these community ideals. It was a fascinating opportunity within the course!

What is most valuable thing in life to you?
The freedom of choice. We are so lucky to have it. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in a deterministic future that we forget that somewhere, there is always a choice. You can always break something down to a choice. Sure, sometimes life throws you some pretty heavy curve balls at you and you feel like you really don’t have any options, but somewhere in this total catastrophic event there is one. Are you going to let it stop you? Or are you going to let it empower you? Every time I feel like the universe is just completely set to mess around with me, I ask myself, what is my choice here? There is usually a more important lesson to be learned than what is just under the surface. No matter what life throws at you (and trust me, it will test you!), always try and determine what your choice is. It keeps the future in your hands.

What have you given up to go to AU that you regret the most? Was it worth it?
Time. The ability to spend an entire day with my nose in a good book and not feel like there is a million other things that I could be doing that would be way more constructive. But in the end I know that it is worth it and those days with more free and limitless time will come again. I am just working harder for it now so I can appreciate it more in the future.

What’s the single best thing AU could do to improve your student experience?
You know, it’s been a pretty great student experience for me so far. I have enjoyed having the freedom to work at my own pace, my tutors have been awesome and I have connected to other students through Facebook groups and the like. For me personally, this experience has been great and I am not sure I would want to change anything.

What is the most important lesson in life?
You need to know when to cut yourself some slack. We put so much pressure on ourselves sometimes. Motivation is good! But so is relaxation! We need to find that balance.

What’s something people don’t know about you?
I am totally addicted to those ghost shows on TV. Not because I am totally sold on the possibility of the supernatural, but because I love the history and the stories they explore. I feel that, in this day and age, the world lacks a sense of mystery; if we question anything, we google it. I love immersing myself in possibilities where people can explore something that isn’t quite known for certain. I especially love hearing folklore or stories from other cultures and understanding how these stories shape beliefs and superstition.

E-texts or textbooks? Any particular reason(s)?
If you asked me last year, I would say textbooks all the way! I love having the physical books (I am a book hoarder) and being able to flip through the pages and reference them years later (and yes, I actually do this). However, I have definitely found e-texts super helpful. It is really cool to be able to access your text wherever you are without having to lug around a giant book. For someone who is always trying to fit in extra study time on my lunch break, during my son’s swimming lessons or while getting an oil change done on my car; e-texts have been a lifesaver. Ideally what I would like to see is to have access to both when purchased. You get the hard-copy of the book as well as the e-version. What a world!

How do you find the tutors?
The tutors have been awesome for me. I definitely don’t have any complaints there.

Where has life taken you so far? (travels for pleasure, work, etc.)
Unfortunately, I never really had much opportunity for travel and it is something that I always kind of kicked myself for. I wish I had taken “the bull by the horns” as they say and just bought a plane ticket somewhere and just figured everything else out when I got there; but I was always such a planner in my younger youth. I always had to think of every tiny, miniscule detail and if I couldn’t formulate a concise and workable plan with several other plan B’s just in case then I wouldn’t take that plunge. I really missed out on some great opportunities and I regret that. Luckily I have also learned from that and I now understand that there is a good balance between risk and security and it is important to explore both. I have been out of Canada once in my life. When I was 21 years old, a girlfriend and I flew down to Coachella Music Festival in Indio, CA. I met her at LAX (she was coming in from Calgary, and I from Vancouver) and we travelled for two weeks around California and into Tijuana. It was an awesome experience.

What (non-AU) book are you reading now?
I am currently reading “Brain on Fire” by Susannah Calahan. It is an autobiography that explores the author’s experience, through her own memories (although rather sparse) and her journalistic abilities, as she descents into “madness” caused by a condition known as Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. It has been rather interesting and I would recommend it to those who enjoy non-fiction and memoirs.